There are dozens of healthy and happy alpha funding projects and Early Access games under way, but when the model starts to go wrong, it seems like its going to go wrong in the noisiest, most painful way possible. The Stomping Land is a survival multiplayer game which rode dinosaurs and interesting hunting mechanics to both Kickstarter success and then initially high sales on Steam Early Access a year later.
But all is not happy in Jurassic Park. The initial release was less feature-complete than players hoped, updates were slower than initially promised, and now communication has all but stopped. The only thing the developer has said publicly in over two months was to Kotaku earlier this week: that the game is switching to Unreal Engine 4 and that this has created more work. The game’s community is less than pleased.
I played The Stomping Land shortly after release and wasn’t a fan of what I saw. The dinosaur AI was terrible and collision detection was imprecise, meaning there was little sense of threat from the environment; the island setting was vast and player counts low meaning there was little multitplayer drama; the structure of the game’s challenge didn’t support the long, pitch-black nights; and certain mechanics, like bolas, were overpowered in ways that allowed one player to ruin the experience for another with trivial effort.
Buying an Early Access game is always going to be a variable experience – sometimes it’s going to be a game that’s feature-complete, and sometimes it’s going to be a roughshod prototype. The measuring stick seems to be, “is this worth joining in on right now?” The Forest, another island survival game, was released in the same week and was similarly feature-incomplete, but the experience had been crafted in such a way that although you might be done with it after two hours, those two hours were at least fun.
What makes things trickier is that a game in development can be worth following even if there’s nothing yet available to play. Development videos, blogs, concept art, community discussions, even the very act of buying things, can all be part of enjoying an experience.
This seems like the context to understanding the current issues surrounding The Stomping Land. Taking the developer at his word, the game is not dead; it’s moving to a new engine and that’s a long process. Whether that process is necessary or desirable, I don’t know, but in either case it doesn’t exactly matter as players are not receiving the experience they paid for. That’s bad for a Kickstarter project which said that “updates to the project are planned on being released at least once per week”, and it’s bad for an Early Access release with the natural implication of a game to play and a visible development process.
Much like a T-Rex, videogame players’ vision is based on movement. The Stomping Land isn’t moving.
Alright, I’m reaching. Perhaps nature will find a way. Meanwhile, the developer’s full statement is worth reading over at Kotaku, in an article about some ‘Nathan Grayson’ fellow, whoever that is.