In Celebration Of Early Access Games

Nearly done!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Early Access (and the same concept under various different names) has only improved my gaming life.

Increasingly, the games I love the most have been released as knowingly unfinished projects, and I’ve been able to revisit them repeatedly and have different experiences as they evolve – old friends with new clothes and new stories. That has meaning, and I’d sorely miss that if it went away now.

I’m not blind to reality, though. Without doubt Early Access has been oft-abused, whether it’s with projects which ultimately don’t go anywhere, ones which launch in such a rickety or skeletal state that there’s no worth to playing them for months or more, and ones which turn up in Early Access mere weeks before full release because some minor publisher is cynically trying to achieve a double whammy of launch coverage in the hope more people notice the title.

There are people taking the piss, there are people who find they don’t have the resources to achieve what they planned to, there are people who are hopelessly naive, and it all amounts to perpetuating the widely-held stereotype that PC games are all broken and arcane. I guess I’d like there to be some adjusted barrier to entry for Early Access, but at the same time I’d worry about that inadvertently shutting out small devs who potentially rely on that kind of funding to get their game finished.

Even so, I find I’m increasingly looking upon the Early Access concept with some fondness. I’ve played some absolutely corkers – just off the top of my head, Sunless Sea, Darkest Dungeon, Invisible Inc – and what’s been particularly exciting is the idea that, a few months later, I’ll get to go back to a game I enjoyed hugely and there’ll be more of it. It’ll have new content, it’ll have things in different places with surprising outcomes, it’ll look or feel slicker and flashier. It’s like going back to a favourite hotel and finding out they’ve added Jacuzzis to every room, or the minibars now also boast every flavour of Monster Munch. With a ‘standard’ game, going back to it means fundamentally repeating the experience or combing around for stuff I missed first time around.

With Early Access – when it works – I get to have a second love affair. Something as simple as the later versions of Sunless Sea having new ports with new stories rendered the whole thing mysterious and magical again. All being well, Darkest Dungeon in six months’ time will surprise me with a whole bunch of new ways for my beleaguered heroes to lose their minds, or it’ll have sorted out the glacially slow character barks and feel like a smoother-flowing game with new purpose. I really do look forwards to that. There’s no way I’d have that level of anticipation for a post-release patch, or even for a big chunk of DLC. Something I like changes and evolves: going back thus becomes a big deal.

Another positive is that problems can get ironed out, games can improve before it’s too late. In the case of Darkest Dungeon again, they’ve already patched it to take out some of the speech/negative effect delays I and many others griped about in the initial release. Days later, it’s a better game already. Had it been a fully-released game, there’s every chance the devs would have made excuses, unwilling to make potentially serious changes to a project they were wrapping up work on, and we might be lumbered with something really aggravating.

Early Access doesn’t just mean unfinished – it also inherently means a degree of open development, of listening to the userbase almost every step of the way. It can mean better games. (Of course, this can backfire too – maybe you end up drifting away from making the game you wanted to make, maybe you end up too focused on trying to please the arcane demands of a vocal and hardcore minority).

Without a doubt Early Access makes things a whole lot more complicated, both as a player of games and as a critic of them. To spend money on something that you then can’t really play because it’s too broken or meagre is a horrible feeling. To suggest that others should or should not buy a fundamentally unfinished game isn’t any less unpleasant, if you’ll forgive me the gripe. Slamming a game for something which might well change in a couple of weeks’ time is a tricky business, but even harder is trying to appreciate the potential of something that’s barely begun, rather than simply dismissing it.

Clockwork Empires is a case in point for the latter – it’s a concept I’m very keen on, but even several months on from the last time I checked in, comparatively little of it has been executed. It’s not that they’re not visibly working hard on it, but just that all the many elements they’re gradually putting in have yet to coalesce for me. There isn’t enough for me to latch on to; I can barely get a sense of what the game will be like if and when it’s finished, and so praise seems hopelessly optimistic and damnation pointlessly cruel. I’m concerned that CE is a case of can’t see the woods for the trees, but fingers crossed something more certain emerges from it any day now. Because that would be a beautiful return too, to see something troubled become something brilliant, and perhaps then to get even more of it further down the line.

I’m well aware that many players of PC games feel very differently about this, and boy do they let us know about it. Despite some readers’ repeated demands that we should, Early Access isn’t something RPS can simply ignore, as it’s become such a prevalent part of PC gaming. It’s where we’re getting our first experiences of some of the most interesting and ambitious new games, after all. Unfortunately, we can’t post about any game which bears that classification without someone demanding that we do not, that they refuse to read the article, that all of PC gaming has become a joke, or words of varying vitriol to that effect. Honestly, while Early Access is rife with problematic projects, it just seems so sad to reject the whole concept outright. There’s so much to be said for finding a diamond in the rough, especially when that diamond can end up gleaming all the more a little while later.

Perhaps I just like the idea of games having a journey. Early Access emphasises that these are shifting entities, changing direction, making compromises, stumbling into unexpected surprises, or simply able to add more and better elements once they’re over the biggest humps of development. I look at my list of installed Steam games, and most of them are Early Access titles. I clean out my hard drive of games regularly – have to, in this job – but the Early Access ones I keep around. Their names tell me stories. Their names are little promises. “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back.” And something will have changed.

This feature was originally published last week as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter Program.

101 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    I like Kickstarter, and I’m ok with Early Access. Buyer beware and all that.

    But one “problem” I have started to notice I have with both is that they feed a sort of ADD in myself where I get myself completely hyped during the Kickstarter, and I’m really happy when they succeed. But then it takes a year or two of hard work for the devs for games to materialize, and by then I’m all… “This looks nice, I remember being so exited about this, should be fun to play…I guess… OH WOW LOOK AT THAT AMAZING THING BEING KICKSTARTED RIGHT NOW!”

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      I have several games in my Steam library that I kickstarted, that are probably amazing (according to what RPS and other people say about them) and that I never played because when they came out I was more excited about something else. Now they are more or less in the same category than all the other amazing games in my Steam library. :/

    • dasquish says:

      It’s called being a “Patron of the Arts” Which is how I think everyone should look at themselves when they Kickstart or buy into Early Access. I buy into games I want to see made, maybe not necessarily because this particular game is going to be perfect, but its mere existence makes it possible that something more exciting and beautiful in the same genre will coalesce. I have many games I’ll never play in my Steam library, or in my Humble bundle account. But when I support them I’m saying “I like this. I want to see more things like this in the world. And maybe I’ll be a small part of something great if it materializes.” For instance, I will (probably) NEVER play “That Dragon Cancer” because I don’t want to curl up into a ball of despair, but I sure as hell Kickstarted it and I’m proud to have done so. I want to patronize the arts. I want games to rise to the level of art, which is an argument we as gamers apparently want to keep making. I want games that no publisher will touch or see a profit in. New worlds, new modes, new properties that could create the next big movement in gaming.

      Kickstarting and early access is our current way of putting our money where our mouths are, so to speak.

      • Frank says:

        Huh, I never thought RPS could evince anything but skepticism towards new business models. Granted, this article was chock full of it as well, but at least you leaned somewhat favorably towards this newfangled practice.

      • Lachlan1 says:

        I agree and I think it’s a pity that John decided to be such a bully when one didn’t work out. Glad others at RPS seem to be different.

    • AngoraFish says:

      One’s imagination is always going to exceed the reality of a finished game based around someone else’s vision, coupled with the inevitable compromises of technical limitations and finite resources.

      It’s like buying into the lottery, in which what you’re really buying is not a statistically insignificant chance of winning an enormous prize, but an opportunity to fantasise about all the things you’re going to do with that money when you “inevitably” win.

  2. FlopsyTheBloodGod says:

    This was a brave thing to write, after certain recent events, but I’m glad you did. It’s easy to forget how many good folk have made fine things with EA/kickstarter etc. It’s too easy to focus on the rotton apples, and to forget the times when it’s worked out. Just as you forget the times you cross the road without getting hit by a bus I guess.
    Thanks for the thought-food.

  3. theodacourt says:

    Early Access is a pretty cool thing I think, but it just doesn’t match with how I want to play games. I tend to binge on games and then leave them, and I rarely play games over and over except multiplayer ones. This means I spend lots of time with an unfinished game and then I don’t feel the need to go back to it when it’s slightly improved like how I haven’t revisited Prison Architect for a long time. It’s either that or I want to wait for the full release, but by then a lot of other people will already be over the whole thing. I really want to play Broken Age but I haven’t because I want to wait for the whole thing for instance.

    You have to cover the games in a suitable way I guess, but sometimes the coverage won’t match up with when I want the coverage and I imagine that time is different for everybody. It does make me less interested in some articles than I might otherwise be, but that’s my problem and you have to serve more people than just I.

    • Hex says:

      I do the same sort of binge-and-abandon thing, but I’ve found that it works out for me, with EA games.

      More accurately, I tend to binge, abandon, and then come back to games I remember enjoying months (or years) later. So I played a ton of e.g. Door Kickers around the time it came out on EA, completed whatever missions were available at the time, and then forgot about it. A few days ago I discovered that it had been released (who knew?), and so I checked it out.

      It was great jumping into the full game already knowing how everything worked. I happily brushed up on things, and had a fun time running through the (woefully sans context) campaigns.

      I haven’t hit my post-release follow-up binge with Infested Planet yet, but I likely will. No need to rush. Same thing with Invisible Inc once it’s out. (And Warmachine Tactics, assuming they ever get it in a state that it’ll run smoothly for me.)

      I will say that in cases where I have to wait for a game’s release — The Banner Saga, for instance — there’s something delicious about getting my first experience with this new thing at the same time everybody else is.

      Still. Room enough for all of the options, I say.

  4. skalpadda says:

    As a customer I’m avoiding it completely, I have no wish to spoil myself on half-finished games, but I do enjoy following the tales of development as they filter through into places like RPS.

    • Premium User Badge

      distantlurker says:

      Right with you.

      I back on K$, then *deliberately* try to forget I’ve done it :P

      I don’t want early access. I don’t want to be in the beta. I don’t want to leave feedback in order to ‘help drive development’ or what have you, I just want finished games I can play.

      (It goes without saying, I’m old ^^)

      & coincidentally, I now have that with Sunless Sea. Very happy boy.

      • jrodman says:

        +1.

        Let us form an Old People Kickstarter Club. I, for one, move that we add “Grumpy” to the title.

      • Shazbut says:

        +3

        Not my thing. When it’s done please

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      I very rarely play stuff before it is finished, but I have occasionally bought an EA title just to support the devs (to help ensure it got to completion) or because of a discount or DLC deal that was being offered during EA. They just go into the ‘Not Cooked Yet’ steam category until they’re ready to play…

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      Same here, except I’m not old yet!

  5. Zallgrin says:

    I love Kickstarter, but never felt interested in Early Access. I am kinda glad that it exists, as it helps small indies to gather funds during mid-development and improve the game.

    Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin and Sunless Sea all greatly profited from Early Access, as it brought more money, feedback and bug-testing into the studios. Since I like all three games, I’m not ever ragging on Early Access. (although I probably will never buy a EA games myself. not my thing)

  6. Matt_W says:

    To be fair to Clockwork Empires, Gaslamp does regular weekly development blog posts as well as a monthly progress report that shows precisely where they are in the development pipeline. They’re doing EA right, keeping their players continuously updated as to what’s going on with the game and being completely transparent about its current state.

    I think EA requires two things to be successful: 1) any public-facing version of the game has to be playable and fun and 2) the developer needs to devote significant time to keeping their player community in the loop. I’ll gladly purchase and play an EA game provided I think I’m getting my money’s worth for what I’m buying right now. In other words, I’m not willing to buy potential. For me, Kerbal Space Program is the exemplar that all others should follow: it’s been a blast to play since its initial public release 4 years ago and Squad does weekly development updates as well as more irregular in-depth articles about particular game systems or the overall direction of the project.

    What I’ve noticed recently, that perhaps devs should be aware of, is that EA smears coverage of a game out over a longer time slice. When an EA game finally enters full release, there’s often not very much coverage of that because it’s already been extensively reported on during the EA period. So a significant portion of the existing press for a released game is based not on a polished finished product, but on what are essentially early betas. Sunless Sea is a great example: there was some press that accompanied release (including a 10/10 review from Eurogamer), but much more of the existing press for that game (with its unfortunate acronym) is from earlier last year, when problems with the combat system were still be ironed out and content was much more sparse.

    • jezcentral says:

      Agreed. I was amazed to find out that Frozen Cortex was launched yesterday.

      Wut? I’ve been reading about it for ages, and i could have sworn it actually came out before Xmas.

      • Hex says:

        Totally with you, there. I could’ve sworn it came out months ago.

    • Oozo says:

      That’s my biggest gripe. While I can always choose not to play before a game is officially out, what I can’t ignore is that early access leads to a fragmentation of the conversation. Between friend, but also when it comes to media coverage. That might not be too much of a problem for some, but I find that more and more games just seem to… fizzle in and out of existence.

      And while I’m as wary of the hype time and the concerted PR assault as anyone, sometimes I do miss the real “bang” that used to accompany the proper release of a game. And I guess that the difficulty other people have talked about, that it’s sometimes hard get up excited about a game that seems to have been with us for so long already, might also be influenced by this to a certain degree.

    • dasquish says:

      We need some other acronym for Early Access. All I keep seeing “Electronic Arts” and rereading sentences.

      • jrodman says:

        You are taking the wrong lesson here. The right lesson is that acronyms are nearly always failure.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I mostly love crowdfunding for the in-depth look at the process of various developers (and obviously for being able to help make something happen that might not otherwise).

    I rarely actually play the work-in-progress versions of games especially if there’s a narrative element to them, even if alpha or beta access was included in rewards. I’d rather wait for the full experience and don’t often have either the time or the inclination to leave extensive feedback on a game, which would seem to be the main draw of actively participating in the process.

    I’ve never bought an Early Access game (yet) but I’ve backed a ton of things on Kickstarter and have been moderately to extremely happy with almost all of them. I’ve stopped backing new things mostly just because I barely get around to following the updates on the ones I’ve backed already, or even to playing the final release in some cases.

  8. melnificent says:

    As a customer, I’m in 90% avoidance mode. The games I take a chance on are the little studios, with ideas I like. “Famous” names attached are a turnoff from purchase/backing as they seem to be more ego than substance.

    FTL one of the poster children for Kickstarter, was an unknown that turned out great. Then the “big” names from 20/30 years ago showed up, trailblazing to insane amounts and…. burning out badly. Some have been spectacular failures, others minor. It took a few more than I’d care to admit, but it showed that nostalgia is what people back, and nostalgia is a sure fire way to watch a kickstarter/early access burn.

  9. melnificent says:

    As a Dev, I wouldn’t use early access or Kickstarter, until the final stages, if at all. I’d rather fail at funding myself than upset potential customers. It also requires duties to shift from developing, bug fixing, support to the “non-core” tasks of PR and marketing earlier in the design and building phase.

    I think both the Early Access and Kickstarter wells have been poisoned, by scammers, lose interpretation of the rules, “nostalgia vision” and inadequate controls by Kickstarter and Valve respectively. They are now taking steps to rectify it, but time will tell if it is successful.

    • Hex says:

      …people have been putting out shitty “complete” games since the dawn of binary. It doesn’t really matter if it’s Early Access, Kickstarter, or a “finished” game. People learn how to identify warning signs and pay for things worth the risk to them.

      I don’t think Kickstarter or Early Access can be “poisoned” any more than any regular game store. (Which isn’t to say not at all, just that everyone’s mileage will vary based on their personal experiences and philosophies of purchasing.)

      • Cinek says:

        It doesn’t? I have a very strong impression that early acces produces more rotten apples than anything else. Yes, that includes AAA games. AAAs at least tend to have some solid lump of gameplay and/or decent graphics, while kickstarter titles in many cases feel like half-finished prototypes/showreels.

        • Hex says:

          And that’s kind of my point: you can have that impression, sure, but for me — and I’ve backed at least a dozen games on Kickstarter, and bought into several more via Early Access — Kickstarter and Early Access are great.

          There are two Kickstarter games I (currently) regret backing. So my ratio of games I’m happy to have backed vs feeling buyer’s remorse towards is roughly equivalent to my experience with purchasing completed games — I tend to be happy with all but one out of every 5 or 6 games I buy.

          Over time as Kickstarter and EA have burned some people, I’ve become more selective of the games I back in order to further reduce that number, but really I can’t complain too much about a 20% failure rate or less.

          Especially when you consider some additional points —

          1. As dasquish mentioned above, backing a Kickstarter is as much (or more) about attempting to influence future developments in a genre as it is about gaining access to a specific game. Both of the games I regret backing are representative of concepts I’d like to see explored more. So it’s really not a total loss, even if nothing good ever comes from my playtime with these specific titles. (They’re Dead State and Warmachine: Tactics by the way.)

          2. In these days of continuous development leading up to and following release, a stinker can very possibly end up turning into a gem. (An early build of MASSIVE CHALICE was on my list of regrets, and later on I grew to really appreciate the game.) So while I say there are currently two games I regret backing, there’s still hope and a very real possibility I’ll end up feeling like I got more than my money’s worth out of them.

          3. It’s really hard (more likely impossible) for me to quantify the thrill of a Kickstarted project I’m passionate about compared to the disappointment in a failed project. If I’d backed Godus or CLANG! or whatever, I’m sure I’d be peeved about the end result. However, I find it very difficult to accept that those disappointments would be able to tarnish my joyous experience with backing The Banner Saga or the Darkest Dungeon.

          Similarly, I don’t think I’d be able to muster much rage about it if The Banner Saga or the Darkest Dungeon had failed. I’m simply happy to have been involved in the attempt to do some things different and glorious. Their successes are a bonus!

          So….maybe just limit your KS/EA shopping to projects about which you feel very passionate and/or have good reason to believe will be successful. Or avoid them altogether! There’s nothing inherently wrong with these systems, and nobody’s forcing you to participate.

  10. draglikepull says:

    If other people want to play Early Access games, that’s fine by me. I have no desire to stop other people from enjoying unfinished games just because I’d prefer to play them when they’re finished. But I have to object to this bit:

    “Another positive is that problems can get ironed out, games can improve before it’s too late. In the case of Darkest Dungeon again, they’ve already patched it to take out some of the speech/negative effect delays I and many others griped about in the initial release.”

    There’s a simple way to handle this problem that game developers have been using for years: beta testing. This was a sensible quid pro quo: developers got free testing and in exchange players got to try out a game for free.

    That is the one aspect of Early Access that does really bug me. Rather than using beta tests or paying for QA, companies are asking people to pay them for the “honour” of performing labour. Yes, I know that anyone who buys into an Early Access game does so voluntarily, but this particular aspect of it rubs me the wrong way.

    • Matt_W says:

      The problem arises with the funding model. The free beta paradigm requires that a developer be able to foot the bill for the entire scope of development, including the testing phase, up front. This meant a substantial (and very risky) initial investment of potentially a few $100,000 or seeking funding from a major publishing house, with all the editorial and licensing issues that carries. EA, as a model where the developer partners with potential players of the game to fund development, giving players themselves some editorial input, seems like a perfectly viable funding model, superior in some ways to the more traditional beta-testing one particularly for smaller or starting studios. It enables game projects to be more ambitious than they otherwise could ever consider being, to test the waters for their game concept without a huge marketing expenditure, and to take advantage of buy-in from their target audience. Kerbal Space Program would be nowhere near the game it is now were it not for the EA model; it would be vastly more limited in scope and would be much rougher without the years of community input.

      Another thing that EA does is blur the line in the sand that is final release. Developers who are used to the feedback cycle from EA seem to be more likely to provide not just bug fixes, but substantial content updates after release.

  11. April March says:

    My opinion of Early Access has not changed since it’s begun (unlike most games in it). If you want to pay money to help playtest a game, you’re a sucker. But if you being a sucker helps the dev of a game I’ll like make a better game and have more money, I’m not going to stop you.

  12. MiniMatt says:

    Obligatory reference to Kerbal Space Program as an example of early access done well, detracting nothing from the finished product, and (I imagine) providing a funding model which allowed for development to proceed and continue without tricking customers by over promising.

    • jezcentral says:

      And obligatory reference to DF9 as an example of early access done horribly wrong.

      • jezcentral says:

        And obligatory reference to The Stomping Ground as an example of early access not done at all. Ahahahahaha!

      • ZIGS says:

        I see your DF9 and raise you a Godus

        • jezcentral says:

          Fold. *throws down cards in disgust*

        • Gibster says:

          I see his KSP and raise it to Endless Legend.

          • Cinek says:

            DayZ. Infinite development hell with no hopes for any final release in foreseeable future. Majority of community already went long past this game.

            Or if you want something easier: Towns

          • Clavus says:

            DayZ isn’t in development hell at all. It has clear goals, and they’re working towards them with a constant stream of updates. The game was just given far more development time because of its early access sale success. It’ll be much more than they initially envisioned, but yeah, it takes time.

        • Matt_W says:

          I’ve got a straight consisting of a Prison Architect, a Sunless Sea, a Divinity: Original Sin, , a Terraria, and a Don’t Starve, and that’s after I discarded the KSP and the Minecraft because they made the hand too easy. And there’s a Massive Chalice, a Take on Mars, an Invisible Inc, a Darkest Dungeon, an Infinifactory and a bunch of others still in the deck.

    • Cinek says:

      Your KSP example is very debatable. Though as of now release 1.0 isn’t here yet, so I don’t want to go into details – last time I did I got usual excuse of “it’s still in development”. If you want to give an example of successful early access – give us something that actually worked out well at the release. Divinity: Original Sin would be one of best examples, as Eurogamer put it: “hands down the best classic-style RPG in years”.

      • MiniMatt says:

        Without wanting to sound like their PR, worth noting that next release of KSP is indeed lined up to be 1.0. Guesstimate it’s within two to three months out.

        If I’m honest my enthusiasm for this game is partly down to a need for others to validate all the hundreds of hours I’ve put into it :)

        • Cinek says:

          Well, if in deed next release is going to be 1.0 then we can throw supposed lack of “over promising” out of the window.

          • MiniMatt says:

            Not entirely sure what you’re getting at with that one.

            Dunno, I bought KSP two years ago now, and as per Alice’s rule of “buy on the reality, not the promise” I can honestly say development could have stopped dead at any time after my purchase and I’d have more than got my money’s worth.

  13. phelix says:

    Ah! Obligatory “In reprehension of Early Access” article coming tomorrow.

  14. Gap Gen says:

    My problem with Early Access is that I get burned on a game before they finish it, which isn’t great if the finished product is much improved. By contrast I’m still playing Minecraft, and I’m glad I got in on more or less the ground floor before they added a bunch of new systems to learn.

    I suppose it helps for sandboxy games where new features can sit well alongside existing features, rather than games with progression where you build a character only to find that your progress has been made obsolete by the updates.

  15. RossBorkett says:

    I have also had some great experiences and am pleased for the option to get into the games in early access IF I want to. Yes there have defo been some big flops, but I think carefully before putting money in. I would say that I’ve been pleased with 80% of things I’ve backed, although I haven’t backed that much.

    But I do agree, the games I keep coming back to are those gems that I’ve had the pleasure to watch develop. I particularly enjoy following some of the development, watching where they are taking things, and then getting to try new features out regularly.

    Prison Architect clearly got this spot on, and I love the monthly videos – it always brings me back for another game every month. Factorio has been my other love and continues to get significant playtime. Rimworld has been fun to watch develop as it continuously goes in directions I wasn’t expecting (and the developer keeps a daily change log on google docs which is a good read). Stonehearth has also been interesting to follow, putting out video updates every week and new alphas coming regularly.

    Would I prefer to have the early access option and therefore enjoy all those games as they develop, even knowing that some of them were a waste of money / flop – yes absolutely. Maybe that will change if what gets added into early access continues to drop in quality (some of the recent stuff!) but right now I wouldn’t change having the option to get involved if I want to

  16. Alec Meer says:

    FYI this was written before the news that The Stomping Ground has died on the vine, but even then I think that’s primarily a cautionary Kickstarter tale rather than an Early Access one.

    • spamenigma says:

      *Stomping Land ;)

      I bought on Early Access and think it applies, money lost to a false promise.. So its an example now to be held up as bad case, Maybe John can interview Jig?? :)

    • spamenigma says:

      I guess the bigger issue is people have discovered Stomping Land is on sale with steam again.. which surely highlights an issue with Steam and EA?

  17. scannerbarkly says:

    I love Early Access and Kickstarter. To date I have played some great games from it and watched them hit their release as promised and as a fan of games it is really interesting to watch them grow change and develop and interact with the people who make them, and i hope I managed to offer some feedback at times that they found useful.

    Have I been bitten the odd time? Absolutely…but probably at a rate far less than that which full releases disappoint me if i am honest.

    • Hex says:

      Exactly this. I don’t get the hate-on for Kickstarter and Early Access, when fully-released games are so often such a shit-show.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        Because with released games they are released. Shit or not there’s an end product. With Early Access you are knowingly buying a game that’s incomplete and may never be complete or at least to the standards you’d expect of a full price release.

  18. Deano2099 says:

    Time. I only have time for the one love affair, the one bite of the cherry. Now were I still at university or, say, played and wrote about games for a living, I might have time to play differently.

    I get that you can’t ignore early access, but I’d bet I’m not in the minority here. I’d bet a large portion of your readers are the same. I could be wrong, but it’s something worth you knowing if you don’t already.

    Not that I object to coverage of early access- as far as I’m concerned it’s identical to a preview, and I never read them much either- where it does get problematic is when the game gets covered enough in early access it doesn’t get more than a quick news post, if that, on launch. At the point I might actually want to play it.

  19. detarame says:

    Endless Legend and Lords of Xulima were also Early Access. There is a lot of junk and shovelware on Early Access, but it’s also a godsend for both fans and developers of more niche genres.

  20. Laurentius says:

    I don’t even…

    Oh well, I will keep doing what I’m doing now, that is staying away from this as far as possible, what other people are doing with their money is not my concern. TBH though I’ve yet to play ( I think ) a good game that came out of early acces development.

    • scannerbarkly says:

      What kind of games are you a fan of? Not seeking to question your stance or anything, more just trying to give myself a clearly picture of the type of thing you enjoy. :)

    • Hex says:

      Don’t Starve
      Divinity: Original Sin
      Door Kickers
      Infested Planet
      Wasteland 2

      Those are only the ones I own, have played, and can attest to being “good” by some standard. There are others that sound to be pretty entertaining, as well.

      • Laurentius says:

        Oh I played both Wasteland2 and Divinity:OS and I adore them, these though are not what I call “early acces” developed game, these came from Kickstarter.

      • Cinek says:

        How about the other side of the coing?
        Godus
        Spacebase DF-9
        Towns
        The Stomping Ground
        Earth: Year 2066
        And these are just some titles that got most press coverage.
        Then there are hundreds of smaller games that went into development hell or outright died such as Under The Ocean, Cube World, or Patterns in October.
        And then there are titles that over-promised and under-delivered at the release, such as Planetary Annihilation, Elite: Dangerous, or Paranautical Activity
        And to end my post: finally there is a fact that only 25% of E.A. games have been released.

        • Hex says:

          I don’t see how the percentage of released EA titles to date is relevant. Unreleased doesn’t mean dead, it just means it’s still in progress. It makes sense that about two years after the launch of EA, we’re in a period in which the vast majority of titles currently listed in the program are incomplete.

          If you don’t like Early Access, don’t use it. There are more than enough EA success stories to defend its right to exist.

      • slerbal says:

        Yeah, Early Access has mostly been the source of some good games for me. Notable Early Access games that I’ve bought that since graduated to full releases include:
        – Arma 3
        – Doorkickers,
        – NeoScavenger
        – Sunless Sea
        – Sanctuary RPG
        – Dungeon of the Endless

        Early Access games still in Early Access but which I am very happy with right now even if they never released any more updates, are:
        – Gnomoria
        – Subnautica
        – Invisible Inc (graduating EA very soon)
        – Kerbal Space Program (graduating EA very soon)
        – 7 Days to Die
        – Take of Mars

        and there are several other games that are coming along nicely that I own (Space Engineers, Starbound). Writing off Early Access as a whole seems a little too extreme for me :)

        My only qualm with early access games is you only ever get one first impression / first buzz of excitement of a game and that is quite precious to me to squander…

    • Gibster says:

      Endless Legend? RPS’s game of the year?

      • Laurentius says:

        10 years ago Endless Legend at launch would have been called unfinished game.

        • Hex says:

          I played Endless Legend extensively at launch and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  21. James says:

    This was quite a brave article to write given most people’s animosity from getting burned on the Early Access system. On the one hand I fully agree with you. Watching games like Kerbal Space Program and Prison Architect grow from when I first bought them is wonderful. Whenever I boot up PA there is often something new, even little things like small AI tweaks, that make the game feel newer thereby extending their shelf-life in my hardrive. It also helped games like Minecraft and KSP become more than just entertainment by building a community that all contribute in some way to the development cycle by feedback, funding or in some cases mod integration.

    However the bad far outperforms the good in the Early Access system. There are well over a hundred early titles that I can buy but I can only name 4 I have bought and enjoyed:

    -Elite: Dangerous
    -KSP
    -Prison Architect
    -Sunless Sea

    Those games are/will be better for the process, but I am SO careful when I buy into early access that I am probably missing out on some great games that I simply will not buy becuase I have to wonder if it will ever finish, if it will live up to what I want, or if it gets updated enough that I will want to keep playing.

    Also, as much as alpha/beta releases can help a title they can also destroy it through bad management of updates or long wait times between updates or through standard poor dev/publisher to customer communication.

    I have to say that overall early access has been a negative for gaming as a whole, it means I can’t trust the word ‘beta’, it means I can’t look through titles on Steam and go ‘that looks good’ (as Early Access has greatly contributed to Steam’s open door quality control). It is a shame, because I am probably missing out on some real gems. That is why I don’t want RPS to shy from Early Access games nor should you – it is a lot easier to filter out the craptacular array of beta/alpha/10minsofworkinUnity titles to find the good ones.

    • James says:

      On a side note to RPS – where is my edit button?

    • Hex says:

      I don’t see how Early Access having over 100 titles currently available, and the fact that you’ve purchased and enjoyed four of them is an indication of the bad outweighing the good.

      If you’ve bought and been disappointed by all of those other EA games, then you need to work on your impulse purchasing.

      Otherwise, just wait and see — who’s to say how many of those 100+ other games will end up being great, and perhaps join your short list of games that you enjoy.

      I’m having a hard time grasping how the fact that you can see a list of 100+ in-development games is a negative. Prior to Early Access, there were thousands of released, complete games on Steam, some of which were buggy, unplayable messes. Some worked, but were still awful.

      …?

      • James says:

        The reason I bring up the volume of EA titles verses the number I have bought and enjoyed is that it saturates the market with largely poor quality content, a small minority of which I actually want to play. Having to wade through the 100 titles to get to find the 4 I like without fearing that I will be disappointed is difficult and tedious to the point where I question if I’m just better off waiting for release. It means that I as a consumer are worse off for having a large amount of EA titles, because (as they are unfinished) I have few ways of working out which will be good and which will be crappy. It’s not as if my tastes are narrow. I like pretty much anything that isn’t a platformer provided it is of quality and worth my money. And that is the main problem, most EA games just aren’t worth my money. The ones that were I am very happy to have bought and to have been a part of, but they are those 4 games.

        • Hex says:

          I still don’t understand how this is different from purchasing fully released PC games. I’ve waded through hundreds of PC game titles prior to the advent of EA, searching unsuccessfully for something I felt I could be sure was worth playing. Many times unsuccessfully, resulting in no purchase.

          If you’re unsure about an Early Access game, don’t buy it. What’s the issue?

          EA is a great way to be able to play a game you find yourself super jazzed about. But it kind of seems like you’re putting the chicken before the egg. If you find out about an EA title which you just can’t wait to try, pick it up. Otherwise, don’t force the issue. Wait for release, wait for the review, take your time.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Don’t know that I’d agree on “most people” having been burned and being pissed about EA because of it. Naturally some of the folks who have are quite loud about it, they’re angry after all, but I don’t think from what I’ve seen in the RPS comments that it would be most… But then, we humans are very fallible witnesses of this kind of thing, would really need a proper statistical breakdown of comments on the subject, and that sounds like a lot more work than I’m prepared to put in to find out.

  22. badmothergamer says:

    I’ve only purchased a handful of EA games but I’ve been pleased by the ones I’ve played. The only “beta” game I’ve ever purchased and felt 100% burned on was when I bought “Cube World” for $23 (not on Steam), saw one quick hot fix, then watched as the dev disappeared for a year, popped up with some bs about a quest system, then disappeared again forever.

    • badmothergamer says:

      Can’t edit so I’m replying but Alice just had the best EA quote I’ve seen in her Medieval Engineers article.

      “Pay for the reality, not the dream.”

      In other words, only buy an EA title if the game is already in a state you can enjoy. Don’t buy a game on the expectation it will later be improved into something worth the price.

  23. noodlecake says:

    I’m rabidly proi kickstarter and early access. There are times when developers do take the piss, like with DF-9 (I think it’s called) but it’s much more rare than people make out. It’s inevitable that some, maybe even lots of projects fail on the money that they raise simply because making a new game is setting off into uncharted space and anything can happen.

  24. Rindan says:

    My only real complaint with Early Access and Kickstarter coverage is when stuff is just announced with no deeper substance. Find an awesome game? Great, let me know. No name developer announces an interesting idea and no one has touched anything worth playing? Don’t waste your time reporting it. There are a thousand great ideas floating around, and they all are worth jack shit until someone sets code to computer and produces something more than a glorified Unity demo.

    That said, it seems like RPS reporting on no name announcements less and less. I think simple fatigue from trying to keep up with Early Access announcements and the increasing number of diamonds in the ever growing pile of shit is basically solving my complaint. There are more worthwhile things to report, and less reason to mention that someone has dumped another load of shit onto the top of the pile.

    I don’t hate early access. Sandbox games in particular seem to go great with Early Access. The $15 or $20 I spent on Kerbal Space Program is easily the best pocket change I have ever spent. That said, I avoid Early Access like the plague unless someone gives me a very good reason not to and the game is great as is. Even then, I often wait for release. I love Sunless Sea, but I’m happy I didn’t let myself play it in Early Access and burn out on it.

  25. ersetzen says:

    I think that early access games can gain tremendously by the community adding and changing the game during development. For that it probably needs a working frame, though. As long as you stick with games that are already interesting or fun enough to pay for seems pretty great. Otherwise something like kickstarter probably would fit the bill better.

    Catacomb Kids seems like a pretty good example. Shortly after its Kickstarter it was completely playable but still missing a lot. Now it is mostly missing content but it’s fun enough that I’d buy it on its own. Mentioning it because it will go early access come noon:

    • ersetzen says:

      Link didn’t work and edit button seems broken. Ups youtube.com/watch?v=LaHTgdFD4hU

  26. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I love how people keep using the acronym “EA” and I’m like “what have Electronic Arts games got to do with this?”

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Well its because of EA that I don’t EA ;-)

      I pre-ordered DA2 and ME3 for the preorder bonuses and had buyers regret on both of them. Its mostly my own fault for going with the hype and having enjoyed both series at that point I thought it was going to be a given I’d get blown away with them. Both were good games but not worth the pre-order, let alone paying for the deluxe editions.

      I was even super-hyped for for DA3 and was going to preorder the deluxe edition but after seeing that EA would only let you buy the Deluxe Edition via Origin and that I could find the standard edition cheaper again via GMG it took the shine off things. I’m a 100%er, I have a compulsive need to not miss out on stuff but at the same time I could in no way justify the price difference for upgrading to the deluxe edition. I’ve yet to buy DA3 because of that.

      Early Access is in the same league but slightly worse. I’m not a patron of the arts, I’m not anybody’s fan, I’m a consumer and Early Access is just a different pre-order scheme. Except of course no money is taken on a pre-order until the game ships, if the game doesn’t materialise I’m no worse off. The same can’t be said for Early Access.

  27. jonahcutter says:

    Don’t Starve is the pre-eminent example of the worth of early access. It had an extended early access period that resulted in the best survival game to date.

    The funding model is wildly successful and here to stay. We as gamers all benefit from it, even those that dislike it.

  28. wyrm4701 says:

    It’s always nice to be reminded of Early Access’ value through it’s successes. Games like Kerbal Space Program or Sunless Sea make Steam a much better marketplace, and their existence should be celebrated. My issue with Early Access is it’s failure state – I’ve got StarForge and Spacebase DF9 in my library, and the latter has made me swear off buying anything in SEA. There’s clearly no consequence applied when a dev decides to abandon a project or deal with customers in bad faith.

  29. derbefrier says:

    Early Access like most everything has its good and bad. I haven’t bought a whole lot of early access games but the ones I have bought I am pretty happy with. I am at a point were I would rather just wait for official release beforejumping in. Some people may be cut out for bug finding and stuff but I find I am not. I just wanna boot up the game and have some fun.

    I currently have 3 games I am waiting to finish Kerbal Space program, which I feel I already got my moneys worth but I am excited for the next major update. Then there is Star Citizen and Shroud of the Avatar. Both games I have already gotten a lot of enjoyment out of but both are still very “alpha” products. I can only stomach these games a little at a time before bugs, gliches, and unfinshed Content start to annoy me. I am not unhappy with them though don’t get me wrong. I knew these games were going to take a while. I am just growing ever impatient to get my hands on the games I know they will inevitably become. Let’s just say I am REALLY looking forward to 2016.

  30. Yachmenev says:

    I think it really isn’t much more difficult then that we have to be able to take the good with the bad, or else we would never have fine things.

    Shit happens with some games, but I would say that anyone who tries to use some bad examples to dismiss the whole model, even though there are many great examples, som listed in this article, are most often not people worth listening to in the subject.

    I do however think that we should be able to have game relying on iterative development even without the early access stamp on them. The whole notion of “complete games” is a weird, since software in general pretty much never finished. It’s one thing for linear story focused singleplayer games to be a complete experience, but otherwise I would want more game, especially from bigger studios, being worked on long after the initial release.

  31. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Saas is a reality, you can blame steam and apt-get if you like but there’s no putting the internet back in it’s box. Early access is by no means perfect but it’s much better than what we ask expected in the early subscription model days, it let’s us have saas for the same cost as the old days and if you don’t like it you can wait till it’s released and but it the way you always would have, I’d say that’s the best of both worlds personally

  32. raiders5000 says:

    I purchased Cosmonautica today, coincidentally. I was impressed with its scope, but was more impressed with the Chasing Carrots devs’ communications in the forums. Looking forward to their progress and final release. Happy to support them.

  33. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I don’t really dislike Early Access, but it’s in my opinion generally not done in an acceptable way. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I want devs to be open and honest. I want the earlier versions to be cheaper unless it’s from a kickstarter in which case I understand even though it’s silly. I want something which is playable, and more than that: it should be enjoyable to play.

    Minecraft did this right, I think. So did Mount and Blade, IIRC.

    Devs which ask money for an unplayable mess and deceive their audience are the problem here. It it’s alpha, it’s alpha you should tell people. Moreso, what about your testing phases? Oh I suppose devs just get people to pay the devs for having a game to test now? That’s a smart way to get a quick buck, but it also seems very unconscionable and I won’t stand for that.

  34. malkav11 says:

    I’d much rather you post about Early Access games, which I can in theory purchase and play right now, than do any preview coverage of games that aren’t accessible to the end-user right now. The latter has always felt like a complete waste of my time. (I mean, obviously some people eat that stuff up so I’m not judging anyone for providing it. I just have no use for it personally.)

    That said, I am also in possession of a Steam library that contains over 1,500 games and I’ve games plenty of other places (and platforms) too. I see no reason to put time into unfinished games when I could be playing some of those finished games instead. For those brave stalwarts who feel differently (perhaps because of more specialized tastes that leave them a much smaller backlog, or a desire to participate in the creative process I left behind long ago), more power to you. Please help see these games grow better by the time they get to me. Thank you kindly.

  35. MikeBeeTV says:

    Early Access sounds good but it’s really a horrible idea. Would you pay a home remodeling contractor before they start a job? Would you pay a car dealer before you negotiate a deal? Why? Because they already have your money and have no incentive to finish the job and you’ve given them all the negotiating power.

    Early Access is destroying indie game development.

  36. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I really enjoy the RPS Early Access coverage, since it gives me a great sense of games that look interesting/promising that I then put on my radar to pick up when fully released. I don’t play any EA game – but not so much out of principle, since I have no issues with companies getting paid feedback from players before final release – but due to time limitations on my side.

    In all, I think Early Access is a great thing for the industry, allowing smaller developers to get funding to shape/complete their games. Of course there’s going to be scams, disappointments and boondoggles – but that’s all the more reason to buy in cautiously, based on evidence of strong vision, realistic planning and integrity by the developers.

  37. racccoon says:

    “I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Early Access (and the same concept under various different names) has only improved my gaming life.”
    You are Insane..
    How can you justify a game that’s never finished. Unless you live in a golden box and your that stupid with your money you really have no care or no reason to feel any loss. 2 in out of 100 earlyaccess/whatevers are never finished., this is pure robbery white collar crime and really all it can do is make you feel ill. ill by the loss of mounting monies you’ve wasted on awaiting a finish that’s never going to occur.
    I prefer the old school way, gather a group together, get your finances together, create a game, finish it and release it for a price! job done.If you needed to ask the community to test your game for you, you did it freely, this in turn encourages those testing to find those problems within the game which you couldn’t see, plus the players go on to play your mmo/game in mass.
    This new method of begging and taking money, never finishing a game, creates no real reason for the game player to enjoy it and neither does it encourage the game player to carry on further with it as its seemly a loss.

  38. Continuity says:

    Early access is great, and its also terrible. Done right early access brings us great games that might not otherwise have come to fruition, and player feedback can actively go to making the game better. Does wrong early access is a horror story of underdevelopment, bugs, failed promises, blood and tears from the developer etc or just a plain scam/take cash and run job. The problem is that what you get in this regard is totally in the hands of the developer, its unregulated and uncurated, very little consumer protection.

    Kickstarter on the other hand is completely different, Kickstarter allows the general public to patronise the computer game arts, you can help the medium grow in a way that either wouldn’t happen otherwise or would take much longer. Kickstarter is our fast track to a world where games are a respected medium like film or literature. Oh and sure you might get a game out of it… whatever, who cares, that’s not the important part.

  39. bill says:

    I am not particularly pro or anti the idea of early access.
    Personally, I haven’t bought any early access games, but it’s not really from some ideological standpoint. For me:

    – I tend to play games only once.

    – I don’t have enough free time to replay games again and again as they improve. When I was younger that might have been different and I might have loved the thought of being able to guide the development and invested a lot more time.

    – I have a massive backlog of games to play, so I’m not desperate to play games as soon as possible.

    – Early access games are often more expensive than buying released games a few months after launch. As I rarely pay more than $5 for a game, most early access games are out of my price range.

    So, as a neutral non-user, I think they mostly benefit me. I’ll pick up the games at a later date, by which time they’ve been extensively beta tested by others during early access. Also, I get to play some original games that might not have been funded by other models.

    I can see that there are some risks and there seem to be a lot of people misusing it. (Steam should be much more hands on in managing that, imho). But I can also see that there are a lot of rewards in terms of funding for smaller indie developers.

    The only “negative” effect for me personally is that the conversation and hype gets fractured and I often forget about a game or lose interest in it by the time it actually gets released. I guess that might be more of a problem for developers and release day sales though.
    I’m not big on hype anyway, and I don’t tend to buy newly released games anyway, so it actually doesn’t have that much of an effect.

    In some ways it’s just a variation on the old shareware and pre-order thing. (shareware being good, pre-orders being bad and just as likely to lead to disappointment as early access).
    So. yeah.

  40. Caiman says:

    I pick and choose what EA games to buy, just as I pick and choose what released games to buy. I rarely get burned because I read reviews, forum discussion and other information before making a decision. Some people just seem to jump on anything that looks remotely interesting without investigating further and wonder why they keep getting burned.

    So far I’ve put 102 hours into Chaos Reborn, an Early Access title which is one of the best examples of EA done right. The game is fully playable, extremely polished, and development keeps adding features. It’s a multiplayer arena-based turn-based tactics game, so it’s ideally suited to being replayed over and over. I also bought UnEpic, where the single player was complete and EA was being used for multiplayer. Again, excellent use of EA.

  41. SwiftRanger says:

    Early Access and Kickstarter are commendable for developers who need the money.

    Though I don’t think it deserves as much attention as it does now since in most cases you’re still covering a dream instead of a real product. Products like Minecraft back in the day, Kerbal Space Program and Prison Architect now are rather different situations, they’re already very self-sustaining and drag out because of that but it seems already certain that a point of a proper release can be reached for them. For the rest though there are too many “maybe’s” circling around these would-be-projects and even if you want to mention them on your site the next question only gets trickier: which titles are the ones you will cover?

    Personally I long for that time where you could unpackage a game and be relatively sure everything was working as intended. After that, extra free content would be nice and that should be it. There’s no such thing as that anymore though. :( Even when a EA/KS game is released it’s often not as ready as it should be or as it was promised. That brings me to another big issue…

    “There’s no way I’d have that level of anticipation for a post-release patch, or even for a big chunk of DLC. Something I like changes and evolves: going back thus becomes a big deal.”
    With all due respect but this way of thinking is what holds back the current gaming press. It’s not just an RPS-problem, nearly every gaming publication is barely spending any coverage on post-release game-changing patches. As if a game can only be judged and get attention before or near release. It’s the oldest way of thinking in the games industry and it needs to stop now. Sure, there are several miscellaneous articles on certain titles but they’re usually quirky or rare and barely always touch on the practical side of how a game has improved since release in terms of better game feel or improved stability or even extra content (aspects which receive loads of attention before or at release). Just a newspost on patch notes isn’t enough by the way, because you’re regurgitating what a developers is saying, not how the game feels after the improvements. If you’re not interested in following up a properly released game and how it evolves then you’re letting your reading audience miss out on a lot of worthwhile information. Basically, we’ll have to trust the swampy morass of (Steam) user reviews instead. As I said, even released EA/KS games are still under development but we’re not really seeing any judgement calls or re-reviews on them later on. For example: Divinity: Original Sin received two new companions and UI improvements but are those any good, is it worthwhile to start a new game for them? Or should I wait for that hardcore mode? Wasteland 2 gets several gigabytes of patches but it seems to keep on getting/needing them, when I should I start playing the “real” finished version, if it ever comes? Really, help me find such things out, RPS!

    Of course a big status update or patch articles won’t receive as many clicks as a newspost for another game which has more hype due to the fact it’s not out yet. But I’d rather want to know if a released game with potential is actually fulfilling that potential in the long end than what an EA/KS game is doing. Or at the very least get a proper balance between these two kind of articles. Now it’s more about hype and less so about following up if a developer actually fixes problems and issues in a released game.

    That Molyneux-interview of some time ago moved everyone but I have no pity at all for Godus KS-supporters. I do have pity for folks who would have bought a finished version of the game if it was actually released. If it still showed a lack of features then then I’d say an interview such as John did would have been a LOT more appropriate. It’s simply not worth the effort to get all fessed up about unfinished products because then you’d have to grill a lot of developers and publishers, not just the EA/KS ones. It doesn’t matter if EA/KS is about giving money, pre-ordering a “normal” game is just the same: you’re banking on promises.

    So I’d say: make sure you cover the finished games first… games don’t stop existing right after release, especially not PC games.

  42. SimianJim says:

    My take on Early Access/Kickstarter as a customer is this:

    You’re buying into the development of an idea. If you like the sound of it and you want to support then back them and if you works out you get a game at the end of it. It’s great because it allows me to support games that I otherwise might not hear about or might not see the light of day.

    Of course the risk is that sometimes a great idea will not come to fruition (The Stomping Land) and this is sad, but I guess the important thing is to go into the backing with the knowledge that this might happen, and you’re only backing the development of an idea, a concept, not a finished product.

    I really hope RPS doesn’t stop reporting on these games as some are suggesting. If it weren’t for this reporting then I would have never backed the likes of Dead State, Armello and Darkest Dungeon.