Is Early Access A Good Thing For Players Or Developers?

Adam: I agree about the spaffing and I also agree about more games existing being a good thing. But I do think there’s a distinction between bad and unfinished, and that people who buy something that is apparently in a development process rather than complete should be allowed to have some expectations. A grumble of disappointment rather than a desire to rant and campaign on the internet, sure, but if I buy something I want to enjoy it. I hope it’ll live up to what I hoped it’d be.

The game that sticks out in my memory is Spacebase DF-9. It went from barebones to barebones and then finished, and almost everything that had been on the design roadmap was left undone. I wasn’t angry at anyone when that happened but I was disappointed.

That doesn’t feel like a game that exists to me and I don’t think anyone came out of the experience feeling particularly good – dev-side or consumer-side. Maybe that happens even if Early Access, and I mean specifically Steam Early Access, isn’t a thing, but I think the most popular digital games shop in the world having that option makes taking a punt…easier? More acceptable? I don’t know.

Alice: Double Fine are interesting for going from being publisher-backed to these new models of crowdfunding and alphafunding. They built a reputation and earned trust in an environment where large companies helped back them and released the games once they were declared done enough for sale. The idea of the Double Fine behind Psychonauts now being a scrappy company surviving chiefly on what they can raise from players is alien. You expect they’ll deliver games as before. I don’t think people notice quite how much they seem to be clinging on at times.

Anyway, we mentioned before that people are more likely to back devs they trust, but I think it’s important for that trust to be grounded in the economic realities of each project. I’m more likely to trust a scrappy indie dev who’s delivered games only with the time and money they could get together themselves.

It’s a logical next step in going from carefully curated – and increasingly boring – physical shops to digital stores that were essentially the same then onto virtual markets which can contain literally everything in the world. We’re in a weird transitional period where suddenly these things become possible, but we still look at digital stores with a physical mindset.

What do you make of alphafunding through non-Steam stores? Mojang handled Minecraft themselves, and Itch lets folks do it if they want.

Adam: Answering that question honestly exposes how flakey my thinking about all of this is. SO HERE WE GO.

I love Itch, and one of the main reasons I love it is that it is a wild place full of things I’d never see otherwise, that lets me try a lot of things for free and pay as much as I want to the developers that I like. And this is something I think about a lot – my approach to shopping for games is probably not representative at all. I pick at things and I’m happy to buy something, try it for a couple of hours and find at least one thing that is interesting, and then move on. I like curiosities, whether that’s an entire game or one scene, character or line of dialogue.

That comes from the job, to an extent – treating games as part of a landscape that I want to have some kind of broad understanding of, daft as that might be – but it’s also how I deal with other media. I watch films that I’m almost certain I won’t enjoy if I think it’ll help me to understand the conversation around them and I’ve always been one of those people who often enjoys the culture around a thing as much if not more than the thing itself.

But I still remember being the kid who only got a new game once in a blue moon and there’s no way my mum would have been buying that game from Itch. She’d have been buying it from Steam because it’s big, obvious and has an air of legitimacy (actually, let’s face it; she’d be buying it from the last Game standing and it’d be a Sims add-on or FIFA ‘12). Birthday might mean a gift code for some zombie island without any zombies because it looked cool, or popped up in the suggested games section because I played Project Zomboid and Dying Light.

That said, my mum did actually buy Bloodnet for me from a physical store and I don’t think I got past the first five minutes. That was a bad year. Also, I was thirteen and I don’t think that game was suitable for a thirteen year old but I was probably already showing goth tendencies so a fame full of cyberDraculas must have seemed like the right thing to buy.

I now realise that my argument boils down to wanting some kind of quality control at Big Shop and saying “BUT WHO WILL THINK OF THE CHILDREN”.

Alice: Valve made clear years ago that they can’t, and don’t want to, do quality control. Games that we loved would struggle to draw Valve’s attention, while loads of guff crept in because a publisher had an in at Valve – not that a few humdrum outsider games didn’t make it in too. Greenlight was Valve throwing their hands up in the air and saying “Well look, you tell us what you want!” Within weeks that proved there’s no consensus on what people want on Steam. Do we rewind to back before Greenlight?

The problem with Greenlight, Steam Early Access, and all that seem to me largely to be that Valve want to sell All Of The Games (And Programs And Movies And Songs) but their storefront is still garbage. It has been all along. The oft-mooted curated storefronts – letting people present their own selections as stores in return for a small cut – would go a long way. Steam Curators clearly aren’t that much use.

I really like the idea that I could buy Proper Boxed Games alongside floppies with the game name scrawled on in the creator’s handwriting, and see a band playing their second gig on a stage that tomorrow will host the biggest band in the world (Status Quo). But how do you organise all that? Valve have no idea but are blithely ploughing ahead.

And so shall we. Who is wrong or right? Let us know in the comments.

57 Comments

  1. raiders says:

    I’m a fan of early access games, but bias to the ones I own. I’ve only seen a few come to its final fruition like Galactic Civ 3 and Craft the World. However, I am thoroughly enjoying Bugbear’s Next Car Game and Sergio & Simon’s Hearthlands.

    One game I wish had released an early access build is Civilization: Beyond Earth. That game really sucks right now! I wish I never pre-oredered it. They could’ve benefited a ton from player early feedback during that game’s development.

  2. Xzi says:

    Just as with released games, there’s bound to be a lot of crap, but there’s also a lot of good early access games and early access success stories. Most (all?) of what Klei has done has been early access, and it’s all turned out wonderfully. Darkest Dungeon, Chaos Reborn, and Killing Floor 2, all early access, all brilliant. It just depends on who the developer is and whether or not they have a smart direction to guide their game in. With the new Steam refund system, I expect the number of developers simply looking for a quick cash-in with early access is going to drop.

  3. Wulfram says:

    Early Access is nice for me because it means that when the game is properly released and I consider buying it, there’s lots of information for me to make my decision on.

  4. Zenicetus says:

    From the player side, I’ve seen two disadvantages to Early Access: one minor and one fairly major. This is more about successful AAA games than indie games that never quite make it to a finished state.

    The minor problem is the way it fractures the user community, at least in the first few months after release. If you wait to buy a game until the final release, and then join the user forums, you’re suddenly thrown into a group of experienced and jaded EA/Beta players. They might be friendly to newcomers, but it’s still that feeling of not really being part of the inner circle, and trying to catch up. It’s just more fun to play a game like Witcher 3 and join with other users in sharing tips and character builds, when we’re all still discovering the game at the same time.

    The more major problem is joining EA and then burning out on the game before it’s released, and before the first major patches that fix bugs and add new features. I think that happened to me with Elite: Dangerous. I was excited to be in the Beta, then gradually got tired of the re-starts from scratch and the grind for new ships. I’ve barely played it since it was officially released. The increasing focus on multiplayer doesn’t help, but that’s a separate issue.

    Finally, a shout out for Amplitude, one of the first to do Early Access and they do it right. The EA versions of Endless Space and Legend were both playable and fun from the get-go. They have a nice system for allowing player votes on features, and even a contest for a player-designed faction that made it into the game.

    • slerbal says:

      Yes, so much this. I agree with both your points, but especially the second.

      Your first experience of a game is so precious and you will never get that sense of mystery and potential back no matter how many patches the developer releases. I found that after release I played about an hour of Sunless Sea and Invisible Inc and realised I was totally done with the games, which is a shame as I had only played them a small amount in Early Access hoping that I wouldn’t jade myself to the experience, but I did.

      So these days I am highly unlikely to buy a game in Early Access, and I certainly don’t back Kickstarters. Not because they are bad games but because I only get one shot at enjoying them.

  5. Urthman says:

    The only good use of Early Access is the Minecraft model, when you can genuinely say, “This game isn’t done yet, but it’s already super fun to play around with.”

  6. tangoliber says:

    I generally just want to play the games when there are finished, but if there is something that really appeals to me, I will play the Early Access version.

    The best Early Access experience for me was with Ziggurat. It was only in Early Access for a couple of months, and had a small community playing the game. It didn’t drag on forever. A lot of the perks and enemy ideas came directly from suggestions on the forum. Sometimes I will get a perk in-game that I remember suggesting myself, which makes me smile.

    • Hobbes says:

      Zig was a good success story where EA goes, but had the benefit of a team that had a clear focus on what Zig was supposed to be, and what it was not. The result was a game that started off well, but felt barebones, even if the core shootyness was in place. The EA phase was mostly about finding out what worked, what didn’t, and refining all of that into something much more slick and polished, and optimising and shaking out all the bugs and rough edges.

      In short – how EA is *supposed* to be used. Or at least, one way EA is supposed to be used.

      I’d say Battle Brothers is using it in another useful way, which is a far earlier point in development, but again, same deal, the core loop works, they’re basically getting the community involved and then pushing on what works and shaking out the stuff that doesn’t.

  7. Freud says:

    If it’s done right, where the developers use the community to better the end product I am a fan of early access. But quite often it seems to be a poor version of pre-ordering and I’m not a fan of pre-ordering finished games. Even less of a fan of pre-ordering unfinished games.

  8. dangermouse76 says:

    “This is bad for players and I think probably makes Steam a barrel of landmines for anyone who isn’t totally savvy about PC games.” Graham.

    I think people are a lot more savvy than you give them credit for. If you go into EA without understanding you may never receive a finished or usable product……….well honestly I think very few people think that.

    To help I think it should state at the point of purchase something along the lines.

    Buy clicking here you acknowledge you may never receive a finished or functional product.

    That should cover the people who would blindly hand over money for EA games ( early access ). Ultimately the market will determine the future of EA, if it’s all dribble people will move away.

  9. TheAngriestHobo says:

    My biggest early access regret would probably be Mordheim. It was the only GW game I ever played (with the miniatures, I mean), so it occupies a special place in my heart, but it’s been in development hell FOREVER. At this rate, I’m not expecting to see any form of continuity between skirmishes for another year or two – despite that being all that anyone’s asking for right now. It’s fine to be cautious and focused on perfecting small details before adding new features, but if you’re going to be doing that with a critical part of the gameplay experience, then early access is not right for your project.

    On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Starmade. I’ve had dozens of hours of fun with that already, and it’s pretty bare bones (only one mob in the game, mining on planets is pointless, no cave systems, etc.). It’s kind of a combination of the Minecraft and Kerbal examples provided in the article, though, so I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that it works. The core of the gameplay revolves around building spaceships and using them to destroy OTHER spaceships, so as long as you have that (and my god, do they do it well), everything else is trimming.

    • JohnnyPanzer says:

      This is one of the reasons I think EA is actually better for customers than it is for developers: many customers have an extremely skewed view of what a normal development time is. Mordheim has been in Early Access for what, six months? If it was not in Early Access, at this point in developmet there wouldn’t even have been any screenshots released. No early looks, no articles (apart from a few “according to rumours a game called Mordheim is in development” stubs) and no coverage. But since it’s in EA for all the world to see and play, people are getting irritated and view it as a stalled development.

      Mordheim might very well turn out to be a bad game, I am wary of it myself, but “slow development” is not on the current checklist of bad signs to look out for.

      Even Kerbal Space Program, a perfectly solid release, is still struggling with this reputation of being “that game that was in development hell forever”, and it took four years to develop. Four years! It’s a perfectly normal developmet time, it’s just that it was completely transparent and most gamers believe that the actual development time for a game is the time that passes between the first trailer and the actual release.

  10. TimRobbins says:

    Early Access as an idea is fantastic, but it’s abused and improperly used more often than not. Same with Steam’s Greenlight, DLC, re-releases, unity asset store, crowdfunding, the list goes on. As a result, I’m entirely cynical and refuse to participate in any of the above, even though there are objectively great individual cases for them.

    • KevinLew says:

      I agree with absolutely everything you just said. In theory, Steam Early Access is a brilliant idea. However, the problem with it is that it’s so easy to abuse that developers with no morals can turn it into a profitable scam.

  11. gunny1993 says:

    I think early access is a good thing, but the developers need to be COMPLETELY honest, there’s a trend with developers (even the good ones) to refuse to acknowledge when they make a mistake. For instance KF2, whilst a really good game as it is the slow ass pace that they’ve been releasing content has been bad for everyone, whilst the devs are good people and no one with a brain is decrying them as scammers its clear they’re handling PR and such in a way that would fit a released game better.

    • Baines says:

      I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

      We’ve have plenty of instances even outside Kickstarter and Early Access, like Brad Wardell defending the original ship state of Elemental and Stardock apparently ignoring complaints raised by beta testers. Randy Pitchford is still defending Aliens Colonial Marines.

      When you get into Kickstarter, you’ve got people after the fact admitting that they didn’t know how much money they’d need and asked for what they thought they could get. You’ve got people also withholding information that they felt would negatively impact the campaign. Now we have corporate involvement popping up mid-Kickstarter.

      And Early Access? Fixing that is probably a lost cause.

  12. Baines says:

    Double Fine’s issue pretty much is that they are still operating as before, except now they don’t have a publisher holding them to any responsibilities.

    Double Fine (and Schafer) is the kid who never learned to take care of himself. The kid that chaffs about his mom’s rules and how his mom doesn’t let him do what he wants, but who only survived because his mom bought his food, made his meals, washed his clothes, made him go to school/work, bailed/kept him out of jail and otherwise covered/fixed his mistakes. Now that kid is on his own, has yet to learn how to take care of himself, and seemingly doesn’t even realize that is an issue.

    Which is perhaps the biggest difference between Schafer and Molyneux… Double Fine appears to operate with an innocent ignorance, while Molyneux crossed into willful criminal fraud a while back.

  13. Stepout says:

    I stay away from alphas and betas and whatnots nowadays, but I used to be all about them. I was always super excited to get into a closed beta/alpha for a game I was passionate about and start hunting for bugs and giving feedback. Some developers are super open to feedback and it makes you feel like you are part of process, which is awesome, but it can become a double edge sword. Sometimes games start going in a direction (based off of feedback) that you don’t want it to go. I always play single player games, if a game has multiplayer I ignore it. So when a game starts getting balanced/changed based off of multiplayer feedback and those changes negatively impact the single player, I get all butthurt over it (right or wrong). I realize that’s entirely selfish, but I’ve had that experience enough times to know that I need to stay away from early access.

  14. Titler says:

    I’ve supported three early access games, Minecraft, KSP and Shroud of the Avatar; the first proved how it should be done, charging only $5 when it had little content, only putting micro-transactions in as an April Fool, putting free java versions online to advertise it, and not worrying about piracy at all, instead making a game people loved enough to want to buy at only $20, even at beta launch. And as a consequence has sold over 70 million copies.

    And then there’s Shroud… which has broken my heart, because it became so obsessed with raising money from a rapidly shrinking pool of uber-Whales that they’ve even started removing bits of pledge rewards and deliberately devaluing the remaining upgrade paths of others, whilst redesigning core parts of the game purely to satisfy the Whales sense of superiority. An example? MMORPG.com recently ran this article,, but neglected to point out that the placement tools aren’t available unless you spend at least $900 more to buy a Player Owned Town. There is not, as far as anyone knows, any way to get such a town in game otherwise.

    And they’ve also had to change the terms and conditions on the Towns because they’ve sold too many for the planned map to hold, so now any you buy in the future are instanced to someone else’s town instead. Fair? Absolutely not. But they’d known for some time they weren’t going to be able to honor the terms of a sale, yet they wouldn’t stop running it.

    And what is worse, there was a stretch goal in the store for movable building placement within individual lots which would likely use the same technology, but will open a huge moral can of worms if it’s used now because that stretch, along with all the others, has failed to reach it’s target. So what do you do with the donations for that? Or those who donated but for something that wasn’t associated with other fundraising, like horses or sailing?

    As a consequence Steam logins over the week have been hovering around 160 people… TOTAL. But they’re very, very rich people, so that makes it ok, I guess.

    Incidentally, that MMORPG article? There is suspicion it’s paid for astro-turf, because the author is a CEO of a company that submits articles to do exactly that.

    So… Early Access? It depends on how disciplined a game’s designer is at actually designing a game first, and not getting sucked into the funding whirlpool and losing sight of what they were supposed to be raising money for in the first place.

    But how can you know that? Indeed, is it fair to ask people to fund what can quickly turn into unethical business practices that make you, the user feel dirty for supporting? This article quickly glosses over the sheer anguish that the collapse of Spacebase led too, even though RPS had covered what a disaster it had been previously… Is it fair to ask people, including naive gaming children, trusting fans, and nostalgic old people to try and judge not just the business propositions of a product before it’s even built, but also the moral and dedication levels of individual programmers? And based on what? A media that’s often forgetful when you shouldn’t be actively distrustful of it?

    And who had heard of Notch before he released Minecraft? And on the other hand, millions of us thought we knew “Lord British”; And yet the expected results have proven completely topsy turvey. The only logical stance then is the one given at the end here; Don’t buy the game until you’re happy to purchase it; but the thing about Early Access, as Shroud has proved to me, is that even something you love can be turned into something that hates you later, simply because you don’t fall into the spending demographic they decide to go for, funding they want to build a game you might never have signed up for.

    So don’t buy Early Access at all, then..? Sadly that’s the conclusion any rational person would make after being burned one too many times. Will the industry learn to avoid burning it’s own customers? What do you think? Sigh… buyer beware, then!

    • TimRobbins says:

      I’ve never pre-ordered or bought an unfinished product before, but have to seriously close my eyes, cover my ears and hum every time Shroud is mentioned. Ultima Online is my one true weakness, but it sounds like my patience has paid off. I’m severely disappointed to hear how it’s turned out… but thanks for the update.

      • Titler says:

        Trust me, it’s nothing like Ultima Online at the moment; there everyone started from scratch and if it existed in game, you could have it, at least with effort and time and finding the right seller… that’s what kept the sandbox interesting, you could set your own goals and work towards them.

        The Early Access model, if kept tightly on a rein might have been able to support this, but they’ve rapidly collapsed into making a game for the 1%, and this in the age of economic collapse in living standards, and when cheap PC gaming has never had more options. It’s a spectacular misunderstanding of what will draw an audience. Check the Pledge structures (which are being reduced if you don’t pledge above Ancestor right now, you’ll get less if you do upgrade later) and the Store, but off the top of my head, if you don’t literally spend hundreds or even thousands, you can never have:

        * A Castle, a Ship, or any place to put them outside the standard City lot. This includes coastal or riverside spots which normal houses aren’t allowed on, and Castle plots are pledge only.
        * Control of a Town, which unlocks minor landscaping and setting PvE/PvP rules. Cash store only.
        * Access to a working radio (for podcasts), teletype machine (for in-game games), and possibly even vegetable decoration (this may change later, but the last wave of store releases were trees and plants, would you believe, with no mention of whether there will ever be NPC purchasable ones)

        Meanwhile instances are small, taming is going to be “Summon From Power Bar” like Lord of the Rings Online/Star Trek Online/Not Ultima Online At All, housing space which was supposed to be a long term goal is going to be easy to find from selling hundreds of 1% Player Towns whilst simultaneously offending you because it’s cash store gated… PvP is likely to be dead because the only people playing are those so emotionally and financially invested they don’t care about the wider game’s health as long as they can pay to be top of the emerging Feudal System, and they don’t tend to be interested in that playstyle.

        It might, with some phenomenal writing, be close to the single player Ultimas, but you won’t know about that until launch because every single Newsletter talks about new things you can buy in the store. Shroud’s problem is not that the Devs don’t listen to their players, it’s that they’ve set up a pricing system that encourages ultra-Whales, then having biased the spending patterns, said that those patterns justify focusing on the Whales even more because that’s where the largest funding comes from, and doubled down on editing the game towards their preferences…

        Star Citizen from the outside looks like it’s going down the same route too. As long as they can keep generating money, well the project isn’t dead quite yet, so why worry?! But one of the benefits of a publisher is that by enforcing deadlines, they at least bring some focus and determination to projects, rather than constant directionless whimsy. And I’m on the side of artists and dreamers, believe me! But they still have to be true to their art, not just saying “oh, it’ll get done tomorrow I promise!”. And the sad thing is, the audience which accepts that excuse and keeps throwing money at developers is going to prove the undoing of this patronage model. My feeling is that Star Citizen, and Shroud are going to prove the big failures of this generation because people can’t stop treating the Games Industry as if it’s your friend… when, because it’s so adored, well… they only hurt us because we love them! We made them mad, it must be our fault for not believing in them enough.

        Um…. no?

    • Fiatil says:

      Wow, thanks for the heads up on Shroud. I vaguely remember the kickstarter for this and holy shit that is a terrible result. It checks a lot of boxes for my neverending lust for a UO/SWG successor, but who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to charge $900 + for an instanced housing zone? I guess you can’t call the company too crazy, as they sold out of the $900 + housing zones that are on the map proper.

      Do people really think, when they are paying $1000 for the rights to be unfair overlord of an early access MMO, that this game is going to have a sustainable player base? As soon as just about anyone realizes the amount of pay to win entailed, they’re going to leave. It’s going to be a world with 300 towns and 300 occupants, you may as well just host a private server for an existant MMO and play by yourself with all of the hacks on to save the money.

      That’s really disappointing. SOE is going to make an official pre CU SWG server soon right? :( (Yeahh I know, that’s even less likely than SWGEmu finishing, being stable, and preventing hackers from destroying the economy).

    • melnificent says:

      It is sad to see the spacebase stuff being ignored so easily. It’s like a collective “it happened, but we love double fine so move on.” That isn’t going to happen for lots that were burned by it. There was all the appearances of a fleshed out project that was running well…
      Then the updates dried up. Followed by a quiet changing of the project documents. Suddenly it was declared fit for release from an early alpha because money… not denying money is important but if your going to abandon a project then pull it from sale too.

      On the plus side. Every time I’m tempted to buy an early access game I think of spacebase…. which had positive coverage everywhere. Then I bookmark the page and leave whatever it is alone.

      Whemever a game comes out of early access and I am wary as spacebase had shown that retitling an alpha was all that was needed to class as a “final” release.

      • Hobbes says:

        Yes but that boils back to the same reasons why Tim Schafer is liked and why John Bain (TotalBiscuit) gets quoted out of context so frequently (and why the media is so quick to decry one group of people for using dehumanisation as a means of debate when they, hypocritically do the -exact same thing- the next sentence). The Mainstream Press loves a narrative and silly little things like facts and the issue that DoubleFine basically used Early Access *as* Kickstarter for DF-9 can be forgiven when it’s Timmy because well, he’s nice and cuddly, right?

        That means rolling the rug up and nobody fancies doing that because it means actually asking some less than pleasant questions about the state of Gaming Press as a whole, which is still in a pretty piss poor place. It’s why rather than actually ask those questions the media just plugged their fingers in their collective ears and then let YouTube LP’ers steadily erode their readership figures, because it was easier to believe in a lie than actually deal with some not very nice truths. *shrug*

  15. kud13 says:

    For me it’s simple- I game exclusively single-player, so I wait for a finished product, read the reviews on a finished product, then purchase.

    Kickstarter is a special case- I view it as “patronage” first and foremost- i.e., I vote with my wallet that people an idea I find neat should have the money to make their game happen.

    I’ve supported over 20 Kickstarters, I think. About half of them have been delivered. Due to my time constraints, only ones I’ve actually tried to play were Project Eternity and Shadowrun Returns. I’ve enjoyed both.

    From time to time I still wander over on KS and survey any games I might find interesting, but I do it less, due the above mentioned time constraints. This does not mean I think it’s a less viable model now than half a year ago, merely that my life priorities have changed (I generally do less gaming and game-related stuff lately)

  16. SheepOFDOOM says:

    I’m pretty picky about what I personally buy EA, and I’ve been mostly pleased with them. But I also try to game with a group of friends, and I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to acknowledge that they have a finite amount of time for each game. The same friends who hop on a game the first time they hear some good hype about it are also the chaps that only spare like 2-3 weeks for a game before they move onto the next one, there’s just too many games out there to play. So the group that follows them plays some bare bones mechanics, says “oh yes, this will be cool later” but then we never actually play it once it’s actually cool! I’ve been playing with my friends less because of all these half-baked Early Access hype trains, and that bums me out a bit.

  17. Hart says:

    “Early Access has become home to a lot of games that seem like half-empty buckets with a hole in the bottom – new features and content dropped in every once in a while but only ever enough to maintain a status quo rather than moving toward an endpoint.”

    Yes, we’re looking at YOU, Starbound.

  18. geldonyetich says:

    I think that the morbid truth about Early Access games is that the overwhelming success of the pirate scene has lead to weird models of sales on the PC platform:

    1. Subscription based games where pirating the client doesn’t do you much good because you’ll need an active account to get in. Granted, credit card fraud and account theft abounds.

    2. Microtransaction / DLC models where the initial product is free or else hardly anything compared to the extensions sold for it, where the real money is. Can’t pirate server permissions, or perhaps the pirate scene will have moved on once the initial release is behind the game. EA does it with their DLC, but this model is rife on Facebook and mobile devices, too.

    3. Early Access / Crowd Funded Games – Lumped together because what’s basically being sold here is a speculative product. Can’t pirate what doesn’t exist, and if you use the state of a finished product as an excuse not to pay for it, too late: you already bought it when it was early access.

    For me to sit here with the perspective of a gamer and ask a developer, “But does your choice to do early access produce games I would enjoy?” is a bit like asking a farmer, “But does your choice to over develop the land and use pesticides produce produce I would enjoy?” Frankly, my enjoyment had nothing to do with the reason why they do it.

    • Shadow says:

      If piracy has had any influence on today’s PC gaming reality, it’s not piracy itself but disproportionate fear of it. Its impact is extremely hard to measure, and some studies have claimed it’s actually minimal. Thing is, on the other hand you have fear-mongering companies who use it as an excuse to enact draconian DRM schemes. The same biased market analysts drive some developers to focus on consoles. “PC is infested with pirates,” they say, when it truth piracy is far more rampant on consoles.

      Anyway, DLC never stopped pirates if the game is popular enough. Same with Early Access, but it does perhaps present a stronger barrier. If only because most EA games aren’t all that popular.

      Personally, overall I think Early Access has had a positive impact on PC gaming: granted, there’s a lot of bad examples out there, but as the article says, there’s also a lot of good games which couldn’t have existed without it. That’s more than enough for me.

    • Hobbes says:

      *snortgiggle* Piracy having an impact on the PC gaming scene? Really? Yeeeeeenope.

      Lost sales fallacy at work ladies and gents!

      Pro tip: PC gaming is a mess not because of piracy, but because developers generally treat the PC as a second class platform to develop FOR not least because unlike a console, which is a nice static target to develop and optimise around, PC’s are made up of many components and software elements, are an intrinsically hostile environment – piracy being the least of your problems – and generally when it comes to making a good PC port, you need developers who understand and know how to get the best from the platform.

      In other words, you need developers with a *clue*. Generally speaking most of the time by the point that the console dev cycle is done and QA is done for that and certification is out of the door, they usually farm the port off to some B-team who then does a cack job and goes “That’ll do” in a brum accent, at which point, unsurprisingly the port sells horribly and the company decides it’s not worth bothering in more than a minimal capacity with PC for!

      The more you learn folks.

      • geldonyetich says:

        It’s true that the average PC is made up of a random myriad of components that could lead to a wide degree of compatibility issues, but APIs have largely caught up to the point where most of that has been ironed out by a third party before the game developer even gets involved.

        Personally, I base what I’m saying on an, “Actions speak louder than words” standpoint. What kind of game sales models seem to be in vogue for the PC right now? Subscription-based models. Micro-transaction based models. Crowd-funded or Early Release models. What do these all have in common? They each have a means to counteract the impact of piracy.

        Something i did not mention earlier in the case of Early Release is that it incentivizes people to pay for an incomplete game in order to forward its development, even if they’re not particularly impressed with the current version.

        As for the whole, “prove to me pirate numbers are that bad” aspect, that’s just a typical, “Absence of evidence” fallacy. I’ve seen plenty of numbers that suggest that they are, of course, but it’s just going to be hand-waved anyway.

        • Hobbes says:

          No, the numbers you claim to see are literally based on the “Lost sales fallacy”. That’s the whole point of the Business (or Bullshit) Software Association releases, what they do is they take the MSRP (sans any form of discount, promotion or geographical allowance in terms of pricing) and then multiply that by what the Manufacturer -claims- is the number of lost sales due to piracy. Your numbers are thus based entirely on thin runny brown stuff. Even if the numbers of pirated copies were anything -close- to the truth (which, by the way, they’re very unlikely to be because that generally relies on commercial counterfeiting and not casual piracy numbers and then applies a multiplier based on magic fairy dust) the fact they’re assuming that they’d get the full MSRP for each and every copy is an absolute work of fiction.

          It’s like the news reports that claim the police have captured cocaine with a street value of N, when the reality is what they’ve actually captured is a few grams but they need a bigger number so it looks scarier to the general public. Lying with statistics and using the “Lost sales fallacy” to create the numbers upon which it stands does not, give you a logical premise upon which to start an argument, it just means you’re standing on a sea of manure and taking handfuls and throwing it around.

          Do better.

          PS – As for the state of the DirectX HAL mess, really? 27 versions of DX9 and counting and half of them are more broken than I care to start with. DX10 and 11 were powerful but came with some significant overheads, meaning half of the games ended up running dual moded because despite the widespread adoption of Win 7, nobody wanted to leave out DX9 support because as much of a pig it might have been, at least it was a friendly pig. People are really, really praying that DX12 finally puts a nail in this whole mess and allows DX9 to die a death, preferably by chemical fire. If that happens, I’ll supply the chemicals.

  19. konondrum says:

    As an old school gamer (all the way back to the C64 and MS-DOS days) I see early access much the same way as Snapchat, Twitter and Tinder. Just a bunch of immature, fickle children who don’t know what they want. Lots of energy and no direction. That may well make me a curmudgeon but I’m fine with that. Just give me a solid, well constructed, complete game and I’m happy.

    • JohnnyPanzer says:

      Funny, because as an old school gamer, Early Access is my number one source of games that capture the feel of games I played 30 years ago. Kerbal Space Program, Prison Architect and Offworld Trading Company all reside in the same universe of playfulness, tinkering and joy that I remember from the good old days.

      • jrodman says:

        Thinking back to 1982. Some things were already seemingly well-defined. We had 2d racing games like Lemans, and various Pac-Man clones. But there was also bizarre shit like Phantom Karate Devils, or even just very strange remixes of concepts like Blueprint.

      • konondrum says:

        Don’t get me wrong, I love the indie scene. Spelunky may be my favorite game of all time at this point. I’ve heard great things about Kerbal of course, Prison Architect has zero appeal to me but if that’s your thing, fine.

        Spelunky is a masterpiece because it is honed to a superlative level of balance, polish and singular vision. That’s certainly not the only way to make a game, I love Mass effect too. I’m glad there been a couple of real success stories in the EA scene like Kerbal and Minecraft, but it seems like 90% of the stuff that I see Steam pushing me don’t appeal at all.

        Also I’m cheap, I can’t justify paying for the right to debug their code when I have a backlog of perfectly good, complete games I haven’t even started yet.

  20. racccoon says:

    The winner and sinner is the Devs who do this, they know they can reap rewards without really lifting a finger and want after so called release. then open another kickstarter!
    Foundering flounderers, its a no brainer, the easiest white collar game crime made from white lies.
    Of all the founders/kickstarter type games in your folders your percentage of average of all the games you can really play is around THREE PERCENT! Yes 3% of 100% That’s all the games you bought in this new FAD are just 97% crap.
    One of biggest mothers out there is “STAR CITIZEN” Awards for this game are.. The biggest ever game con, the biggest staged theatrical in the world, & finally the most compulsive beggar ever Chris Roberts.
    On launch of STAR CITIZEN seek Chris Roberts out as he will have another bowl, he is now a master at it, watch out for his next game as more than likely this will be kickstarted before he launches this record SC farce.
    & so it goes on & on. as today the majority of gamers are total mugs to deception.
    End of story.

    • Shadow says:

      While I understand some of the skepticism, Star Citizen keeps chugging along and has yet to crash and burn.

      Aside from that, and I’m not sure where you got that statistic from, I doubt it’s helpful in any case. Nobody has backed every game there is to back, so the proportion is meaningless. Many seeds were planted and many didn’t come to grow, but some did and that, on the grand scale, makes the whole thing worth it.

      The first wave of Kickstarting and crowdfunding was perhaps overly optimistic, but both gamers and devs are getting wiser. The former are learning what to support and what not to, and the latter how to approach funding and manage a project being sold before it’s done.

      • drinniol says:

        76% of statistics are made up. 94% of all people know that!

  21. Gpig says:

    I’ll read this RPS chat when it’s finished and commenters have given their final verdicts. The snippets of John’s opinions look good, but snippets of John’s opinions can be deceiving.

    I may read it early if they add Jim or Quinns in a future update.

  22. bill says:

    I have not tried any early access games. (Well, maybe Unturned for about 1 hour because it was free).

    I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s a combination of things.
    – it sounds like hard work. You’re beta testing, but also have to keep up with patches and developments and roadmaps, etc..
    – they tend to be more expensive than all the games on my wishlist on steam… so why pay more for an unfinished game when I can buy a finished well-regared game for less.
    – they sound like time sinks (in the same way as MMOs, which I also have avoided)
    – I rarely replay games, so the first impression is important to me.
    – I also like to “finish” games. Whereas most of these seem like they have no end.
    – They seem to be 90% barebones survival games with physics engines and nothing much else. They all seem to plan to be the best game ever by eventually adding all things ever. But I’ll be bored of a barebones survival physics sandbox long before they ever get to that point.

    How I would fix them (in my uninformed opinion):
    – Enforce some form of mandatory roadmap with milestones. Make that actually part of the steam systsm, so it has to be filled out by the dev, and can be easily seen on the store page, and the items can be ticked off as achieved.
    – Some kind of partial escrow system for money paid. There are different levels of complexity you could shoot for, but basically the developer would get some of the money now, and some at each milestone.
    – Maybe allow people to pre-order* at a specific milestone. So I can buy now, but get access to the game when it hits point v0.8. Developers might get some or none of the money now, and the rest/all is unlocked once they hit that point. Others might pre-order at different points for different prices.

    *Generally I think pre-ordering is a mug’s game and would never recommend it. But with early access the aims are a little different.

    • drinniol says:

      I don’t think anyone has been forced to buy an early access game before they wanted to. You treat it like it’s some goon squad that comes around to someone’s house saying pay up or we’ll break your legs.

    • konondrum says:

      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Very much in agreement, verbatim. Much better said than mine above. This is why I have have never signed up and probably never will. I suppose these games appeal to a different kind of gamer.

    • Baffle Mint says:

      – they tend to be more expensive than all the games on my wishlist on steam… so why pay more for an unfinished game when I can buy a finished well-regared game for less.

      This is a big one for me. The biggest one, probably. I’m a sad poor person, and while most Early Access games aren’t mind-bogglingly expensive, they’re almost always more expensive than completed games on sale.

      Honestly I constantly wonder how games manage to be profitable with the way they’re priced, because this is also how I feel about new games; I can buy Bioshock Infinite when it comes out for $60, or wait a few years and buy it for $5.

      A lot of gaming culture seems to involve willingness to pay a lot of money solely for the ability to be current.

  23. fish99 says:

    One thing I’ve noticed on the Steam ARK Survival Evolved forum is – people don’t accept that it’s not a released game, and can you blame them when they’ve paid money for it? Early Access is a strange beast – basically an open alpha you have to pay for, but with a million copies sold, ARK may have already done most of it’s sales and by the time its actual release comes around in 12 months time, most players will have moved onto something else, so you could argue the game needs to be in a good state (optimized, feature complete and relatively bug free) now while the most people are playing it.

    I’d say then there’s a lot of negatives to Early Access for players, but for developers it let’s them finish a game when they were about to run out of money, and maybe fund their next game, rather than potentially just going bust.

  24. DeepFried says:

    Early Access can clearly be both bad or good for both consumers and developers, on one hand you’ve got something like DF-9 which ran into losses and had to be shutdown – a loss for Double Fine and given the abortive development state it was left in a definite loss for the customer. From that to stuff like Prison Architect, which lives and breathes Early access, and stuff in the middle like Divinity OS and many others which spend a relatively short time in EA but benefit for it.
    Frankly i’m thankful that stuff like Dirt Rally and Killing floor 2 is in early access at the moment.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sihoiba says:

      DF-9 is an interesting case really as it was cancelled to all intents and purposes, but they cancelled a game having already sold it to people.

      That’s one of the problems with Early Access, if you’re making a game how do you can the project if you’ve already sold it?

  25. oafish-oaf says:

    I can’t comment on whether it is better for devs or not, because I only have a basic grasp of what goes on behind the scenes aspect of Video Games. As for myself, I trust my gut on what would be worth it for the purposes of my own entertainment. That is to say, I have a completely selfish POV without any concern for how my decision may affect the industry as a whole, sorry to say.

    For example, there are two Early Access games that I have my eye on right now: The Long Dark and Starcrawlers. I bought the EA version of The Long Dark because I immediately wanted to experience the beautiful world that I saw in some screenshots and was curious about what else was in it (that it has turned into a damn fine survival game over the months since I got it is icing on the cake).

    Starcrawlers on the other hand, I will not buy in Early Access. That is a game that I will wait for the finished version. From what I’ve learned about it, there doesn’t seem to be a single reason other than “pay $$$ to help us make the game better” to get it in EA. As I said above, I’m aware that if everyone approached EA like this, it could be to the detriment of the basic idea of EA as an industry tool and so… I’m bad.

    HOWEVER, I am EQUALLY excited about the final version of both of those games. The day they’re both finished, I’ll happily play them (and in Starcrawlers’ case, god knows when that will be). Just my two cents (from a mostly ignorant, mostly lazy, fan of games).

  26. Hobbes says:

    Early Access in principle – good. In practice – so many issues of abuse and incompetence I’m losing count now.

    I try to help devs where I can with positive and constructive feedback, the ones that -want- to listen. But there’s so many that tend to end up defensive about “their little babies” and not even willing to listen to actual feedback, or you get developers who use Early Access as an excuse to push out junk and then EA is basically their testbed to make sure they can debug that junk via Steams’ CDN. It’s not really surprising people are turning against Early Access as a concept (it doesn’t help that there’s now a path from Greenlight to EA which now fills EA with a lot of drek, which is a whole new realm of bad).

    This doesn’t even touch upon the fact that high profile failures such as Hidden Path Entertainment and DoubleFine make it look like even “trusted” developers can screw the pooch on Early Access (and are two of the biggest abusers of the Early Access System) that they’ve poisoned the well for others. Which has in turn made it harder for the devs who are trying to use Early Access the *right* way and to try and develop decent games.

    • MattM says:

      When EA games make potentially bad design choices, there is always a few superfans who believe that the dev team is infallible and all decisions are made is accordance with a pure artistic vision. In the forums, these fans frequently try and shout down differing opinions and think that any negative feedback is an attack. (You’ll read “Since players could have chosen to not purchase the game, no one should criticize the game. )The forums end up dominated by those that love grind, enjoy having large advantages over newcomers or whose idea of balanced difficulty is warped by 500 hours of practice.
      Some devs can handle these problems. They set a tone of polite debate and shut down flamers, even when the flamers are defending the devs. Some devs can’t or won’t and after a while the only people who post are those who express the orthodox view on the game and who have a high tolerance for toxicity (usually those who are toxic themselves). The devs only listen to this small group and use their praise as a counter to any negative feedback.
      Diablo 3 was a pretty clear example. After a few months the forum consensus was majority defensive of the game and the developers stood by bad decisions for far too long. Only the massive fall off in player count finally convinced blizzard that they really had made some mistakes.

      • Hobbes says:

        Yeah but most devs are so bloody precious about their little babies that even well meaning, well thought out and highly constructive feedback usually comes across to them as “ZOMG YOUR GAME SUCKS THE BIG ONE” and then they end up going “nope, not listening, lalalalalala”

        Even though in reality it’s more the fact that the core of the game mostly works but it needs a revamp in key areas, or some areas work and others don’t. And rather than listen to the people who are actually suggesting other alternatives and possible diagnoses, because it’s their baby, damned to suggestions they go full speed ahead. And then wonder why their game doesn’t end up doing that well at the end of the day.

        “Well we -did- try to tell them…”

  27. Jamesac68 says:

    When I think of Early Access I think of-

    Rodina
    Nuclear Throne
    Action Henk
    The Forest
    Android Assault Cactus
    Broforce
    Planet Explorers
    Stonehearth

    And other games that have given me endless great gaming times. There are a few flops in my list of Early Access games I’ve played as well, none of which are in that list above, but I don’t really think the percentage is any higher than that of games that came out complete.

  28. Uglycat says:

    Townz was the worst EA, Death Inc was the biggest disappointment (although that was more kickstarter), Starsector and Minecraft have been the biggest wins.

  29. Agnosticus says:

    I don’t know why people are complaining so much about Early Access. All you have to do is inform yourself about the game and it’s current state before buying into it, just as with every “finished” game. In this day and age youtube, reddit, etc. provide plenty of information about almost every single game out there!

    Following the recipe above, I have had almost exclusively good experiences with EA games. Here are a few examples:

    – Crawl: maybe the best couch coop game there is
    – Broforce
    – Speedrunners
    – Killing Floor 2: while they are working very slowly I’ve already had my moneys worth of fun with this game
    – Besiege
    – Nuclear Throne
    – Grim Dawn
    – Don’t Starve

  30. blackknight115 says:

    I think steam early access has its place, just like kickstarter etc. If it intrigues you and you’d play it in its current state (as others have said), then its worth the investment. Otherwise wait until it does or skip it! Although I haven’t supported many early access the early access game thus haven’t been burned by any yet (we’ll see how Star Citizen turns out-still have my hopes up)… I’ve recently got into playing (and become addicted to) Dig or Die (a sandbox, base building, tower defence, survival game…)

    Although the best part isn’t that its already a lot of fun (and completely playable), its that it keeps getting better (recently having a huge update). The solo guy developing it is always on the steam forums answering questions/bug reports/suggestions – eager to make the game the best he can – while also holding onto his core plans for it – which I respect.

    What I also enjoy about the early access state is that I can in my own way, help craft the actual game with suggestions and bug feedback as the game is developed. Not being able to develop something like this myself, it gives me a sense of being able to actually be part of the creation of a game, even if perhaps in a small way. If it weren’t for EA in this case, I wouldn’t ever have this chance.

  31. anduin1 says:

    Obviously developers from what we’ve seen in these past 4-5 years of it. You can’t force them to finish the game, piracy is WAY up for indie titles because there’s no recourse for getting screwed when you buy something.

  32. thefinn says:

    I think it’s more NECESSARY for a lot of developers, but it definitely detracts from a lot of games.

    I was all played out of Civ 3 before the game even came out. Now that it is I can’t even play through a full game, it just bores me.

    On the other hand I still play DayZ when there’s a good patch going in (Like this next one hopefully).

    Overall I’d prefer the industry without it, but I don’t see that happening.