Here Is The Last Ever Prison Architect Alpha Update

The seemingly endless expanse of alpha updates that make up our coverage of Prison Architect [official site] – we’re up to Update 36 now, friends! – is coming to an end. It’s true, these collective hands of rock and paper will no longer know the gentle touch of Introversion Software’s regular patches. As we draw closer to its eventual October launch, the final Alpha update reads as follows:

With this patch comes a new random event system, an optional system that increases the unpredictability of disasters. You get power station and kitchen fires, workshop accidents that require medical attention, collapsing fences that can lead to mass escapes, contagious viruses, mass assassinations and prisoner demands. Along with a truly stupid amount of bug fixes that you can read about in detail by clicking here.

Remember the time when Spy Party’s Chris Hecker bemoaned how “every damned update Prison Architect does” gets a post on RPS because someone who works there just happens to like the game. Aah, it truly is the end of an era.


  1. AngoraFish says:

    I wonder if there’s anyone left with some vague interest in the genre who hasn’t yet managed to acquire a copy.

    It can’t be economic for a company to continue to invest this much in developing a single game that’s been in the hands of so many people for so very long.

    • Grendael says:

      And yet I wonder if they have ever had so much money. Of hire much they have left I don’t know. I think they can tighten their collective belt really well when required.

      I like to think they will have enough for their next venture.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        I mean it’s Introversion, they’re used to working on shoestring budgets. No doubt they have quite a splash of cash saved up by now.

    • LionsPhil says:

      There’s probably a huge blob of potential customers waiting for it to leave early access and be “finished” before paying for it.

      • Crafter says:

        do you have any data to back that ?

        • LionsPhil says:

          Do you have any data to support OP’s claim?

          Would you like to go find some one way or the other rather than just being needlessly confrontational on the Internet?

          • Crafter says:

            I take that as a no :p

          • Crafter says:

            /cry the lack of an edit button.
            My intent was not to be confrontational (and I don’t think that my comment was confrontational just factual, but English is not my first language), just to ask for some data on this topic.

          • subedii says:

            I believe Brad Wardell basically said that Early Access games “do not sell well” and you shouldn’t expect to fund development from them.

            Of course, things could have changed in the meantime.

          • qrter says:

            It’s also Brad Wardell.. there are plenty more reasons a potential customer might not want to buy one of Wardell’s games than it being in Early Access.

      • Iskariot says:

        I am one of them.

    • Crafter says:

      It would make sense. It has been sold for quite some time, at some point new purchases wind down and can’t finance the development of the game anymore.

      I wonder if it would be possible to have a subscription based business model for this kind of game. It could probably not go on eternally, at some point you have to stop adding features, either because computers can’t handle additional computation or because the gameplay does not benefit anymore from new features. A smaller initial investment (4$ ?) + a small monthly subscription (1$ or less) could help develop this kind of sandbox game for very long, even for a niche genre.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        I, for one, would not find that acceptable. Not because I’m worried about it being more/too expensive, just because I don’t want the hassle of being “subscribed” to 300 games that I never play and having to go through them all cancelling my subscriptions once I’m no longer interested in following it.

        I think this “sell the game in Alpha and support it for a year” is a choice the devs make. It’s part of releasing software in early access, you’re admitting up front that your product is unfinished and you’re implying that you will put up the time and capitol to finish it if we invest early. You take a risk, similar to getting big investors to back you through the creation process and then selling a finished product, you might sell well and make money, you might not and have to go bankrupt. IMO if your game doesn’t sell well enough to make cover your development costs, whichever way you funded it, perhaps that’s a reflection on the quality/appeal of your game instead of a function of the funding system you chose?

    • MattM says:

      PC/Mac version
      20,704,451 people have bought the game.
      In the last 24 hours, 9,799 people bought the game.
      Most game salse do taper off quickly. Some games break the trend and have really long tails. It helps if they receive regular updates and occupy a uncrowded nitch.
      I know terraria and kerbal had a long thick tail and P.A. seems a little like those games.

  2. WiggumEsquilax says:

    You know why I bought Prison Architect? To support these update videos.

    The best thing for the community to do at this time is to wait a few months, then demand a bunch of additional features. PA Alpha will never end!

  3. klops says:

    Last Alpha build in late August. Launch in October.
    What happened to Beta builds?

    • JFS says:

      Didn’t you get the memo? Alpha is the new Beta. Beta is the new Final. Also, there is nonsuch thing as Alpha, Beta and Release build anymore. There is only Early Access. Forever Early Access.

      • klops says:


      • aldo_14 says:

        The whole alpha/beta thing is arguably invalid in modern CI-style software development anyway.

        • NomadSoul says:

          That may be true but why continue to call it alpha? Maybe they should just start saying the game is in early access and leave it at that. When they say it is an Alpha build it sets the expectation a beta is coming before the final release.

    • Csirke says:

      Well, early access is weird, right? At some point Alpha meant “not all features are in it yet”, and Beta meant “everything is complete, but we need to polish and fix bugs”. But with Early Access, they polish and fix bugs through the whole process, and new features get added in even in the after this last Alpha build. They just hope that those new additions will be small enough that they can make them polished and bug free between two releases, without doing a separate Beta before the 1.0 release.

    • Phinor says:

      Alpha/beta/etc. aren’t really rules set in stone. Prison Architect in 2013 was more feature complete than most games and for a simulation of its size, wasn’t nearly as broken as games often are on release. I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to call the game beta even back then.

      • klops says:

        True. That’s why calling PA Alpha is a bit off in my mind. But like you said, it’s not set in stone.

      • JFS says:

        Yes, it’s not really that much of a problem. It would, however, be nice if developers actually complied to some sort of convention, so as not to confuse their customers.

        It would also help if Early Access wasn’t the de-facto standard for PC games now. But who am I to want to turn back the wheel of time.

      • Bull0 says:

        You can’t be “more” or “less” feature complete, you’re either feature complete or you’re not. Anything less than complete is incomplete. Thus, PA up until this release was an alpha, and that’s fine. Now it’s feature-complete and they’re just polishing? That should be Beta. You say these things aren’t set in stone but really the meanings are very simple and it’s just a side-effect of the self-taught bedroom coder scene (which, don’t get me wrong, also delivers most of the innovation and colour in the industry) that they’re being butchered like this. It doesn’t serve anyone to muddle the terms up, clear communication is a boon to all, so why people keep advocating for misuse of technical terms is really baffling to me.

        • LionsPhil says:

          You can’t be “more” or “less” feature complete, you’re either feature complete or you’re not. Anything less than complete is incomplete.

          You’ve never had the product owner drop features (or iterative improvements of features) out of scope to keep a project on schedule?

          • Kitsunin says:

            Also, games in which just as much content is added post-release as pre?

            Ever since games stopped being something which only got to be released in a single state, the alpha-beta-finished distinction has become completely arbitrary and not worth arguing about.

          • Bull0 says:

            You’re not likely to use the terms alpha and beta unless you’re pretty much doing waterfall. I guess you could refer to every build as alpha, and go to beta when you code freeze, if you’re doing agile. Either way that’s still more accurate use of the terms than this habit of calling feature-complete builds alphas, or early builds betas.

          • Bull0 says:

            @Kitsunin hardly. The terms are undeniably *losing* their meaning through changed usage, but that hardly means the original meaning is worthless. From a consumer standpoint the modern early-access era makes having clear terms for alphas and betas more valuable, not less. Otherwise everything’s just product, and you can’t have any reasonable expectation of the state of the product without investigating. Personally I’m not happy with launch titles that feel like unfinished betas, and I’m not happy buying a game in “beta” to find it’s really early, or developers using the term “alpha” to try and excuse what’s actually just a buggy beta. None of these things are good for consumers so stop defending them.

            Do I think the terms are losing their meaning? Yes. Do I think we should therefore just fuck them off and accept what we’re given? Accept mediocrity? Fuck no, why should we. The market’s evolving though and I can’t really predict what the reference terms of the future will be, I just know the ones we had were fine.

  4. Holysheep says:

    Uh, a game leaves its alpha state. Look, I love prison architect and all, but it’s NOT how alphas should be remembered, this all sounds pretty stupid. The idea is to get out of it, as incredible as it may sound. RIGHT, OVERGROWTH DEVS?

    Congrats on reaching 1.0. Alphas are the enemy.

  5. Lanfranc says:

    My understanding is they’re going to continue with the monthly updates (next one will be Update 100, obviously), so I fully expect RPS to continue your coverage of every single one in the future as well.

  6. James says:

    As long as they fix the performance problems going past 200 prisoners, then kudos to them.

  7. Gerbick says:

    Might finally get round to giving it a go once it leaves early access. Got it a bundle age ago.

  8. ulix says:

    After hearing that before now there wasn’t any way for fires to start… I thought: wait! Didn’t I have a fire in one of my cantines a few betas back (around Beta 30 or 28)? I definitely had. Since then I’m always building functional sprinklers in my cantines.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      I thiiiink i recall a couple fires being set by prisoners who were rioting, but I’m not sure… Maybe they mean that there was no way for fires to spontaneously occur?

  9. Myrdinn says:

    I’m just confused because I thought alpha’s were for implementing new stuff and beta’s are for bug testing. There is no beta?

    • noodlecake says:

      They’ve been bug testing as they go. I know the next month or few will be all about the bug testing. Maybe that brief period will be the beta part.

  10. gingerbill says:

    This has been my favourite EA game , really had a lot of fun with it.

    The one big thing they need to work on is performance. I know loads of people with this game with all sorts of PC’s and the game always starts to get a bit jerky once you get above 2-300 prisoners. I would love build much larger prisons with far more prisoners but it’s just not worth it if it cant be silky smooth like it is till you reach around 2-300.

  11. quietone says:

    This game is one of the best examples on why I am currently enjoying early access/alfa releases than finished games. I love the evolution of the game, the new game-changing mechanics…it’s like christmas all year round!

  12. noodlecake says:

    It’ll be the last “Alpha” update, but they say in the video that they will continue to add features to the game after release and that they will continue to post these update videos.

    I think these videos are definitely a factor in the games success. They’re very entertaining, and it’s nice to hear about the thought process behind the design of each feature in the game.

  13. kulik says:

    Once finished, it would be great if they could finish the Subversion game. Maybe draw inspiration from Incognita the way Prison Architect was inspired by Dwarf Fortress.