Prison Architect Will Leave Early Access On October 6

Prison Architect [official site] is being released. Get it? Released. That’s a thing that also happens to prisoners. Prisoners like the sort the game is about managing. Get it? Yeah. Prison Architect will join society on October 6th.

If it has post-release bugs, does that count as recidivism?

Prison Architect was released into early access on September 26th 2012 and was one of the first wave of games added to Steam’s Early Access when that launched the following year. That’s three years of development, during which we’ve written about the game multiple times, including diaries of failure jails and lists of the best user-built jail successes.

Introversion Software have already said that they will continue to update the game post-release, though the only future project announced thus far is mobile support.

Not that I’m complaining. Where many early access games stumble or go long periods without updates, Prison Architect has had monthly updates for the entire duration of its development. What began as a fairly simple Theme Prison game now has complicated systems for logic circuits, drugs, and a situation by which your own avatar can be sent to your prison for criminal negligence. It sits somewhere between Bullfrog’s famed management fair and the more advanced simulation of Dwarf Fortress.

The October part of the release date was originally announced via the alpha 35 update video, which you can watch below. I am curious though: have you been waiting till this final release before playing or returning to the game?


  1. piphil says:

    I’ve been waiting for the final release. I bought the pre-release, and have briefly played through the tutorial, but I think that it’s a game that I’ll genuinely enjoy playing, and would prefer to wait until it’s ‘feature complete’ (as much as any PC games are these days).

    (That’s not to say that those who have been playing it in early access aren’t enjoying themselves, but with limited play time these days I can’t really commit myself to the noble pursuit of bug testing).

  2. CaptainPerhaps says:

    I bought this about a year and a half ago in a Steam sale I think, and haven’t played it because I’ve been waiting for the full release. It’s kind of annoyed me and put me off early access. I don’t want to play a work-in-progress version because I know that after a few months I will probably put it down and move onto the next game, and in this case I wouldn’t have even played the final version. It kind of irks me that a publisher can stoop to knock 50, 60, 75% off their game in a bargain basement sale when it isn’t even finished yet. Cheapens the product. Anyway, I guess I’ll give the final version a crack now, although with a someone bitter taste in my mouth!

    • CaptainPerhaps says:


    • Beefenstein says:

      It was in a Humble Bundle as well. I practically got it for nothing. In fact it was so cheap I bought my dog a copy. He said ‘there’s not enough sniffing of bottoms’.

      • Shadow says:

        Clearly your dog needs to play more. K9 units sniff prisoners all the time.

        But then dogs can have notoriously short attention spans, so I can’t blame them.

  3. Turps says:

    Haven’t played it for about a year (think the logic gates/doors was the last update I played).

    Was always planning on returning to after early access.

  4. Matt_W says:

    Well, I’m a bit disappointed actually. When the game hit alpha, there was an intro to the game that involved sending a prisoner to the chair. The intro had a narration, provided a look at the ethical implications of a prison simulator, and provided a soft introduction to a couple of the concepts in the full game. I had always hoped that the game, when released, would have expanded on that idea. It appears that we’re just getting a sandbox though. I feel like, in a way, all of the features that they’ve added to the game have just made it more impenetrable.

    I haven’t actually fired up the game in a couple of years, but I wonder what it looks like now in light of, say Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent enormous article on mass incarceration. The potential for Prison Architect was that it would provide an interactive framework for exploring the social and political ramifications of incarceration. I understand that Introversion is a UK developer, but the United States sucks all the oxygen out of any discussion of prisons, having the largest total prison population in the world and the highest rate of incarceration. I’m curious to what degree it’s that and to what degree it’s just a diverting simulation game.

    • Distec says:

      I bought it in EA, but wasn’t a backer or ever really followed its development. But I never really saw any potential for a commentary on prison systems. Players are free to infer their own, but I never saw a promise of that intent from the dev or in any way the game plays.

      Which is fine, honestly. I want to play pretend Warden with a cartoony little prison.

    • SomeDuder says:

      While I’m sure there’s a game to be found in exploring the ethical and moral dilemma of the classical prison system, Prison Architect is not it and was never meant to be. Hell, just look at the name. It’s basically Dungeon Keeper with a modern UI.

      • Matt_W says:

        From an RPS interview with Chris Delay from 2012:

        We realised we were dealing with a political topic – you can’t remain abstract when it is a game about prisons. We had to have a story involving characters which was told in a relatively mature way. That was the birth of this mixing of cute abstract sprites and the more realistic weighty story. I’ve been attracted to dark themes – perhaps most obviously in Defcon, which is a genocide-level strategy – but we’d kept that fairly abstract. It didn’t need to be humanised. But this game did. Not all the story levels will all have the same level of darkness as that death row level.

  5. FreeTom says:

    Ha! Three years in alpha, one month in beta. Proof if any more were needed that these terms mean such different things to different developers as to be effectively meaningless.

  6. NephilimNexus says:

    Actually I think their timing is right on the spot. They’ve added pretty much all the can to the game without crossing over into being a headache. I’ve seen a lot of game start of lacking content, but then over time end up adding so much crap that I ended up losing all interest simply because I didn’t feel like devoting enough brain-space to a single video game as it would to pass fourteen credit hours of college.

    Moral of the story being that a good game finds a nice balance between being numbingly simple (ex: Zenga garbage) and numbingly complex (ex: Universal Combat). I think that Prison Architect has managed tog to get pretty close to that idea center point right now, so it’s good that they’re quitting while they’re ahead and not trying to load even more crap into it.

    • kulik says:

      Happened to me with Kerbal Space Program, I bought it in EA and play it quite a lot when it was very early in development, then I refrained from playing it till its finished. Now that it is finished I can’t get into it, I bounce of every time I try.

  7. DuncUK says:

    I think what the game is missing right now are winnable scenarios. The sandbox mode is great but at a certain point in time you have a completed prison that’s ticking over nicely (or being torn to shreds by gangs) and there’s nowhere to go. Banished had a similar issue for me, endless expansion isn’t necessarily that fun.

    I’d like to see scenarios a la Theme Hospital or Tropico 2/3/4 with a starting prison, victory conditions and one or other problems or restrictions that you have to solve or work around with some custom grants to match the scenario. The workshop could allow users to create their own and have the community rate them for difficulty. Combined with mods this could give the game significantly greater longevity.

    • heretic says:

      I think these were hinted at in a recent video, or it may have been my wishful thinking but I do believe they are hiding some feature for full release :) hopefully these are the scenarios you’re talking about!

      Had the same kind of issue, played it to death when I got it on a sale more than a year ago – then realised you could turn off automatic prisoner enrollment so it stopped being a rush to build everything.

      I’ll definitely play it again once released.

      • heretic says:

        And on a separate note the alpha videos were just hilarious and provided monthly entertainment :)

  8. stoner says:

    In my Prison Architect prison (nicknamed Gitmo), I’m reserving a solitary cell for a certain brown-skinned, 14 year-old “clock” maker who threatened to destroy a nearby high high school with his “science project”.

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      You’re either missing a /s tag, or are an offensive jerk. Possibly both?

      (For those not in the know, stoner is referencing the knee-jerk reaction in a Texas community that resulted in the brief arrest of an engineering-minded student who made his own clock at home. Way to discourage young people from the science or maker community!)

    • StAUG says:

      I lol’d.

  9. Vast_Girth says:

    I bought it ages ago and have tried it a couple of times over the years. Its always been complicated and intimidating when you first start to play but at the moment its almost insurmountably so. They really need add a very friendly tutorial that gradually introduces all the elements.

  10. teije says:

    I like these types of games, and followed the development of this with interest, but the subject matter has kept me away. Can someone who’s played it give some guidance on the tone of it and whether it is actually fun to play?

    • Beefenstein says:

      I’m not really sure if it’s a game and if you play it. You sort of do things, and things might happen.

      Then again I didn’t like Cities: Skylines either so I might just not be a sim kinda man.

  11. alms says:


    I played about 40h on a couple? Alphas, then quit because there was some issue with my doors, and the game never gave me the tools to figure out whether it was my mistake (but I seriously could see none, doors on a timer are not that complicated) or a bug. That was frustrating.

    Looks like they’ve added tons since my last game, but I’m not sure I’m going to return: do I really want to go through another bout of Prison Architect addiction?

  12. Marclev says:

    Well, a lot of the problem with a lot of these kinds of game is that there’s simply not enough to do, or rather there may be a lot to do, but it’s always one of the same 3 or 4 mission templates.

    I gave up on Far Cry 4 because I felt I’d seen all the game had to offer me after a few hours, sure the scenery changes and some of the architecture is pretty, but there simply didn’t seem to be much variety in the mission types (and the side activities just seemed a pointless waste of time).

    Open World is all well and good, but need to make sure that what you’re doing in that open world is interesting and makes you feel like you’re part of it moving forward, not just playing in a big sandbox with very few toys at your disposal with which to enjoy it (pretty much any Ubisoft open world game from what I can tell…).

  13. KaptainKartWheel says:

    Haven’t played for over a year but been looking forward to v1.0. Mightily addictive as you build a prison and realise something doesn’t work and try again on a new prison , rinse and repeat. Only minor issue I had with it was you could switch off prisoner “delivery ” and so give yourself time to plan and build. I liked the slightly manic affair of having to deal with massive influxes of prisoners on a frequent basis and thought that should be something you couldn’t change to make it easier.

    Does anyone know if they added planned prison breaks from inside or aided from the outside? I always thought those should have been a feature

    • Palodin says:

      Your prisoners can try and tunnel out, yes. Forget how you combat it, dog patrols probably. As for prisoner intake, nothing stopping you leaving it on, just gets a bit too hectic for me.