Offworld Trading Company, the "economic RTS" being developed by Civilization IV designer Soren Johnson and Mohawk Games, now has a playable prototype available. The catch: it costs $80, its under NDA, and there's no publicly available screenshots, videos or comments to help you decide whether it's worth your time.
The game's FAQ explains that they "intend the $80 Founder's Elite Edition to cater to people who want to get their feedback into the design process as early as possible, either out of love for the concept of Offworld Trading Company or respect for Soren Johnson and the rest of the Mohawk team's previous work."
Is this a good thing? I can't decide, so you tell me.
By paying the $80 (£46.88) for the Founder's Elite Edition of the game, you get immediate access to the prototype, a second copy of the game to gift to a friend, private forum access, access to design docs and concept art, plus a soundtrack, strategy guide and other bonus content when the game is released.
Pre-ordering under normal circumstances is a dumb idea. It's a hold-over from when there was scarcity in physical goods, which no longer exists for digital products. The inclusion of special "bonus DLC" and so on for pre-ordered copies is simply an effort to incentivise you into making hasty purchasing decisions.
But that's not quite the case with "early access" versions of the game, even when there's not a playable prototype. There's a lot of entertainment value to be found by following along with the development of a game - obviously - and that entertainment can be wholly separate from the quality of the eventual game.
In this instance, there's not just one playable version of the game, there's two. Two copies of a game for $80 isn't actually that bad, even ignoring the other bonuses. But are those other things bonuses? Are you paying extra for exclusive access, or to test an unfinished game that might not be any good? I'm... I'm confused. You're on your own.
At the very least, the game does sound interesting. Nathan interviewed Soren Johnson and art director Dorian Newcomb about the game back before it had a name, and its representation of competitive economics in lieu of traditional gunfights sounds fascinating.