The practice of releasing alpha or beta games as part of an "Early Access" plan is not, in itself, inherently harmful. It can be quite good for a game when developers priorities are in order and everyone is given plenty of information about what they're getting into upfront. Planetary Annihilation's early access version on brick-and-mortar store shelves, though? In a box, packaged up all shiny and new, bristling with implied promise of completeness and even going so far as to say, "includes free upgrade to full game"? Welcome, friends, to Murky Territory.
Here's what developer Uber Entertainment had to say about the latest potentially confusing blast in the era of modern storefare:
"At Uber we've been trying really hard to innovate on business models during the entire development of [Planetary Annihilation]. We had planned to do a retail release all along and the early access box came about as part of our experimental attitude. Since early access works so well, our partners at Nordic thought that it would be worth trying an early access retail edition and we agreed it was a cool idea."
"The real question is, why not? After all, they are getting the same game, just earlier. It's a changing world and we hope to continue trying out new and innovative ways to make games."
Which is maybe not the healthiest attitude to have given the potential risks involved. If Uber is gonna take the lead on doing this sort of thing at retail, I feel like their attitude should be one of responsibility and understanding, not "hey, why not?" Because to be frank, there are quite a few reasons "why not."
People still aren't fully educated about this stuff online, so I can't even imagine a doting grandmother or younger kid in a store being able to immediately grasp it all. They will likely see a box with a robot (like in Transformers!), some lava (like in Transformers!), and something called an Armalisk (like in Transformers?). And hey, it basically says it contains the full game right on the front, so why worry?
Early Access is tough to pin down. It varies from game-to-game, and even properly educated buyers can't really know exactly what they're in for. In fairness, Planetary Annihilation is in a pretty solid state overall, and genres like MMOs have already bucked the trend of being truly "complete" upon birth from cardboard wombs. In other words, this isn't totally unprecedented. It still feels weird to me, though. What do you think?