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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are Early Access Games Detrimental To The Gaming Industry?

Releasing games when they are not ready seems to be a trend in the gaming industry nowadays. Some are released filled with bugs and some just flat out not work. Most of the time, these unfinished games are released because of time limitation or the devs are just forced to release it ahead of time. In some cases, developers release their game in an unfinished state and have the players test it out for them. A few years ago people will call this bullshit, but nowadays we call it Early Access.

Quite a few games nowadays have been in an Early Access state and have a lot of people pay to test it. A quick visit to Steam’s Early Access page will show you titles such as DayZ, Rust, 7 Days to Die, Kerbal Space Program and Starbound. To be fair, these titles have good concepts and offer interesting gameplay experiences but one might wonder if people who play this game realize that what they are doing is actually quite detrimental to the industry and their own enjoyment?

While helping the devs to improve on a game that has a particularly interesting concept sounds like a good thing, paying to help them out is just a questionable decision. Where else can you find hundreds or thousands of people who want to pay for the “honor” of being a tester? Some company paid people to test their game, but some apparently can just make people pay to test their game, isn’t is just brilliant?

Taking part in Early Access programs would be detrimental to the gaming industry and your own personal enjoyment of the game. How, you say? For the industry it’s just a matter of trend. If a lot of game start to do this kind of thing, what would stop most company to just release their game in an unfinished state and ask the players to pay to “help them test and improve” the game? What Early Access does is set a bad precedent and just let developers be lazy. What they are doing is just stop designing the game at a general level and let the player fill in the gaps.

Of course, asking players for valuable input is a good thing, but when your game development process involves 90% player input and 10% your own idea(in the form of basic concept) I do think we have a problem here. This kind of development method would never result in any kind of innovation, something the industry need for a long time. We might get interesting premises and ideas, but most of what we’ll find would be nothing really new.

I said before that Early Access would also affect the player’s enjoyment of the game and I do believe this is 100% true. You get to play an unfinished version of the game, filled with bugs and errors and a multitude of problems. Sooner or later you will get bored or sick of the game and its problems. And when the game actually comes out, not everyone who “helped test” the game will actually play it.
Even if you don’t hate the game because of its earlier bugs and problems you will end up bored of it eventually and not enjoy the full experience when the game is out with all of it’s features. And even then, will the game have its intended list of features? What will you do if the developer decided to take out some feature that you actually really like when you bought the “game tester’s access” months or years ago?

Steam does offer refund for Early Access games so that we can get our money back if we feel that the game is not up to par with what we expected. But I wonder if there should even be an Early Access in the first place? I understand that it does have its uses. You get to have input from players who are most likely the main market of your game because they already paid for it just because of the concept and you get access to more funding when you’re still in development.

In the end it is back to the gamers to decide whether something is worth their money or time. Caveat Emptor does apply in the case of Early Access, but is this 100% acceptable? My answer would be no. The developers, publisher and even Steam or other platform that support Early Access should help the consumer to make better purchase decisions. And basically, developers shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing unless they are forced to do so because of monetary reason(the “we need money so we can live” reason, not the “we need more money so give me all of yours” one).

With all that said, people who paid for an early access game seems content with what they have. They like to see the game improve over time, and they feel happy to support the devs. Early Access is also much better than Pre-Ordering games, where you pay for something you can’t even try out. But we still have to be careful and not just trust the developers of these Early Access games easily. What do you guys think?

Note: This article is an old article I wrote for another site that is now closed. The content might not be relevant anymore right now.

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