Why Early Access is somehow problematic

Yes, I see a great game! It completely suits my taste. It promises everything I like about this type of games and it makes me completely enthusiastic. I want this game so bad! Whenever I want to purchase the game, I find out it is an early access game. My face hangs. Somehow I get suspicious and I first decided to find out who the developers are. Can I trust them?

Hate it or love it

Early Access. You either hate it or you love it. It gives many opportunities for developers to raise the budget in advance with a game that is not yet finished. On the other hand, it often is a point of frustration for gamers. Some games seem to stay in early access forever. Will they ever be finished? After many years of discussion is still something that plays under Indie games today. Many work with a passion for a game, but sometimes the passion perishes and then a game is abandoned completely.

I followed a minor Game Design and Development in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). During that minor, various groups made games, all of which appeared on Steam. Very nice! However, one group had somewhat bigger ambitions than a game that would only be supported during that minor. They launched Beavers be Damned in early access. Now, more than two years later, the game is still in early access. I am wondering if they are still developing the game. I think they abandoned this free to play game.

Raise money with early access

Early Acces is a tool that allows developers to put their unfinished games in front of a real audience. That way the developers can receive feedback, which will help them by developing their game. To launch a game in early acces, the game must be a usable and playable piece of software. Developers often release their game early acces on platforms like Steam. When you buy a early access game, you do not have to buy it again when the game is fully released. You are simply buying it early.

One of the best known early examples of Early Acces is Minecraft. While the developers began developing this videogame in 2009, the game got released early acces. Markus Persson, the developer behind Minecraft worked hard on it, alongside his full-time job. Early Access helped him raise money for his project. Minecraft was a hudge succes. There are only a few people who never heard of Minecraft before. This videogame might have inspired a lot of game developers.

Will they ever finish this game?

On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of developers who do ask for money when the game is launched unfinished. Most sales happen in the first months of release. Afterward, sales might dry up fast. Early Access is a handy way to let a group of people buy an unfinished product.

The developer receives income and that can help him to continue working on the game. However, it sometimes happens that people put money into something and the product never ends. Why bother developing a game if you already made all the money you were going to make?

1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby) for example is a game like Guitar Hero, that never left early access. The game launched on early access in March 2013, and seven years later a lot of people got the feeling this game will never be finished. The game remains available to purchase for €9,99 (Europe), but it feels like the developers completely abandoned the project. New updates are yet to come.

But it can succeed!

Developing a game takes time. A lot of time! Especially if you are an indie developer working on a hugely ambitious project. Kick It! Was one of the first early access Steam titles, alongside Kenshi, Under the Ocean and Patterns. Kenshi was fully released in early 2018 and people loved it. Kenshi was one of the greatest examples of the success a Steam early access could become.

Alongside Kenshi, Patterns also reach the finish. Some people consider it as the worst examples of early access, alongside games as Starforge and Paranautical Activity which were received with mixed feelings. While the game had a huge potential, the developers team went silent and it took a long time before new updates got released. In the end the game, the game left early access but not all of the players who bought the game felt that it was really finished at that point. In the end they even had falsely advertised features that never were a part of the final version of the game.

Be aware!

You have already bought the product. It feels like you buy the ice cream stick, but you have to wait until the rest of the ice cream is made. Whenever you decide to buy an early access game, you already bought the product. That simply means that the developers never have to really finish a game, because they define whenever the game is finished. The developers determine when a game is finished. If they no longer feel like adding new features, you are out of luck as a buyer.

Sometimes a game can also be adjusted in such a way that it no longer feels like the game you once paid money for. Take patterns for example, which removed features after a long period of silence. The game received a lot of negative reviews. Valve does not bother if games stay in early access forever. They even warn you if you buy a game. On the other hand, most people never read such warnings.

Valve: “it is up to the developer to determine when they are ready to ‘release’. Some developers have a concrete deadline in mind, while others will get a better sense as the development of the game progresses. You should be aware that some teams will be unable to ‘finish’ their game. So you should only buy an early access game if you are excited about playing it in its current state.”

The flaws of early access

In the end, early access has some flaws. Over the years, those flaws have been shown to remain. Because they will not disappear, it is advisable to keep a close eye on whether or not you want to buy an early access game. It is free? Then you have nothing to lose. Will it cost money? Then check whether you trust the developers. In the end, it’s all about trusting whether the game is really ready.

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