Tuesday Topics: Has Early Access been good for PC gaming? | PCGamesN

Tuesday Topics: Has Early Access been good for PC gaming?

Every Tuesday, we’ll be asking you, our lovely readers, to chime in on an important topic affecting PC gaming. We want you to open up your gorgeous brains and shower us in your thoughts. It sounds gross, but it’s totally above board.  

Since March last year, we’ve been inundated with Early Access titles through Steam and internal programs set up by developers. A slew of premium alphas and betas are appearing every month, ostensibly allowing players to have an active role in development, giving them the opportunity to watch as a game grows from its early stages to a complete product. 

But it’s become a divisive subject. Is charging for an incomplete product appropriate? Does the pricing reflect its unfinished state? And how should these games be tackled by the press? We want to know what you think. Take to the comments, and tell us if Early Access has been good for gaming. 

Allow me to get the ball rolling. I find the concept of Early Access to be one worth exploring. Working in the industry, I’ve been able to play countless games through different stages of development, and it’s a fascinating process. Between alpha and launch, games can be completely transformed. I like that Early Access opens this up to everyone, and in the best cases, it leads to completely transparent development and better communication between game makers and players. 

But it’s a system open to abuse. Some Early Access titles have been revealed to be borderline scams, and with the concept still being in its infancy, there aren’t enough safeguards to ensure that consumers don’t get played for fools. It’s not enough to say “well, you took a risk,” because it means developers don’t need to be held accountable for their product. 

Given time, however, I can see it evolving into something extremely positive. Indeed, we’ve already seen the positive impact. Minecraft went down this route before Early Access even existed, and that was a key component of its success. Larian Studios, developers behind the excellent Divinity: Original Sin, say that they wouldn’t have been able to make the game without Early Access and Kickstarter. 

Anyway, enough of me rambling. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Subnautica
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Shriven avatarFraser Brown avatarQDP2 avatarDog Pants avatarStinkflipper Incarnate avatarAever avatar+2
Shriven Avatar
3488
3 Years ago

Like every good idea. It was great at the start but now their are too many people looking to take advantage of an established system and are deliberately being ambiguous with what they promise and will provide for your money while plotting to keep as much of it as they can after they release the product. This has been happening a lot over the last 12 months.

I actually think Kickstarter is the superior version of crowd funding anything, let alone video games.Yet, that has its critics too. What I will say is that being able to produce games without publishers interest being expressed is a wonderful thing.

As to the press coverage. I think it should be first impression based (exactly what you have been doing on here) the 'Buy now! or Wait' scoring system is as fair as it could be and a judgement on its potential should be made based on what they are charging for now. If the game in its current state isnt worth £15, score it accordingly with a 'Wait'. Developers will soon get the message.

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Fraser Brown Avatar
960
3 Years ago

Why do you think Kickstarter is superior?

1
Shriven Avatar
3488
3 Years ago

Yes I know I forgot to say something :D Had the bath running hehe.

It seems that Kickstarter is easier/safer for the consumer as it is more 'open' and accepted in the public eye at this time. But Early access seems to be better for the developers as it provides a steady stream of income over time. Also, Early Access is much less accessible for 'normal' consumers. This is partly due to Valve not guaranteeing quality but by Valves mere association with it, people will believe that any game on Early Access is somehow supported and quality endorsed by Valve leadinng to massive rage when it turns out terrible. There are many instances of this. Its that grey area that leads me to trusting them less over Kickstarter as Kickstarter have more to lose. If the things that get backed on Kickstarter consistently turn out bad they lose there entire business. If the things on EA are consistently bad Valve doesn't lose much.

Also, the 'Please vote to put our game on Early Access for a guaranteed game code for free!' stuff that is happening all the time makes my stomach churn.

Those things will need to be addressed by Valve in order to convince me that Early Access isnt a huge gamble with my money.

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Shriven Avatar
3488
3 Years ago

Infact, scrap my opinion. After what Yogcast has done today, I'm voiding all of my opinions....

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Dog Pants Avatar
1389
3 Years ago

Does anyone have any volume of examples of devs exploiting Early Access? Only two examples spring to my mind - The War Z and Towns. Considering how many games are released, that's a miniscule proportion. Even from those examples, Towns was in a perfectly playable state when it was abandoned - I estimate that I've played around 100-150 hours of it.

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Stinkflipper Incarnate Avatar
269

I'm sure there are a couple. But on the other hand, I've noticed that a lot of the worst offenders AREN'T early access. Like that Air Control-game (or even X: Rebirth). Yet people are very quick to put the blame on early access.

1
Fraser Brown Avatar
960
3 Years ago

Earth: Year 2066 springs to mind.

It's not common, but there's very little stopping it from happening more often.

1
Aever Avatar
654
3 Years ago

Has it been good to PC games? Hell no.

Sure, maybe it has allowed a few good games that might otherwise not been made to exist. Maybe. But then, maybe they would have found other avenues to get funding (i.e. an investor). Yes, again that brings issues of its own, about how that investor (alright call it what it usually is, a publisher) might change the game (usually for the worse). In any case, there are a lot of maybe's in this paragraph.

What Early Access has done, for certain, is to allow a large batch of games to exist in an almost perpetual state of development. Why would a developer "release" the game, when it makes them money already and, as an added bonus, they can always call on "hey, it's not released yet" to avoid criticism. Professional critics rarely review Early Access titles because the game can change very fast, making their work obsolete and inaccurate extremely fast. You get some "first impressions" kind of articles, which usually avoid giving any sort of definitive conclusion. And this is wrong.

And then you get the scams. The crap games put there just for a quick cash grab. The games that will never be "done".

Don't buy into Early Access. Buy finished products, there are truck loads of good games that are released.

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Aever Avatar
654
3 Years ago

Basically, this: http://hugelol.com/lol/297991

1
QDP2 Avatar
961
3 Years ago

Is Early Access worth it? Yes, definitely. It is great for developers, helping them start to earn profits prior to official release, removing the pressures and even (in some cases) deadlines to completing there product.

Is Early Access being run correctly at the moment? No. Currently it is clear that it has been opened to far too many companies, and hence, as you say, is being taken advantage off. Companies like Steam (and any other companies which like the idea of investing themselves into Early Access options) need to set more strict rules for the developers who opt for Early Access, to ensure there is still a positive turnout for the buyers, either by the official release of the game or the buyers money back.

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Mountain_Man Avatar
731
3 Years ago

I have a few problems with Kickstarter/Early Access. The first is that there are too few safeguards and it is far too easy for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of naive customers. I've seen several instances where a developer will release an Early Access beta, then after getting a pile of cash will turn around and relabel it "final" while laughing all the way to bank.

Another problem I have is that people are being asked to pay for promises rather than a product, and it's too easy for even a well-meaning developer to fail to deliver on his promises. It's even easier for a dishonest developer to not even plan on delivering. A successful Kickstarter campaign doesn't need a good idea, it just needs a good pitch.

Then, of course, there's the unsavory practice of developers expecting people to pay to be beta testers. In some of the more egregious cases (I'm looking at you, Elite Dangerous), they'll even jack the price up with the excuse that they don't know how else to limit the number of participants, or they're trying to ensure that the testers are "serious". As I've said before, that's such absurd reasoning that it's obvious they care more about beta testers' cash then they do about their feedback. Developers have done limited public betas for years and have attracted many serious participants without asking them to pay through the nose for it.

Or how about Rust, where the developer spent a year burning through their Kickstarter/Early Access cash and then said, "We really don't know what we're doing, so now we want to start over from scratch. Can we have some more money, please?" Seriously? You spent a year pissing away your customer's money on promises without a clear idea of the kind of game you wanted to make, and now you want them to continue to pay your bills while you play game developer? That's almost unconscionable and goes back to my first point about the lack of safeguards, and, furthermore, there's no way to hold developers accountable. Do you think the people who paid early and are now disillusioned that the developer has nothing to show for it after a year will get a refund? Of course not. That money is gone.

There have been some successes, but it's my opinion that they don't even come close to offsetting the negatives inherent to the system. And here's the thing: successful indie games were made before Kickstarter/Early Access were even a thing. Games like Cave Story and Spelunky were originally released as freeware but have since earned their developers enough money to retire on. Legend of Grimrock was funded entirely out of the pockets of its four-man development team, and it was successful enough that they're now working on a sequel. Spideweb Software has been making hardcore RPGs for years. Trine and Trine 2 is another notable example. There are dozens more. Most of the games in the Humble Indie Bundles were all made without the benefit of risk-free cash from Kickstarter/Early Access, so when people whine about how are indie developers supposed to make it without those schemes to provide funding, well, people have been doing it for decades. How do you think John Carmack got his start?

I personally will never donate to Kickstarter or buy into Early Access. If a developer wants my money then he's going to have to earn it with a finished product that I actually want to buy. There are too many quality games on the market for me to bother with snake oil developers selling empty promises and bad excuses.

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Dog Pants Avatar
1389
3 Years ago

I've been an advocate of in development purchasing for a long time, since I bought Minecraft in fact. There are some much loved games in my collection which simply wouldn't exist without it. It is a system open to exploitation though, and although you can say that the devs need to be held accountable that's easier said than done, so as consumers we do need to be shrewd.

As for Early Access specifically, I do think there needs to be a minimum standard. I also think it needs to be clearer. It's a great thing that indie devs can get the huge amount of coverage they do, but at the moment it isn't clear enough what state a game is in. Steam isn't a specialist platform for indie connoisseurs like Desura, it's mainstream and has a duty of care to its customers who aren't able to analyse the state of a game. As damaging as it would be to Early Access sales, I would stop promoting them on the store page and put them in a clearly marked and separate area. For the minimum standard, the game should be in a beta state - i.e. working and mostly feature complete. That way if development does stop at least you still have something playable.

As much as I think we need Early Access, I'm glad there are people pushing back against it. That resistance is the motivation for Valve to improve the system, and for developers to put the effort into ensuring their game is worth buying.

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13th |UKCS| Avatar
91
3 Years ago

I feel like it has been a success as it let's developers get the game out to the public and then anyone who is playing it can pass on feedback about what is good and what is bad about the game. Minecraft is an example of this. OK, it was released before Early Access was even an idea but it has proven to be a bit of a runaway success.

I've also bought games on Early Access that I am happy with: Kerbal Space Program and even Sir, You Are Being Hunted for example. Two games that were on the Early Access and are both just great fun to play. DayZ as well, that is on Early Access and I'm enjoying it. Even though it does get annoying when I lose all my hard earned loot.

But I also think that Early Access itself is a bit of a minefield. For every success story, there is going to be games that are a bit of a disaster from the word go. So at the same time I think there need to be tighter restrictions on what makes Early Access. Like say if a game is way too buggy to play for example, then that shouldn't make Early Access until they fix it

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