Early access in gaming is nothing new, but it blew up with Steam’s Early Access program. It allows developers to release their games as a beta, alpha, or even pre-alpha build before it’s completed.
This release model affords developers the chance to earn money which they can use on finishing the game, and gather valuable community feedback to make improvements. It’s like how my copy editor rips out his mustache hair one strand at a time while editing, and I get paid by my boss. I’m not sure why he does it, something about “to distract from the pain” or something.
There are disadvantages to this model though. The recent early access review of We Happy Few on Steam and the Xbox One demonstrated that. Critics have lambasted Compulsion’s Kickstarted survival game, citing unfair survival elements, missions that are too obtuse, boring gameplay, and the lack of a story mode.
Early access is a great way for developers to get feedback, but it also leaves a game open to severe criticism before it’s ready. After such a negative response, there’s a good chance many will put the game down out of frustration and never return.
Now I’m willing to admit that’s speculation on my part. Some will stick with the game while Compulsion rights the ship, which they’ve promised to do. But there’s no guarantee those leaks can be plugged. Anyone who buys into the early access version are sticking themselves in the same spot as the Kickstarter backers.
Not that Compulsion has it any easier. A majority of people interested in the game have likely already backed the Kickstarter or purchased the early access build. With the mountain of negative reviews so far, are they going to lure in any new customers? It must be daunting to know that not only are you questioning the future of your game and company, but you’re also wondering if you only screwed yourself over, like our copy editor, which is two words you know.
First impressions are everything, especially in the world of gaming, and doubly so with early access and crowdfunding. Everybody forgets about even the best games after a few months. How many people outside regular Cliqist readers remember The Long Dark? It’s been in early access for two years, still with no end in sight. When story content finally arrives for it, it’ll only be one episode out of five.
As any good doctor will tell you, it’s a good thing we spotted the warning signs before it became a problem. Getting this feedback ahead of a full release helps We Happy Few in the long run. For now though, many backers, early buyers, and one copy editor are replaying The House of the Rising Sun on an infinite loop.