What Is Early Access?
By Nathaniel Liles
Alright, guys. It’s time for me to talk to you about something serious. As serious as this face.
That’s some serious stuff right there. So what exactly am I here to talk about today? Well, in the latest edition of my horrified rants about crowdfunded gaming, I bring to you an important question: What exactly do developers think Early Access is? Now, I don’t know if it’s just one of my dynamite lucky streaks, but I’ve been playing quite a few games lately that call themselves “Early Access”, and are, therefore, distributed through Steam’s Early Access program. Now, Early Access is not a bad thing at all. If a company is nearly finished with their game, they have every right to get it out to eager fans who don’t mind a few bugs. One great added perk for the developers is that they’re getting their game tested for free – something that is usually paid for.
In fact, testing has always been paid for in gaming. It used to be a really hot ticket job. You get to play the games before they come out! You get money, guys! It used to be a gamer’s dream come true to test a game, but now we live in a world where companies not only get their games tested for free, but they’re selling their broken excuses of games for full price or more. That’s correct, we’re now in a trend where companies are not only not paying people to test their game, but they’re charging us for the privilege. Imagine if we were all car experts. All of us. Even your gran. Now imagine your gran is talking to the engineers behind an amazing new car. They’re all “Oh, yeah, nana Liles. This car is gonna be just the greatest. We’re not quite done with it yet, but if you buy it now, you get it now!” Unfortunately, the car was in beta and the brakes were buggy. Now your gran is stuck in some sort of future car that doesn’t stop. Now your gran is going super fast and the car man has that look on his face. You know, that look.
While that may seem like an exaggeration (because it is), it’s exactly the same mentality. That car peddler didn’t care about your gran’s safety, and developers who sell you their alpha for $45 don’t give a flying butt about your in-game experience. They don’t care if you enjoy their product, they don’t care if you see the game at its absolute worst, and they don’t care if their latest patch deletes your save data. It’s all forfeit because the game’s not finished. In the worst cases, I’ve seen 5 minute demos of games that won’t be done for months or years selling on Steam for the same price they’ll cost when they’re finished. That’s the face of evil. No, wait, this is the face of evil.
Which brings me to what a good Early Access is. It’s a thing, even though it’s a rare-as-hell phenomena. Let’s tackle each of these issues one at a time, and after that, I’ll solve everything with my patented Common Sense 9000 device. The way it stands, most Early Access titles are lacking in content, overpriced for what’s offered, and often demanding feedback from players (to really drive home the fact that you’re the developer’s unpaid beta tester). Now, you may be wondering, what’s the answer to all of this? I imagine you’re asking that with an expression something like…
Well, it’s really simple. Painfully simple, and completely indicative that the developers want your damn money at all costs. That is to say, if developers weren’t knowingly screwing you over, they’d embrace what I’m about to say. Make the game cheaper while it’s in Early Access. Gradually increase the price as more content is added, leading up to the final price when the game is complete. Make it worthwhile for people to test your game! If people are going to experience your grand adventure with half of the content missing, thank them for telling you what to fix. Make it worth it to people who lose their save data. Make it worth it to all the people who let you know about bugs, glitches, and places to improve. Your game would be released much later or in a completely unfinished state without people testing it on the scale that Steam Early Access offers. If you’re not going to pay testers, at least stop screwing the people who’re paying you for the right to play your broken game. You can sell it, but sell it for what it’s worth. You raised tens of thousands of dollars with your crowdfunding campaign. If you needed more than that, you should’ve asked for more than that. If something unexpected delayed launch, you should’ve added a buffer into your financing. We’re not your slaves, and if we spend $45 on a game you’re developing, we want $45 worth of badass content. We don’t want a half-assed Unity project with 5 minutes of gameplay. Get it together. Lower the price. Respect the people who like you enough to give you money. If you want your game tested, make it worth the bugs and glitches.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/nathaniel.jpg”]Nathaniel Liles is a freelance writer, writing major, and indie musician based in Southern Indiana. While procrastinating or avoiding real-world responsibility, Nathaniel enjoys playing rhythm games, action RPGs, and very colorful games with many bright, flashing lights. You can listen to Nathaniel sing songs or download his music for free on his BandCamp page. You can watch him play games on his Twitch channel. You can also follow him on twitter at @NathanielLiles. And finally, you can read more of his writing over at EliteGamingComputers.com. He’s a pretty connected guy.[/author]