Theme Park Studio, a title that invokes memories of previous amusement-park management simulators, has made the move from Kickstarter to Steam Early Access. In typing those words, I’m not entirely sure what I think of them. Given the currently mixed reviews, at 65% approval on Steam, I am not alone in this uncertainty. While the project is by no means abandoned and has received updates as recently as two months ago, I can’t help but feel this is a case of developers risking souring their customers on an unfinished project before it really has a chance to shine.
Not to say that the campaign is a failure by any means. Already playable (and by some accounts, pretty decent so far), it has delivered on its promises and is showing steady signs of progress and attention. But in finishing its Kickstarter campaign in May 2013, then leaping to Early Access to continue development for years after that, it can be exhausting for backers who have pledged support as early as 2013. It also raises the question of whether backers, some of which have contributed thousands of dollars, are being considered. Particularly when the Kickstarter page’s most recent comments include mentions of not receiving a key.
Some of the upper-tier rewards for Theme Park Studio, most of which have been claimed by multiple people, promise that the backer will be able to “take a more active role in the design process”, a choice of words which raises flags. Does everything they do have to be run by the contributor first, or is it merely a case of valuing their feedback and implementing their suggestions when possible? Do the upper tier contributors have their ideas considered with more favor automatically because they pledged more money, or is quality and feasibility more of a factor? To me, it sounds like a dangerous recipe in ambiguous phrasing that could lead to either significant delays, or unsatisfied backers who feel they did not get their money’s worth.
While the game itself is finished at least to the extent of being playable, development has been continuing well beyond the original campaign, and the Kickstarter page itself has ceased updating. While the truth of it is hard to determine, not being a backer myself, from an outsider’s perspective this creates an image of backers no longer mattering once the game is released to the public on Early Access.
That said, an open-ended building and designing game like this might be the perfect fit for this kind of extended development process. A story-based experience with a clear start and finish would just leave frustrated backers waiting until completion so as not to ruin it for themselves. A game with a multiplayer focus would risk losing all its players before it even officially released.
But something like this, appealing to a certain kind of person, has the potential to be played infinitely, with the new features just enhancing the experience as they’re introduced rather than completing it. Let’s just hope that the development process doesn’t share this endlessness.