Early Access: Industry Boon or Blight?

Like it or not early access games are here to stay. Some consider this practice a blight among the game industry, others a god send. This article will explore the impact early access has on gamers and the developers. What you do after is for you to decide.

The Pros

When discussing the benefits of early access games we must consider the intention behind the system. Early access was designed to provide developers an alternative to crowdfunding while allowing gamers to experience products as they develop. Think about that. Instead of contributing money to a Kickstarter you can play the game right now. Honestly it’s an amazing concept. You’re able to play the product immediately as it develops instead of supporting a product that won’t release for potentially years.

You might be asking “Don’t I have to pay to play it? What if it sucks?”. That’s what refund policies are for. Steam has a policy that will refund any game with less than two hours played within two weeks of purchase. Great policy, just don’t abuse it.

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Don’t Starve on Steam successfully launched after being in early access.

Of course there are other benefits to early access that are less obvious. Developers can use the program to test new content and features before official release, which can increase the game’s quality. Likewise, the program allows for greater community feedback. Gamers can now influence game creation like never before by writing suggestions, leaving reviews, or by simply complaining. This feedback is invaluable. Developers can use this information to fix broken mechanics and even implement community suggested ones.

It gets even better. Early access titles are usually released by indie developers, giving us a bigger game library. Instead of waiting for a AAA developer to release a new game we can choose among thousands to play. There are some amazing games that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for early access. These games can lead to some great experiences (thanks Youtube) and some unique mechanics.

A good example of a successful early access title is Killing Floor 2 (KF2). KF2 entered early access in April 2015 and has steadily introduced new content. However, the game saw a major imbalance in mechanics, causing the community to complain. Kotaku actually reported on its review change in May 2016. Since then the game has gone through changes and officially launched in November 2016. It now has a very positive score and is one of my personal favorites.

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Killing Floor 2, one of my favorite early access titles to launch.

We can clearly see how early access can positively impact us, but we aren’t finished yet.

The Cons

The case against early access can be pretty damning. Some developers have abused the system, abandoning their projects after cashing out. The Stomping Lands epitomizes this problem. This was a survival game where players hunted dinosaurs while trying not to become prey themselves. The initial Kickstarter raised over $100,000 and it entered Steam Early Access on May 6, 2014. Sadly the creator didn’t share the community’s enthusiasm. The game was rarely updated, with many promised features noticeably absent. Communication between the team broke down, with many members abandoning the project. Steam removed the game on September 2014. No refunds were given on either Steam or Kickstarter, leaving investors disenfranchised with both platforms.

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The Stomping Lands, or rather what it was before being pulled.

Then there are games with infrequent updates that string supporters along while decreasing quality. Games like DayZ. This is a survival game pitting players against zombies and each other. It has been in early access for nearly four years and many doubt it will ever release. DayZ was promising, with my friends and I spending over 100 hours in the alpha. But as time went on it received less substantial updates and began to degrade. Currently DayZ is full of exploits and glitches, making it almost unplayable. Community reviews have also shifted, becoming overwhelmingly negative. After playing such games it’s understandable why people may be reluctant to purchase other early access titles.

Hackers are another common issue with early access games. These players will use exploits or programs, like aimbots, to create an unfair advantage, ruining your gaming experience. I have had numerous encounters with hackers myself. While playing Reign of Kings, hackers used a wall climbing exploit to raid my team’s fortress, destroying our progress. Usually this is no big deal but after multiple instances it can ruin a game.

It quickly becomes evident that early access is not a perfect system. But we can’t over generalize either. The cons listed are not apparent in every game, so we can’t be too quick to judge.

Conclusion

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Beautiful sunset in DayZ.

There is only one conclusion we can draw: early access is a great program that’s been abused. But this should not deter us. Instead, we must learn to research a game’s history before we purchase it. This way we can avoid abusive developers altogether.

We must remember that most developers have good intentions and rely on early access to fund their projects. If we completely abandon the program their games would never be made, and we would miss out on some truly great experiences.

Of course this is just my opinion. The choice is ultimately yours. Whatever you decide just remember one thing: have fun. We play games to enjoy ourselves, not create headaches. If you don’t think the risk is worth it then play it safe. Early access is not for everyone, but it is for me. I will continue to support the program and can’t wait to experience some new adventures.

Duninn.

Feel free to share your experiences below, I would love to hear back from you. And as always thanks for reading!

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