Most PC Gamers these days are familiar with a little concept known as Early Access. In fact, if you spend ANY amount of time on Steam (the most popular PC Gaming platform), then you have certainly come across a game at some point that is in “Early Access”. To many Gamers, this has been nothing but a bust. A bane to their gaming existence. Something that clutters up the store pages, distracts and pulls Gamers away from “real” games, etc. They see titles left for dead and cast aside, like The Dead Linger.
They see titles essentially take up permanent residence in Early Access like DayZ and Rust. Worse yet, the numerous titles that never really get “completed” as promised and are left there, simply masquerading as finished products even though everyone knows they are hopelessly lost and broken (I’m looking squarely in the direction of games like “Enforcer” and crud like “KEL: Reaper of Entropy”). It’s easy to see why some are hesitant to jump aboard the Early Access train.
On the flip side of that, however, are some really smashing success stories. One that is very recent that comes to mind is Plague, Inc.: Evolved. This game did incredibly well utilizing Early Access properly. Let’s look at some things it did properly: Game was playable upon initial release without crashing constantly, even if it took time to work out all the modes. Feedback was taken in from early adopters and made an impact on game development.
A niche following stayed true and helped plod the game along it’s development, hand-in-hand with the developers. Another shining example is Prison Architect, which is a huge success and quite a fun little game as well. It took it’s time going through Early Access, but was consistently updated along the way. There was feedback and communication between Gamers and Developers regularly. There really is a good list of solid games coming through Early Access: Broforce, Darkest Dungeon, Invisible Inc, Beseige, etc. (I specifically leave out Don’t Starve. That’s another article entirely)
Let’s look at why Early Access has become such a big thing these days. It all comes down to the way the industry itself has evolved. Indie titles are now a very large part of the gaming market. Recent success like Undertale go to show that an Indie title really can hang with the Big Guns (CoD, WoW, etc). the only drawback for most indie studios is, of course, finances. A lot of these companies are now quite literally 1-2 person teams. Some are larger, certainly, but none are true corporations in any sense of the word. They lack the resources and capital to go out and push their game forward like Take Two or Ubisoft can.
What they CAN do, however, is make use of the eager crowd of Gamers that strongly desire to have their feedback truly be a part of the creation process, Gamers that are willing to take a chance on a raw product at a discount in the hopes that they can help, even in some small way like checking for bugs, create a true gem. It’s fun to be part of that process. A process where your ideas and thoughts are potentially shaping the very game you are playing. This is a very unique and rewarding experience. It’s a win-win situation, when handled correctly by both sides. Small indie teams simply cannot afford huge Research & Development departments, play-testers, consultants and various other staff members that comprise a successful AAA franchise.
Instead, the indie Developers have a potential ace right up their sleeves: The Gamers. Instead of obtaining feedback from salaried employees that are just doing a job, they tap into the very life-force that drives their market. They get feedback from the very people that are actually paying to play the game. The people seeking the very entertainment that is being sold.
Love it or hate it, Early Access really is a great thing for games and Gamers overall. Sure, those games may not all be for you, but it’s a very good thing that all these niche markets are being hit by Developers and that people from all walks of life are now finding video games that they would enjoy.
Not only that, but even existing genre’s have seen really good games spawn from this. You can choose to ignore these Early Access games overall. Wait until they are the fully fleshed-out project that you are willing to pay for. You can choose to partake in the experience. Winning (and sometimes losing) right along with the success of the very games you are trying to help get fully realized. The one thing I do not understand is why anyone actively hates the idea. I have heard many vocal detractors of the Early Access program. People vehemently against the idea, that scoff at each and every mention of the concept.
Was it simply because you were burned by a failed project before? Do you feel as if the market is over-saturated for any reason? I once heard the argument that “…it takes away players from other games that aren’t filling quickly enough.”. As in, because there are too many Indie games, Call of Duty servers can’t get enough players. Seriously. I highly doubt that is the case at all. Let me know what you think below. Early Access, Yay or Nay?