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The Early Access Model – Finish Your Damn Game

The all-digital age of the PC is upon us. While I might be rather tardy to the party in saying so, this hit home for me when I tried to pre-order Dragon Age: Inquisition and was not given a physical copy option.

It stung, to be sure, but somehow it didn’t hurt as much as it should have. This is, after all, the future envisioned by many after one too many trips to the local retailer to pick up the latest and greatest. It is also a future where the demo has come full circle, from bonuses inside gaming ‘zines, to nonexistence, to a mild resurgence, thanks in no small part to the rise of indie development.


Try before you buy. In this economy, a welcome option.

Try before you buy. In this economy, a welcome option.

Gaming and demos are like movies and trailers. Each respectively gives the potential consumer exactly what they need: a snippet or taste of the good things to come. Hell, the Conception II demo even let you import your data to the full game with bonuses to boot. And you get to try before you buy at no cost? Perfect.

Trailers of games make less sense, but setting that aside the concept of the demo is a solid one. What has mutated from the demo, however, is essentially an excuse to release an incomplete game and croudsource development and QA for the remainder of the creation process. It is a phenomenon known as “Early Access.”

If you wanted to try Fire Emblem Awakening without buying it and being stuck with it, you could have. Freely.

If you wanted to try Fire Emblem Awakening without buying it and being stuck with it, you could have. Freely.

Twinfinite’s Chris Hadlock recently discussed his similar hatred of this B.S. here. Pointing out the uncertainty of such games, his frustration, similar to my own, comes from the perspective of trying to share with other gamers whether a title will be worth anything someday. Demos make this easy. Early access makes it an investment risk.

This is almost exclusively the purveyance of indie games and Kickstarted titles. Rarely, with the case of Divinity: Original Sin being a notable exception, are major dev shops taking part in this farce. Make of that what you will. What “Early Access” claims to offer is “a chance to be involved in the development process of a game.”; to “affect” the outcome of the project. The player is repeatedly warned they are not being given a completed product. They are being sold a “rough around the edges” pre-alpha game with the promise that the final product will be worth the rest of their time.

Time, and money. Note that gamers are sometimes paying the full price for these Early Access games; free-to-play MMO’s are by nature excluded from this, but every other title fully expects your $5-$20 in exchange for a game that isn’t done. There is no need for this. If developers need cash, put out a free demo to entice pre-orders. Don’t try and capitalize on gamers’ cash by selling them unfinished garbage.

If you don't like your early access experience, you're stuck with it. And out 20 bucks, most likely.

If you don’t like your early access experience, you’re stuck with it. And out 20 bucks, most likely.

This rubs me the wrong way, and not just because I come from an era that saw a demo disc with tons of games bundled with a magazine that cost about a buck an issue in the overhaul. Discs that you could freely share, incidentally, something that was promoted as it led to more people hearing about the game.

Alright, maybe I am a product of my time.

However, when Nintendo…NINTENDO… releases a demo for Conception II and Fire Emblem Awakening completely free of charge, and the PSN and Steam are rife with free tries, I wonder how this got started. When did it become excusable to charge full price for an unfinished game that might suck? At least otherwise you got a full x-number-of-hours of content out of the deal.

I got a demo for Unreal Tournament 2004 from a buddy. Bought the game later. But if it sucked, money saved.

I got a demo for Unreal Tournament 2004 from a buddy. Bought the game later. But if it sucked, money saved.

Also, demos are alive and kicking! Steam has a whole tab devoted to them, and devs are still making use of them. Even those games marked as “Early Access” demos still make no bones about it: This is a gameplay sample of the game to come. But the idea that someone is paying 15 bucks to play the first three missions of Meridian: New World and a couple of skirmish maps only to (possibly) realize that the game is not all that great is awful. What could have been a demo mission and a demo map for free is now $15 flushed down a very real toilet.

My latest brush with early access. Not my first, but hopefully my last.

My latest brush with early access. Not my first, but hopefully my last.

Those “free-to-play” MMO’s aren’t off the hook either. Why release a game and call it “Early Access?” Why not just release a game in “alpha” and “beta” phase? This isn’t about stunting the “evolution” of game development, it’s about giving gamers something worth their time. I don’t need to have input into the development process, thanks. I work a full-time job. When incomplete games were shoved out the door in the past (and now), they’re called ‘failures.’ Now they’re called “Early Access,” so long as the final product eventually catches up.

I don’t see the point to Early Access. It fills a void that never existed in the first place; and no, the drying up of the developers’ pizza and soda budget is not a void gamers should be filling. Finish the game. Make something worth the time and money required before asking for someone’s hard-earned cash.

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