The last five years have revolutionized how video games are funded and developed via crowd-funding and early access – but is one side sharper than the other on the double-edged sword that is early access?
What was yesterday’s “impossible” is today’s norm… at least that’s what it’s come to feel like in the world of video game development.
Everything from mechanics, to gameplay, to sound design has undergone massive changes over the years. But the changes the industry has felt goes far beyond that of just the end result.
Some of the largest changes in the industry have come from the financial and funding aspect, with one critical change: the advent of early access.
While “early access” is, on paper, nothing more than a beta test that’s made publicly available at a cost, this “new” stage of development in games has both allowed studios with a working prototype to secure funding as well as earn its rightful place as a term of disdain for many gamers.
With high-profile titles like Minecraft utilizing the concept of early access in a bid to get the game out to as wide an audience as possible while continuing to fund development – there is undoubtedly a case to be made for the advantages of early access.
That being said, what started out as a unique option for developers to fund their projects quickly turned into something akin to a trite and cheap bid to nab up more money.
Sure, devs would put signs and warnings covering their games with disclaimers that told their would-be consumer that the experience they’re paying for may be bug-ridden, but they were directly tapping into human nature. Why wait for something when you can have it now?
As a result, the online marketplace – especially on PC – has been flooded with countless early access titles; an unhealthy amount of these which transition in a laughably unplayable state.
When this occurs, it’s not uncommon for the devs to work ‘round the clock in an effort to push out a build that’s just stable enough for a significant portion of their player base to run.
But that’s not the worst part: early access has created a culture wherein devs receive funds for putting out an unfinished product. With their game on the market, they have access to all consumers browsing the marketplace.
Once they’ve snagged them, they can hope to retain them with in-game shops and the like to continue boosting their capital and sate the needs of the players to see continuous updates.
The toxic aspects of such a practice should be visible immediately: it gives devs the opportunity to have their cake and eat it too.
For experienced veterans that exercise restraint, this doesn’t happen – and the funds go toward development as intended. But for many others – particularly small and novice studios – it can bring out the worst in the team, creating a lax environment regarding deadlines, and therefore a lax attitude about development. The running joke about early access being the highway to ‘Development Hell’ is fearfully accurate.
Even the Survival game genre has tarnished its eyes in many a consumer due to the high amount that remain in the purgatory that is Early Access.
— Phantom Halls (@PhantomHalls) September 4, 2017
Early Access has now evolved from a way for smaller devs to get their foot in the door to a way to frontload content into an enticing psychological hook – in a bid to snag as many copies sold as possible in the shortest amount of time.
True to its corrupted and greedy roots, the games that often spring from such mentalities result in painstakingly doctored trailers, visuals, and pre-market hype to get the ever-hungry masses’ appetite whet.
Unfortunately, this results in exactly what one would expect: empty and vapid experience devoid of depth or substance.
Ultimately, the ritual that early access has become can only be remedied by the parties involved: the players and the developers.
Until devs stop focusing on the money that they can reap and players cool their heads and become more critical of the marketing that is being shoved their way, nothing will change.