The Merits and Flaws of Early Access

I haven’t started a topic in a while as it seems like everything is covered. I hesitated to start this one, but the “Your topic is similar to…” shows some older threads, but nothing surrounding this discussion. It is certainly a topic that comes up here and there generally as it relates to specific games or genres, but not in a broader sense. If there is an existing thread, point me to it and lock this one up. :)

I still remember a time when I resisted buying games on Steam because not owning a physical copy was nonsense and at least partially because I want a beefy rulebook to peruse…and, no, not a .pdf. I finally relented and bought cheaper games on Steam and GoG and bought the physical copies of “big titles”. Now, going to a store and purchasing a PC game (or console title for that matter) is a distant memory.

Similarly, I thought Early Access was, initially, nonsensical. The term “paid Beta” now gets liberally bandied about. I signed up for the Betas I wanted to play that I really cared about and was happy to contribute to. Why would I pay someone to do the same? Also, what if they simply stayed in a permanent state of development as is still the case.

Then Early Access became all the rage and really good games began to come out in great shape as a result of Early Access and many started in a pretty decent state. I began also began to relent with this as well and now if there appears to be good feedback and the price is reasonable, I am all for it.

I am sure many have gone through the same questioning and similar steps of acceptance over the years. I thought it might be interesting to have a retrospective look at what Steam Early Access has meant individually and for game development as a whole.

Personally, I think I know. In some cases it obviously helps refine a game with the help of more feedback than could ever be accumulated without E.A. There is some amount of games that I regret as they remain in development limbo or were games with a great idea that an unproven individual or Indie developer was never going to complete. But that’s on me as you know what it is going in. At the other end of the spectrum is the possibility that it is being used far too much, much of a “cash grab” and it has saturated the market with drek.

The answer to “What are its Flaws and Merits and was and is Steam Early Access a good thing?” maybe as simple as, “Well, it depends”. I think the answer for me is that it has been a net positive. I have benefited from playing games that would have never seen the light of day and the negatives have far outweighed the positives.

I realize I may have simply answered my own question and that this discussion is a boring exercise in my avoidance of work this morning. :) After all, there’s been research done and probably Reddit and forum discussions about this topic are peppered throughout the internet.

Thought I’d see if anyone has any thoughts. If not, I’ll just stick mine here as a nostalgic look back for me following some time away from PC gaming and now a triumphant return as I am ecstatic to see all that I have missed and all that is in the works. Plus, my 250 Steam games are now a click away from being played again and some have come out of Early Access during my absence and are great. Thanks Steam!

I appreciate it as a way for developers to make money and fund the rest of development for them. I’m only interested after it leaves Early Access though.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what to think of the Early Access mindset infecting fully released games. I only got Dead Cells after it was “released” as a complete game. But it felt like every time I fired it up again after finishing it once, they had re-balanced the game again and added new levels and new enemies and changed weapons and power-ups so that they weren’t the same as when I last played. This happened multiple times. It’s weird. It’s like I really played the game during one slice of time in its evolution, and it’s constantly evolving into something else. But it’s not changing enough that I’d want to play through it again as intensely as my first playthrough when i was obsessed with it.

So is this what playing Early Access games is like too? You play it, and it’s just one step along the game’s evolution into something that never stays the same? Not sure what to think of that.

I think the addition of new content, rebalancing, etc. is a separate discussion from EA myself. Terraria is a great example of a 100% complete game, that over time has had more and more added to it. For the developer I am guessing this has equated to more sales of their product and keeping it high on the Steam chart for new audiences to see.

For EA, the one thing I have often thought of that @Tyjenks didn’t mention is a key difference between beta and EA in my mind is that people commenting on an EA title are vested in its success. They put some skin in the game, and are more likely to want to see it improve. In a typical beta you have a group of people who are playing it merely because it is free and they have no intention of purchasing the completed project. I think plunking some money down also changes the way I look at a project. I am more inclined to put actual thought into my feedback, rather then knee jerking reactions to things that may have happened to me in game.

I actually considered that aspect when typing all of that up, but, for me, as my discretionary income (read: poor spending habits) grew, $20 for a game wasn’t as big of a stake as it would have been years ago. Stay home pay $20 and try this, go to my local bar and, literally, piss away a similar amount. I think many of us can attest to that by looking at the large number of never played Steam titles.

I realize that is not true for everyone. The investment makes a difference. For me, it no longer does. Guess I could have walked through that in my OP, but I had already droned on enough. :)

Is it? I don’t remember seeing a lot of this before Early Access became a thing. What I mean is, the experience of playing Dead Cells now is very different from playing Dead Cells at release. There have been so many changes in terms of weapons and balancing and enemies. I think it’s closer to Early Access than it is to other game developers patching a game or continuing to add features for free. It’s one thing to add features, it’s another to keep re-balancing the game.

I think I have kind of accepted that some games are going to be treated this way, for better or worse, and so I often go in with the expectation that this is the new process.

All of my EA purchases come with a decent amount of reading reviews, consulting a couple forums and watching some gameplay footage. So I don’t jump at each one that looks cool, but E.A. no longer gives me the same hesitancy that it used to.

I myself have come to prefer supporting a developer via a buy in early access vs kick starting a game.

I don’t feel as burned if the project ends up being less than what I expected, as I at least got my hands onto something playable.

I most recently bought Space Haven, which just had its 1st year EA anniversary. Game is still in alpha and coming along wonderfully imho.

I’m a massive fan of early access, especially when it’s done well. We’ve, as users, never had as much access to the development of the games we love as much as we do today, and early access is a massive part of that.

When done well, via both a dedicated developer and an engaged community, EA is an amazing way to help further positive development on a game.

That said, it’s also a double-edged sword, because so many developers have sullied what early access is by doing cash and grabs, ghosting their fans and so on. I can easily understand why many are still hesitant of early access.

With myself, I love early access but don’t really engage much with it. I’ll buy a game in early access if it looks fun and has what appears to be an engaged developer, play it a bit, and then let it sit until it hits 1.0. This means games I love, like Drox Operative 2 or Starfighter: Infinity get little playtime because I’m waiting for them to be “settled”, if that makes sense.

So yeah, personally a big fan of early access when it’s used effectively, but I’ve seen enough shit developers to understand the hesitancy around it.

Same. I don’t think I have Kickstarted a video game since Faeria…that card game thingie. I was surprised to find the other day how much content it has and that it is still around. I wonder how much of that I am now allowed to download. :)

I have Kickstarted far more boardgames though that has slowed to a trickle. The immediacy of Early Access makes me far, far more likely to do that for any videogame in development as opposed to liking a concept and KickStarting it. Obviously, if it is one where there is a build available at the time you pledge, it is pretty much a similar concept.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve been avoiding buying Early Access titles more and more for fear that they may never hit 1.0 in my lifetime. I’m 70 and not in the greatest of health, and have titles on my wish list that have been in EA for 4 years or more (hello, The Guild III!).

That said, if a game has good word of mouth and appears to be mostly complete, I’ll still succumb from time to time.

I have no desire to play an incomplete game, much less buy one. Just like I have no desire to read an early draft of a novel or watch a rough cut of a movie. Life is too short and I have plenty of ways to squander my time without serving as someone else’s beta tester, editor, or test screening audience. Furthermore, there are just too many completed games vying for my attention.

Early access is a tool for developers to make money and, in some cases, get wider feedback. The only way it serves consumers is by possibly making games better through a larger pool of beta testers. But even that is questionable, as I’m not sure how well most game designs are served by having a mass of entitled customers weighing in while development is still underway.

I’m glad early access exists because it gives more people more opportunities to make more games. And I’m glad that some games are better for it. But I’m not the least bit interested in taking part myself.


P.S. Also, everyone get off my lawn.

I only support EA/KS games from developers that I consider known quantities. I’ve seen too many EA/KS games from small developers that failed (never delivered a working game) or came out with a half baked feature incomplete game because they just bit off more than they could chew. I’ll follow EA games, put them on my Wishlist on Steam but I won’t touch them until they have released and I see feedback on how they turned out.

I’ve gone back and forth with this, from being interested in buying EA titles, to hating it after being burned, to now being back to liking it.

I’ve learned to just use EA to help support projects that I want to see done. I don’t think I’ve given feedback much at all, outside of maybe 2 or 3 games, so I don’t treat them as beta tests. I currently have 36 EA games installed, waiting on full release.

The one thing Steam got right, in my opinion, is allowing player reviews of EA games. You can really tell the state of the game from them which helps decide to support or not. Yeah, we’ve all been burned a few times by titles that never came out, or released way too early and then weren’t supported (Godus, Folktale, etc), but the good far outweigh the bad now, and overall I’m satisfied with the results.

I think Early Access is fantastic if it’s a tool that is used correctly. Like with most everything else, it’s often times not used correctly.

Old World is a good example of Early Access. The game isn’t finished but it’s clearly going to be finished. It launched in a playable state, and the purpose of EA is to get people playing the game and soliciting feedback so the developers can tune the game and figure out what is working and what is not before they’re too late in the development cycle and stuck with it. This is early access at its best and everyone wins, even people who have no desire to play a game before it’s released. It’ll be a better game at 1.0 due to the feedback and tweaking developers were able to do, in most cases.

Where EA gets abused is the people who throw up something that is… uh… to put it politely, lets call it “in an aspirational state” with the hopes of somehow getting a bunch of money and then being able to figure out how to finish the product. These games often launch in a poor state, the game gets bad word of mouth (for good reason), the developers don’t see the large influx of dollars they were expecting, and then the project gets abandoned or labeled “1.0” and shoved out the door, despite it clearly still being incomplete.

There are way too many games that fall into the second category and it’s violation of Steam’s own guidelines, that a game must have the funding secured to be complete. Still, when it works it really really works out. I just wish more developers were more realistic/ethical about how they approach it. I’ve been burned on quite a few EA titles and it’s poisoning the well for well-meaning devs. I’m pretty selective now in which games I dive into.

There’s a bunch of games I bought already in early access, were fabulous already when released, but then kept getting implausibly better and better. Off the top of my head:

Other than PUBG, I don’t think any of those games could possibly have relased with the same level of overall quality without the EA period, no matter how much time they developers spent polishing it. They were all games that had clearly already found the fun in their initial versions, but being able to see how the players engaged with the game and iterating allowed them to be something truly special.

And while that’s my personal list, there’s a lot more games that I know a lot people feel really strongly about. E.g. Factorio, Rimworld, Darkest Dungeon and Subnautica.

(I don’t remember ever buying a game in early access, and regretting it or disliking how it turned out. Not sure if that’s good judgment, good luck, or selective amnesia.)

I have zero interest in Early Access games. I refuse to spend money but most of all I refuse to spend time on an incomplete project.

I know there are plenty of happy endings and that, in some cases, they would not have happened without EA but I honestly don’t care. And the funny thing is, it’s not the abandoned games or the bad ones that bother me… the good ones annoy me the most. Why? Because, in my experience, the incomplete version either dilutes or downright ruins the experience of the full version. So it’s simple for me, good or bad, I wait for the full version and in the rare cases where I have urges to return to the game, I check out mods.

I’m very much convinced this does not happen often enough. And I’m always worried what EA turns into is a discord echo chamber of the hardcore and what comes out the other side is not a better game for it.

Early Access is basically what Stardock did back as far as GalCiv 2, maybe even 1.

It’s great when done well, and can be crap if done poorly.

Many games end up better in EA than the final product, especially F2P service games.

Yeah, I am much less hesitant as a result of being able to read that feedback from strangers and Steam friends. I also pay attention to the date at which it occurred as a games can get better and some get worse. Initial positive reviews looking to the possibilities of the future can turn sour as development stalls. EA reviews provide a better foundation on which to base my decision as opposed to screenshots and gameplay footage.

I’ve yet to feel burned by an EA purchase (though World of Horror is testing my patience by removing the ability to save in a Halloween update and not re-enabling it yet), but I think every one I’ve made has been a roguelite of some sort. So I’ve had the ability to enjoy them end-to-end in a satisfying playthrough on initial purchase, and subsequent updates are generally system tweaks for the better and new additions to a semi-random content pool.

Narrative games would be a pretty hard no from me.