Steam Launches Early Access – But is it the Right Move?
Posted on March 22, 2013 4:14 PM by Rob Williams
In recent years, there have been many trends in gaming that have rubbed me the wrong way, from DLC that merely unlocks content that could be gained through normal methods, to the ridiculous DRM schemes that we continue to have to deal with. But there’s another: paying for a game before it even has a launch date – or heck, before it’s even in beta.
Don’t get me wrong, I think services like Kickstarter have their purpose, but they instill me with no confidence at all. In the old days, developers used to develop, launch and hopefully reap their rewards. Today, many developers build a base, sell it to people, then spend a year or so finishing it up. That means that gamers pay way in advance for something that they can’t play for quite some time. You might gain alpha or beta access, but just how valuable is that?
There have been multiple Kickstarter copy-cats spring up since its launch, with the latest being Valve, via its Steam platform. With a feature called “Early Access”, gamers will be able to pre-purchase select games (at the usual pre-launch discounts of about 10% on average), and gain immediate access to the game in its current state – almost always alpha (if it was beta, there’d be no use for an early access because it’d be nearly completed).
In the words of Valve, “Get instant access and start playing; get involved with this game as it develops.” That’s fair enough, and I acknowledge that while I might not have any interest in paying to bug-test a game, I can understand the appeal to it for some. What I mostly have a problem with is that this is where gaming seems to be headed. No longer are game companies just going to develop their game and release it.
For developers, this could even prove to be a slippery-slope. I am willing to bet that any developer that conducts a Kickstarter or Steam Early Access is going to have to depend on them for every other game in the future – unless of course, we see the next Minecraft, at which point the studio might be able to fund its own game.
Of course, I’d have to be awfully ignorant to not look at things from a developer perspective. Immediate funding means less stress, and guaranteed work that can go into the game. Past that, if gamers help build the best game possible, then that’s great. We won’t see it from the biggest studios anytime soon, but we’ve already seen some huge franchises get in on the Kickstarter action. Simply put, something about a paid alpha just doesn’t sit with me too well.
Are we going to be running into issues where developers don’t end up even finishing their game in good time, or at all? One of the listed early access titles is 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby), a game that has been in pre-release mode for about two years. Back then, that game was effectively an “early access” title, but the only one I’ve ever seen. People could purchase it and play it as it was. In these ~2 years, the game never saw completion. It’s probably likely to happen now that the team has committed to Early Access, but why wasn’t it finished long ago? For what it’s worth, it’s actually a pretty fun game, even in the state I played it in back then.
Am I wrong about all this? What do you guys think? Should I just put a sock in it?