You’re a game maker, be it indie developer or big boss of the gaming equivalent of Hollywood; you’re running low on funds and have little to no attention for your game. What do you do? You release whatever you have coded and wing it in terms of quality and bugs. This is the state of PC gaming, though it hasn’t always been the trusty home computer’s terrain.
It used to be that we would call an early build release a demo, but then we started getting poor quality demos so people started calling them Betas, and now we call them Early Access; Who says the industry doesn’t have amazing PR. Why bother hiring those pesky QA Testers when you can just release your half finished work to the greater public and charge them a buck at the same time. Now I appreciate this sounds awfully negative for something that on the most part is done with perfectly good intentions.
Steam Early Access means that not only can developers test the waters to see the interest in their titles, but it also gives much-needed money to a career that has a long period of no direct income. Minecraft is the epitome of success when it comes to releasing beta versions of a game at a cost. The logic is sound, they were able, through mostly word of mouth, to earn millions of dollars, and then have enough hype for console releases to mean that it was high on the charts, be it physical or digital, for weeks if not months.
Every developer saw that as the way to do it, rather than a flash in the pan. Steam already has Steam Greenlight, a service for developers to put their games up and when it has enough votes the game has earned a slot on the almighty king-maker that is Steam. But with Steam Early Access where is the need for Greenlight? Both services offer marketing, both offer user feedback, but only one gives the opportunity for developers to score some sheckles to pump into their game.
I have a love hate relationship with Kickstarter, at it’s best it is a service to support the art of your choice and in return get some street cred for being a backer from an early stage. At its worst it is a service that encourages people to pay for a game with little knowledge of how it’ll actually come out, if it ever does.
Many a time recently I have been on Steam looking at up coming games, I see an interesting title or concept, then I see ‘Early Access’. Why should I as a user be encouraged to purchase a game that is essentially broken. There is the knowledge that down the line the game will be great and work perfectly, but with Early Access being still relatively new there is still the chance for that story to break any day now where a developer has just run off with the money to Cuba.
It is a choice, neither I nor anyone else is being forced to buy these beta builds. I just resent being made to feel like if I don’t buy the game in an incomplete form then it’ll never see the light of day. Early Access is a promise, from the developer to the user that some day the game will be rad, but how long should the user have to wait. Personally I’m fine with skipping the beta release and paying some extra money for a full build. Like Kickstarter before it, and Steam in general, developers are seeing this as the simple go to way to become as rich as Notch or as hipster cool as Phil Fish. Indie developers who come to Early Access with their early builds are expecting a level of trust from the user, they want the user to have faith that the game is coming, I just worry for that first developer who pulls out the base level on this house of cards and does not deliver.