Early Access, Pre-orders, Betas, and more
Hey Friends, Cody “Kingblunkers” Allison here to chat about something that I’m very conflicted about. The selling of games before they are ready. This often takes place in the form of one of the following options: Early Access, Pre-orders, Betas (and alpha) and a few other options.
Early access is a term that Steam uses to sell games that are being developed as the devs are still working on it. These games are open to the public and can be bought, installed, and played by anyone. My overall thoughts here are that Early Access isn’t inherently bad. You buy a game with a stamp that says work in progress and the devs can get live feedback as they are making it. Imagine back in the days when you only had the option to buy a disc with no patches or updates, if a game missed the mark, it just went away and dollars were lost, this would be super punishing for smaller game studios. However, now that Steam and all current generation consoles can apply patches even if the original game is on an actual disc, devs have a chance to release a game and correct it as they go.
Early Access successes
In my last post I talked about Playerunknown’s battlegrounds. This is an awesome battle-arena type game that puts you in a fight for survival with up to 99 opponents. First and foremost, I am terrible at this game, but the intensity and submersion I feel when playing this game is something I haven’t gotten from a shooter in a while. And even in the short time that I’ve been playing it there have been patches that noticeably made the game perform better.
Early Access flops
The biggest personal failure I’ve experienced with Steam’s Early access environment is Supraball. Coming off a ton of time playing Rocket League, I saw Supraball as a step away from RL’s crazy mechanics and more towards feeling like a real sport. And I have to admit, I didn’t read enough reviews to understand what I was about to walk into, so I can take partial blame. But last Steam Winter sale I purchased Supraball based off its stupid low price and pretty cool videos on steam. When I downloaded the game I went straight to the tutorial and learned the ins and outs of the game. The tutorial is super fun as well. It really did a good job of teaching basic, intermediate, and advances mechanics. The tutorial was so fun that I played it well over 2 hours just practicing the skills. This time is important for Steam refund policies
Never had a chance
When I decided to take my skill to the field against real people, I realized the community was dead. There are so few players that I sat in matchmaking queues for 30 minutes before giving up, I’ve still never played an actual game. I searched all over the internet and found pieces of the community who are in a cycle of “maybe this steam sale will bring enough people to pick this game up” but then it doesn’t but I can’t imagine that I’m the only one to buy into this game only to discover there is nobody there. The community that is there largely exists because of their own doing and organize their own games and tournaments together. And the sad thing is, i would still LOVE to play this game, but I don’t have time to wait 30 minutes for one game. And I want to say that the devs have an obligation to warn buyers of this, but I know that would kill the game for certain. There doesn’t seem to be a way to win here unless magically tons of people just start playing.
Pre-orders are simply the game has been announced, and they allow you to pay for it in advance.
When is this okay?
In my opinion pre-orders don’t have much place in today’s video game market. Besides new consoles, most games aren’t going to be emptied off store shelves without more to come. Even most recently the Nintendo switch was out of stock EVERYWHERE, the games were in stock everywhere I went.
When is this NOT okay?
EVERYWHERE ELSE! I think the internet had enough fun with last years massive failure of “No Man’s Sky“. This game had SO MUCH HYPE, people were talking about this for what seemed like 10 years. People said it looked amazing and would be the ultimate exploration game. I never played this game, because most people who pre-ordered this game hated it. And while I don’t like that the game’s studio took so long to address the fans, I do appreciate that they put their heads down and worked to update their game to help close the gap between the expectations set and the reality they released.
Betas are similar to early access, but they are a bit more private. These games are actively in development and have been build up to a working prototype of a game. I’ve had the opportunity to take part in a few of these in my time. And I really enjoy these. The awesome things about private betas is you get to see a game before its completed and you know you are actively helping shape a game. Whether its through direct feedback like surveys or just stress testing so they can see if their networks/servers hold up. I really have had no negative experiences. In Elder Scrolls Online I encountered quite a few bugs, but that is typically expected in Betas. Ultimately I didn’t love the game, but I love that I got to help Bethesda with their game, and in return learn that I don’t want to buy it when it comes out.
The last category I can think of is GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Crowdsource, etc. I talked about this a little bit in two previous articles, but if you aren’t familiar, most of these cites are a project that often is in it’s early stages, and you can pay money to support them, and often when its funded and released you get some sort of incentive, most commonly a copy of the game itself. I talked about the high hopes I had for Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee, relying upon so much nostalgia from my childhood games. Now, I won’t waste too much time on this, but I didn’t love the game. I think it fell short in a lot of ways. HOWEVER, I don’t regret participating at all. I loved that for $20 dollars, I was part of a big project and saw these people make their dream come true. I was with them from the start and got to read about their updates along the way. In a way I got to know the team and ultimately, while I won’t spend too much time playing this game, I will always be happy that I got to see it happen.
All in All, there are lots of ways to get a game out. Money is unfortunately one of the biggest limiters of creative output. I know companies need to take risks and pay their employees. But the customers, fans, and followers need to be considered. If you are reading this and you are a developer/designer: consider the people. My personal recommendation is Betas. I think they give enough insight to the public so they may learn about your work, but also give a chance for a full release. Heck, if you are a developer, board game maker, whatever… Share your stuff with me. I’ll give you my honest feedback and not be a jerk about it. I can’t say it will mean much, but I would love to see others succeed in their creative gifts.
Thanks for listening. Keep the conversation going and share your thoughts about these topics and more on Twitter, facebook, etc.