What are your expectations for an early access game?

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
I've been playing early access games since the beginning, and I've noticed a drastic change, through the years, in what people expect out of an early access game. When the original The Forest launched into early access in 2014, it was basically a buggy map with a few mostly broken crafting recipes. You couldn't even save your game. But players were excited about it. The game was being updated regularly and no one really minded the bugs or how vastly incomplete it was.

Fast forward to today, and we have people saying that Kerbal 2 is "too early access for early access", and I've been involved in a debate on Steam with one user who wrote in his review for another early access game that "the game feels incomplete." Really? An early access game feels incomplete? Imagine that.

But I can agree with players, as well. You do need at least a solid foundation of a game that is playable, I believe, to launch into early access. You are, after all, asking people to pay to play.

So what are your expectations for an early access game?
 
asking people to pay to play
My main expectation would be that the game is free, and top contributors will get a free copy of the full game. Asking people to pay so they can be your free QA and R&D is a lot high-handed and unreasonable.

Similarly, Beta Access should sell at a significant discount. Assumption is the game is feature-complete and now it's a public bug hunting exercise before final release.

If further financing is needed to continue dev, that's what KickStarter and similar are for.
 

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
My main expectation would be that the game is free, and top contributors will get a free copy of the full game. Asking people to pay so they can be your free QA and R&D is a lot high-handed and unreasonable.

Similarly, Beta Access should sell at a significant discount. Assumption is the game is feature-complete and now it's a public bug hunting exercise before final release.

If further financing is needed to continue dev, that's what KickStarter and similar are for.
Well, I would be forced to disagree since there are many of us who love early access and love supporting the developers by buying the EA games, etc.
 

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
My main expectation would be that the game is free, and top contributors will get a free copy of the full game. Asking people to pay so they can be your free QA and R&D is a lot high-handed and unreasonable.

Similarly, Beta Access should sell at a significant discount. Assumption is the game is feature-complete and now it's a public bug hunting exercise before final release.

If further financing is needed to continue dev, that's what KickStarter and similar are for.
"Disagree" was really the wrong word there. Just difference of opinion.
 
Jan 14, 2020
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I'd expect the game to be playable, in a reasonably stable state. It shouldn't be crashing every 5 minutes or corrupting saved games. Basically it should be enjoyable enough that you want to provide feedback about what you like or dislike.

The campaign/story doesn't have to be there, but should be being added as the Early Access proceeds.

There should always be plan of what is being worked on.
Equally communication about what is not going to be added to the game is important.
 
From my experience and from various sources, Early access shouldn't be fully trusted. Far too wild west for my liking. Whilst there are some fine games that come to fruition, for a large number of them its a broken path of dreams and ambition. Too many (for my liking) release it on early access as a way to sell a game without committing any more time or effort on it; A lazy way to avoid addressing issues in a game. just leave it as early access and people are expect to be hoodwinked into accepting the lack of content or bugs.

i never recall support early access unless its absolutely going to be full release within weeks and even then i watch, monitor and read reviews before committing.
 
I can understand where people would want to support games through EA, a dev/franchise/genre you love and the opportunity to be a little bit involved in the community and development of the game.

Its just not something I've done before. There are so many games already released that I would like to play that I dont have time for, I'd need to be absolutely drooling with anticipation to get involved with something for EA.
 

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
Another reason I like early access is because I actually get more use out of a game than if it just launches finished. For instance, I played the original The Forest many times before it finally released into 1.0. After that, I only played it once more because once I finish a game, I'm generally done with it and never go back.

And I completely disagree with EA being portrayed as the Wild West with a ton of irresponsible devs. I've probably played 50 EA games and only had one bad experience.
 
Another reason I like early access is because I actually get more use out of a game than if it just launches finished. For instance, I played the original The Forest many times before it finally released into 1.0. After that, I only played it once more because once I finish a game, I'm generally done with it and never go back.

And I completely disagree with EA being portrayed as the Wild West with a ton of irresponsible devs. I've probably played 50 EA games and only had one bad experience.

I can see how that would be fun, depends on the type of game too. If its more of a sandbox or survival game then it might be fun to see how things develop mechanically as it develops.

I feel like if story is very important to the game then you're just going to have everything spoiled for you while you play an inferior version of the game. I've been tempted by Baldurs Gate 3 at times but haven't bought in partly for that reason.
 

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
I can see how that would be fun, depends on the type of game too. If its more of a sandbox or survival game then it might be fun to see how things develop mechanically as it develops.

I feel like if story is very important to the game then you're just going to have everything spoiled for you while you play an inferior version of the game. I've been tempted by Baldurs Gate 3 at times but haven't bought in partly for that reason.
I actually have done a few narrative games this way and didn't enjoy them and never finished most of them, so narrative EA games are out for me. Now if a game just kind of has a story, but it's not really a main reason for playing, that's different. I'll do those.
 
Another reason I like early access is because I actually get more use out of a game than if it just launches finished. For instance, I played the original The Forest many times before it finally released into 1.0. After that, I only played it once more because once I finish a game, I'm generally done with it and never go back.

And I completely disagree with EA being portrayed as the Wild West with a ton of irresponsible devs. I've probably played 50 EA games and only had one bad experience.
A good Early Access game (abbreviating to EA game feels wrong) can feel like it's just a live service game, with a constant stream of updates. Minecraft was already fun to play around with in alpha and a decent indie game in beta. I had similar experiences with Space Engineers and Don't Starve (though I'm not 100% sure that was in EA when I started playing).
 
Some other views:

2014 Only 25 percent of Early Access games have made it to full release

2017 We asked developers how they would fix Early Access

2018 An Empirical Study of Early Access Games on the Steam Platform

2013 Kickstarter and early access games are ruining PC gaming

2019 Early access changed everything about games

2014 Steam Early Access games – good or bad?

2021 Early access releases: Should we buy video games before they're finished?
 

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
Some other views:

2014 Only 25 percent of Early Access games have made it to full release

2017 We asked developers how they would fix Early Access

2018 An Empirical Study of Early Access Games on the Steam Platform

2013 Kickstarter and early access games are ruining PC gaming

2019 Early access changed everything about games

2014 Steam Early Access games – good or bad?

2021 Early access releases: Should we buy video games before they're finished?
I'm can't bring myself to read them all for several reasons (but thanks for rounding those up):

1) I don't care about opinion pieces designed to get clicks.

2) When people talk about EA games, like in studies, etc. they include every EA game, which is nonsense. Last year there were 12,000 games released on Steam. Most of them were terrible, and lots of those (roughly 1800) were EA games. So those terrible EA games drown out the good ones. But no one is buying those games. No one has even heard of them. They simply mess with the statistics. So why are we talking about them? Why not equally criticize the games that didn't release into EA that were also unfinished, abandoned and terrible?

3) I did glance at the "empirical" study you posted, and it was very positive regarding EA games, so there is that. But it was focusing on the benefit to developers.

4) The only 25 percent article was written right after EA started. Most EA games had been out less than a year when that article was written. In fact that study's author acknowledges its problems. As we know now, most EA games spend several years in EA.

5) The 2013 article is just plain ridiculous and jumping the gun by years. EA had literally just started and very few games had been kickstarted. That author was either trolling for clicks or an idiot.
 
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Zloth

Community Contributor
For big name companies, it seems reasonable. Everybody knows what they are getting into. The companies are in it for the long haul, so they aren't likely to just dump something out there then run off.

It's the smaller ones that worry me. They can make a barely functioning game, put together an inspiring video, then put the game up for sale under the EA banner. If they tried simply releasing the game instead, they might get a few sales, but the reviews and discussion posts would be horrific, killing sales fast. Under the EA banner, though, they can get positive reviews for the game's potential. They can lead players along with an update or two and some nice, friendly posts in the discussion board. Meanwhile, they take all the proceeds and dump them into their next barely-functional game. Once players start to wise up, they dissolve the company, start a new company, and put their next "game" out in EA.

I've got no idea how often that happens, but the fact that it can happen makes me pretty dubious. (Not that I'm likely to buy a game even months after release, never mind before release.)
 
It's the smaller ones that worry me. They can make a barely functioning game, put together an inspiring video, then put the game up for sale under the EA banner.

Not to advocate for or against early access, but its possible to do this in a lot of small business at least under UK law. Form a limited company do a few half assed jobs while paying yourself an unreasonably high wage, declare the firm bankrupt and repeat. I dont think its that common though, most people who put in the effort to get something going at least start with good intentions. If its a developer or people with a good history in the industry then I'd think its unlikely to be a cynical money grab most of the time. Due diligence, like with anything.

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Going back to The BBC article @Brian Boru posted, it brought up a great point about hype. As much as many of us here don't care to play things at release, it is a lot of fun being involved in the zeitgeist and discovery around a game being totally new and unknown to everyone. Probably adds another dimension on top of that when you feel like you might be actually affecting the final product somehow rather than just experiencing it.
 
I actually have done a few narrative games this way and didn't enjoy them and never finished most of them, so narrative EA games are out for me. Now if a game just kind of has a story, but it's not really a main reason for playing, that's different. I'll do those.

Yea its got to be mainly for things like MP, Grand Strategy, 4X or survival. Anything with a straight up linear campaign as the focus wouldn't be fun to be spoiled on before playing.

The original question then :D For a strategy game you have to be able to finish a game, win or lose and for it to have enough content to make every stage of that feel worthwhile. Basically the game needs to be almost feature complete. Something like Crusader Kings basically releases in EA anyway, with the amount they update it afterwards, except they keep charging you for the updates instead of being included in the price. I know that's a bit unfair on Paradox as they do generally put a lot of work in to free patches as well, but kind of.

For another type of 3D sand box there would have to be enough features to keep me interested with new stuff roughly relative to the price of the EA. If I'm paying 20 + I'm probably going to expect 15+ hours of fun content.

For a game focused around a linear story, no thanks I'll wait.
 
I've never played an Early Access (EA) game, though I have wish listed & followed several over the years, and I think, overall, it's a good program for indie or established game developers to have players who are really interested in a game playing it, catching bugs, offering suggestions, or criticizing certain features (or lack of). I think EA also helps (a bit) with financial capital to work with, and also allows a developer to gauge the interest in their game, and possibly allow the developer to add further features to a game. Where would Valheim be if it had never entered EA?

Yes, @Brian Boru , the Kickstarter program has some of these attributes, but the addition of a dedicated player base actually playing the game as it develops can make it a better experience once the game has a full release. EA games should cost the player money, whether at full or reduced price, because once the game is out of EA you'll already own it and will have had a say in how it is actually developed. Those that don't want to pay to be a beta tester and contribute to the games' development can wait for the full release. There's no right or wrong here, just individual perspective.

But with Early Access, and Kickstarter as well, there's always going to be a risk involved, especially with the thousands of games that use EA. Some games may never get a full release, with the developer going silent. Some games, even with a full release, the game may not live up to the developer's vision and end up being a pale imitation of what was promised.

If I were to buy an Early Access game, these are the things I would expect to experience:

1- Incomplete content & feature-wise, but playable either in available levels or chapters or however the game is designed. Enough that I could get a feel for the story, characters, gameplay mechanics, UI and AI.

2- Some stability, performance, and animation glitches as the developers work out the kinks. But it should also be in a state where it's playable for several hours.

3- Consistent communication between the developer and player with responses to bug reports, criticism, and suggestions. EA players paid for the game so developers have a responsibility to keep those lines open, and not go "radio silence".

4- Steady game data updates, with news updates describing what's coming and if it will break existing saves.

5- A reasonable timeline of how long the developer expects the game to be in EA. 1-3 years seems reasonable to me. Also, at least a rough outline, or projection, of their development plan.

A good and bad example of developer's that did Early Access games:

The Good: Larian Studios - Divinity Original Sin 2 and Baldur's Gate 3 both went EA and with great success in the final game (BG3 is a projection on my part as it's not yet released). Both games were within that 1-3 year timeline, had good developer communication and had steady updates.

The Bad: Gato Studios - The Waylanders; an RPG influenced by Dragon Age Origins & Baldur's Gate, with Mike Laidlaw as Creative Consultant. I had such high expectations for this game, but once it hit full release it just looked bad, and has mixed reviews that tend to be mostly negative. It went through both Early Access and Kickstarter and was still way below expectations.
 
EA games should cost the player money
I'm trying to think of another product category where alpha-beta testers are expected to pay for the product being tested:
Books—no;
Visual focus groups—no;
Drug trials—no;
Test pilots—no;
Sausage tasters in the food aisle—no :D

In fact, I know some people who make good or pocket money as testers in some of those categories—and I've put on a lot of sausage weight!

A good and bad example
I'm not going to research it again to get current status, but my impression is there are ~100 bad examples for every good one—with many of the bad being outright scams as outlined by @Zloth and @Johnway

I'm trying to picture this in Walmart:
♣ Toaster $20, heating element coming next year—let us know how bread fits
♦ Fashion pants $200, zipper planned for Q4—can you get 'em to stay up?
…or at QuickBuck Auto:
♥ 4-door Saloon $2,000, doors to be added after winter—check out my bro's warm wear shop

:D
 
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Zloth

Community Contributor
Well, companies are charging because people are willing to pay. When they did those things for free, they would get absolutely flooded!
Due diligence, like with anything.
How? First game is made by Acme Software. Second game is made by Payless Software. Are you supposed to look up each company to see if the person who started the second company was a high level employee in the first company?? That's a lot of diligence!

it is a lot of fun being involved in the zeitgeist and discovery around a game being totally new and unknown to everyone. Probably adds another dimension on top of that when you feel like you might be actually affecting the final product somehow rather than just experiencing it.
Yep, it is! I've got the X4:Foundations beta test for version 6 right now. I helped beta test City of Heroes a lot, too. All those were free, though.
 
How? First game is made by Acme Software. Second game is made by Payless Software. Are you supposed to look up each company to see if the person who started the second company was a high level employee in the first company?? That's a lot of diligence!

I imagine its the exact same answer as if it was a Kickstarter. EA is just Kickstarter except you already get something rather than just the promise of it far as I can tell.

I would already have to know that some of the devs had been responsible for games that I absolutely loved. Or it would have to be something in a genre I loved that hadnt had any games released for a long time that had a lot of info available, road maps, etc. I dont think its hard to find when a game has a pedigree behind it, they wont be shy telling you about it if they have any idea what they are doing.

If there's not a lot of info around, you dont have to buy into EA day one on a promise, wait until its been out a while and check what people are saying about it before you buy in yourself.

Yep, it is! I've got the X4:Foundations beta test for version 6 right now. I helped beta test City of Heroes a lot, too. All those were free, though.

The sense of discovery around playing From games at release time is a big part of the magic of them for me.
 
I'd like to use my hairdresser analogy: I expect pretty much the same from an Early Access game as I get when I cut my hair from an apprentice/trainee hairdresser: I'm investing my money for a product that I should get much cheaper than from a senior/junior professional hairdresser. While I get my hair cut I'll be of help commenting and being part of the cut so to say. I don't know how the end product will be, but that is also the risk I took when I said yes.
 
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