I play a lot of early access video games on Steam. A lot. Take a look at my profile and the majority of my playtime is with games like DayZ, Ark: Survival Evolved, Starbound, Life is Feudal, 7 Days to Die, and so on. Therefore, when I write an article about the state of these games, you know it’s serious.
Most of the early access games I play have a lot in common: open world, survival games with intricate crafting. They offer what so few AAA games have been able to give me–free exploration of the world at large and the ability to play multi-player with my friends. (That’s right! I have friend(s)!) As much as I love MMO’s, I get bored with the same fetch quests, the same tutorials, the same dungeons. Everything is a grind in games like Skyrim (and it doesn’t allow multi-player!) and sometimes, I just want to pick a spot on a map and explore. Or base build. Or raise baby dinosaurs. These early access games have given me this grand ability to do…whatever the hell I want.
For the most part.
And as loyal and open as I am toward these indie games, I can be equally as critical. I haven’t been playing DayZ for as long as most of my friends, but the wait for substantial bug fixes and optimization feels like waiting for the next Game of Thrones book. Time between 7 Days to Die updates has felt similarly as long and it was crushing to hear the developers only wanted to focus on the single player side of things. As if I want to get eaten by a horde of zombies SOLO. No, thanks.
I’ve been burned before by early access and crowd-funded games. Doublefine pulling the plug on Spacebase DF-9 broke my heart. It was the sci-fi base building game I wanted and it was killed because of a lack of funding. Towns went to the same way. And there are dozens more that have followed suit. The fear that a game I’ve already paid for can be halted at any moment leads me to worry about investing in any early access game. Sure, I’ve been waiting for The Last Guardian to be released for like half my life now, but I also haven’t sunk any money into the development of the thing.
Games like the ones I’ve mentioned have been in early access for years, and years, and YEARS. At what point does development become too costly? When do they finally throw in the towel and say, “You know what? We can’t fix the ladder bug. It’s there forever. This is now a PvL game. Have fun.”
I know it seems silly to complain considering the hundreds of hours of play time and entertainment I’ve gotten out of these games. Haven’t I already gotten my money’s worth?
To some extent, yes. I’ve had some truly fun times playing these EA games, even with the massive amount of bugs and trial and error nature. However, when I purchase a game, I purchase it with the hope of the final product. I’m notoriously frugal when it comes to spending money on games (unlike Rob) so I usually pick up an EA because I enjoy the journey, because I feel like I’ll really get my money’s worth. I love logging on to a brand new game of Ark, exploring the new dinosaurs they have to offer and fiddling with updated crafting systems. And there’s nothing quite like the excitement of starting over in a game of DayZ (starting over because you chose to do so, not starting over because some hacker ruined your day and stole your shit).
And even though I can be stingy, I will admit I’m also a loyal gamer; I’ll pay more for entertainment to support development if I feel like the game is heading in the right direction. League of Legends may be free to play but it certainly hasn’t gone without draining my wallet here and there. Heck, I’ve sunk far too much money into MMO’s just for the sake of being supportive. If it comes down to paying an extra $10-$20 to receive a final product, I’d be happy to support the cause for a game I love. (That doesn’t mean I want to pay for an entirely brand new game, ELITE: DANGEROUS.)
But at what point does this support and patience become detrimental to the gaming community as a whole? If a game sits in early access for years at a time with minimal updates, do we as the consumers get to hold the creators accountable? It isn’t like we can vote with our wallets since we’ve already bought the game. Even more, I worry then about how these actions might affect larger studios. Bungie and Destiny released a broken game at launch and then a year later released a much better game, fixing all the original issues and adding a bit more content, for full price. Is that okay because gamers “got their money’s worth” out of a messy original? Will AAA studios see it as acceptable behavior to launch buggy and poorly optimized games because PC gamers are used to settling for the sake of “testing?”
I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’d love to hear everyone’s input on the subject, but I definitely don’t think it’s a matter to just keep quiet about.