Feeling Ripped Off? Five Ways Game Devs Can Make Early Access Work

by | Nov 19, 2018 | Games | 1 comment

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If you thought game demos were a thing of the past, you’re dead wrong.

You see, they never really went away. They were simply hibernating until they found the perfect time to pop their head out again. What we use to call ‘game demos’ have risen out of the ashes sporting a different name: Early Access games. This glorified new term has taken more hits and beatings than Donald Trump has in his first two years as President! So why has Early Access been so frowned upon by gamers? For one, unlike free demos of the past, we have to pay for Early Access games. That’s right folks, what was once free to try out has now become a process of pay to play. And this new type of business model is leaving a bitter taste in every player’s mouth. All is not lost, however, as there are several common sense approaches developers and publishers can do to help sustain the confidence and trust of the gaming community who buy into the Early Access programs.

1 – Don’t expect us to pay FULL price for a game still in Early Access!

This is a no-brainer. If a game isn’t close to being 60% complete, then why am I paying a 100% price tag for it? I should, theoretically, be paying only about 40% of the completed product. And if I like the content or the direction the game is headed, I’ll be more than willing to pay the rest when the game is released. I realize this might not make the best business sense for developers and publishers, but if you’re asking me to part with my money to help you, then I need to make sure it makes the best sense to me.

2 – Don’t ask for feedback and then blow us off!

One of the benefits of early access games is the potential to help create a game that the developers envisioned. While that’s fine in theory, it almost always never becomes reality. I’ve backed many games through Kickstarter and early access and not one of my recommendations, suggestions or inputs have ever been used.

In one situation I wrote feedback on how this one particular game would greatly benefit from some form of co-op. I was told later that the game engine was already ‘hard coded’ and there was no way to implement that feature without redoing everything so it was impossible to do. Strike one for me. In another RTS game I backed, I suggested to slow down the pace of their game when units were attacking so it didn’t look so chaotic and out of control. I was told by one of the programmers that they’ve already decided to keep the current pace to mimic the fast gameplay of StarCraft. He even ended his reply with, “Thanks, but we’re keeping it as is.” Oh well, so much for making a recommendation. Strike two. Then there was a time I suggested to add a pause button to a game and was that this was not an option because they did not feel it was needed. After that reply, I stopped giving feedback to any game. Strike three.

3 – Keep the lines of communication open and stop making promises you can’t keep!

If there’s one thing that kills relationships faster than a Dr. Phil counseling session, it’s the utter silence and broken promises developers/publishers make. Yeah, I know that people have lives and gaming isn’t a 24/7 priority, but when you keep your core audience in the dark for too long, things never turn out well.

In one early access game I bought into, the developer promised to make a major announcement and update in two weeks. Well, that two weeks came and left faster than an amateur dude in a porn shoot. No announcement and no update for another three weeks until one day he created a sticky in the Steam forums apologizing and promised once again an update would be released in a day or two. A week passed and nothing. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. As you can imagine, his once loyal group of backers were now standing at the gates ready to storm the castle. After an outpouring of complaints Steam finally removed the game from its store. I was lucky enough to get store credit before the whole thing imploded.

Lesson learned: keep your audience in the loop and don’t over promises when you can’t even under deliver!

4 – Lay off the ban hammer and accept criticisms!

Look, I know how hard you’ve worked on your game but that’s no reason to get all defensive when someone points out a flaw or a bad design situation. In fact, this is the purpose of Early Access — so we can point out the flaws and bugs that you probably have not noticed. Granted, some of the comments might be harsh, but that’s no reason to ban the person or lock the thread. All that does is build animosity between us. Instead, developers should ask questions as to why the player didn’t like that part of the game and if possible, provide some insight as to why you chose to do it that way. Communication is key!

5 – Don’t promote a sequel or any DLC before finishing the game we bought into!

Don’t you hate this part? You buy into an early access game and before you know it, the developers/publishers are already making announcements on a sequel or promoting additional paid content without finishing the original game! If you want to know how to stir up a riot with your fan base, this is definitely one way to do it. Just finish the original game the best you can and we’ll have your back. This isn’t too much to ask for, is it?