Early access

Back in the day when I grew up computer games were still something very magical and exclusive. And yes people pirated games like crazy even before the Internet. As an 11 year old I had a social network bigger than the one I have today and we had no internet. I had 25 games and demos on cassettes in my mailbox every week with new C64 games and I sent out as many to my friends all over the country.




Years later games came on CDs and the concept of BETA testing with the help of the public started. It was still very exclusive. Being chosen to participate in a BETA of a new game was something like winning the lottery for a serious gamer. My first BETA was a game called Anarchy Online around 1999, a game I after release spent almost 6 years in until my computer got stolen and my account hacked but that’s an whole other story.
It felt like a very exclusive artifact had arrived
It’s my second BETA I still remember best. When I applied for the Star Wars Galaxies BETA back in 2002 I could never dream that I would get in it. This was the first massively multiplayer Star Wars online role-playing game and the hype was enormous. It was Star Wars, and it was online. Can you imagine? The chance of me getting in this BETA was slim to nothing. Yet I applied and then I forgot about it.
A couple of months later a mysterious package arrived in my mailbox. It was so large it barley fitted and you could see it had been traveling by boat for a long time. The outside had stamps i’d never seen before and the logo of Lucas Arts, Verdant and Sony (Lucas Arts had a partnership with Verdant Interactive inc. and Sony Online Entertainment for SWG). It felt like a very exclusive artifact had arrived, like some object from a digsite in egypt that you only see in Movies like Raiders of the lost arc. Inside was a couple of CD’s, a poorly copied manual and some legal documents (I never read them). This was like Christmas and birthday at the same time.
A package that looked that it had litterly been around the World (and it had!) containing a game that the rest of the World would not have acess to for a year and yet it was the game everybody was talking about. I had it in my hands!

This is where I come from.

Early access is one of the top five trends in 2013 
So now 2014 we have this new trend called “early access”. Gamasutra considered the concept of early access, particularly Steam’s approach, as one of the top five trends in 2013 that defined the direction that the video game industry was headed. For indie games, which are typically distributed without a publisher early access can be the thing making or breaking an idea, possible obtaning both resources and enough feedback prior to release. For the hardcore gamer it’s a way to get your hands on a game early. However, this comes at a price.. The game is in a playable state but may not be feature-complete, or may still have several software bugs to be found.

Now almost every game has a early access program, even the big publishers uses it, and the model validates the use of unfinished games as a “valid business strategy”. Im not sure I like this trend. besides beeing at risk that the game will never be completed I as a gamer find myself playing a game that’s only half finished. Even if I get the game when it’s finished, will I ever play it again? In my own experiance the negative feeling an unfinished game gives me (even if I know it only a alpha) will make me stay away later when it’s released. For the developer that might not be a problem, the have my money allready. But for me as a gamer and a lover of a good story it sure can be. If I was a developer and a artist I still would feel this way.

I would never release a half finished song
Take Planet Explorers for example. A fantastic sandbox idea with great potential. I scooped it up on steam for almost nothing, i have played it, endured the bugs, had some fun. Will i come back when the game is finished? Probably not. By then other games like “No mans sky” will be finished and fully playable and my initial feeling about Planet Exporer will be the same, fantastic idea but in my mind it will still be that alpha. It’s like a early access game looses it’s magic. It’s allready released and that “special moment” is gone.

What im trying to say is, use early alpha access programs with care and don’t let it be only a business modell. Done right it can create a synergy between developers and gamers that is extremly powerful. But remember that it’s the finished product you want the gamers to experiance. As a musician I would never release a half finished song..