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.

 

cassettes2

 

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.
sw2
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..

Dead Island and Steam makes the worst release in history!

A “kafkaesque” story
Been a while since i wrote something, but this is a story i just had to relay.
It’s a story about one of most hyped games this fall  – Dead Island, the RPG zombie shooter and how companys can fuck up a gamerelease while screwing around with innocent customers – this is a truly “kafkaesque” story..

Region free?
So bare with me, the background is this – we can all agree that PC games are supposed to be region free, right? That’s one of the reasons we still carry on with our PC gaming. Region free – we can play our games anywhere on any PC as long as we pay for the game, have a Jolt Cola and masturbate alone. The same reason would be why we use cloud gaming services like steam, right? We can just remember our accountname and password and then we’re set to go on any PC anywhere?

WRONG!

Besides this The fact that the game can’t be played without a Steam account was nowhere to be found on retail websites or the retail boxes.

Steam fucking it up royally!
So back to the release – it all started out with Steam fucking it up royally by uploading the wrong version of the game to their server on a friday, people coming home from work, preordered, plans with friends  in motion for the hyped co-op gameplay.. Yeah right, nothing worked out out as planned. Steam promised a swift solution that never came, duh! Thoose few who eventually could play all over the world voiced huge complaints of laggy and unfinished gameplay, comparing it with a game still in BETA.

Over 39.000 views on the now legendary steam thread
During this time most of the european countrys still were having serious problems even activating the retail provided game key. Over 39.000 views on the steam thread http://forums.steamgames.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2109039 with gamers (who payed god money via various serious retailers) having problems activating their game key is allready legendary. Turns out the retailers got games intended for the eastern europe market – like that would have anything to do with anything since PC GAMES ARE IN FACT SUPPOSED TO BE REGION FREE!! Besides this,  customers report getting retail boxes with no activation key and no manual – just how bad can you handle a release Deep Silver?

Deep silver probably wont release a game again – if they’re smart..
Thoose few who even got dignified with a reply from Steam, Deep Silver or their local game dealer, just got bounced between them. Steam telling the poor gamers to go to their local retailer and get the game changed to a game intendeed for the western european market, Deep Silver saying the same bullshit – like it’s the customers problem.. (and hey why not, they allready got the poor gamer-kids money) They probably have no plans to ever release a game again, (if they’re smart) and the retailers saying Steam fucked up.

” We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.  Unfortunatly we have to tell you that we couldn’t register any unvalid Steam product keys through our high selling rates. The message you received occurs, if you try to activate the game which is not specifically valid for your area. In this case we and Steam can’t help you to find a solution. We would like to ask you to contact your retailer and exchange the game.”

Do you really think a paying customer gives a flying fuck to what region the game was intended for release on a friday night after a long week?!

[Edit] A funny fact is, there’s no way to see it’s intended for any region on the retail box, I just got that confirmed from a friend. So god luck with that “region shit” in court!

Paying almost 100$ for a zombie game..
So over thousands of european gamers sits around on release day with a game they can’t activate. Some of them so desperate, they buy the game all over from steam – with the result of having payed almost 100$ for zombie game.. ROFL!!

The local game dealers are the only heroes here – shame on Steam, Shame on Deep Silver!
Some gamers however found a solution, with the help of some retailers providing them with instructions on how to activate the game by VPN via hungarian proxys. http://www.gameware.at/info/space/Dead+Island+VPN+Aktivierung Theese guys has to be the ONLY heroes in this story – cuz none of the two big companys (Deep silver and Steam) have been paying any attention to the thousands of gamers – many of them teenagers who payed god money to be able to play their zombie game with friends at the friday night release. No official reply, not a single comment in the the forums. Worst of all – they are now trying to play the “blame game” – and make the customers go back to their retailer.. And remember, not a single word about the game not beeing region free pre release.


Get it here and use “demo/demo”

Activating Dead Island via proxy or VPN
That’s how you solve a problem – you fix it fast for the paying customer, then you can sit down and blame eachother for all etarnity while your customers play their game. The gamers just dont give a shit what went wrong and why should they? Would you, given the same situation?

Now there’s talk amongst the gamers they might get banned for using the method above provided by the resellers.. But to be honest, not even Steam can be so fucking stupid, pulling a stunt like that on their customers. It’s not like their alone anymore with their cloud service for games with the mighty release of Star Wars Online via Electronic Arts Origin.

On a sidenote – thoose who illegally cracked and downloaded the game from Pirate Bay etc. probably have been playing it for weeks without any problems and without any risk of getting banned. Worth thinking about.

“Requires activation over steam” – Might get you in a “kafkaesque” reality
From now on customers would be wise in demanding a “Requires activation over steam” stamp on the retail box – because with the above story as background I would think twice before I buy anything having anything to do with steam in the future.

Over and out!
/Blackie – using Origin since years back btw