Soon to be followed by Vacuous Access™, which is just a void where an idea might someday reside. But you could be there first!
Joking aside for a moment, “Early Access” has a serious branding problem at this point that Valve needs to find a way to work around. Let’s face it, this whole concept of “give us your money and THEN we’ll finish our game” isn’t going to go away any time soon.
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And that’s not the end of the world; there are a lot of benefits to that game development approach. From indie studios that need the cash flow to operate to getting direct feedback from players before code is set in stone, there is an upside to “play as we develop.” And let’s not anyone forget: it’s entirely up to us as the consumers to decide not to purchase an unfinished game if we’re not comfortable with it. It’s our responsibility to remember that we are forking over our cash for the product we receive in that moment, not for the promise of what we hope to receive down the road.
But with that said, I think we need more information if we’re going to make informed decisions. And that responsibility lies with Valve.
Right now the term “Early Access” leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, because for every game in Early Access that launches playable, progresses, and maybe even officially releases, there are a dozen that feel like grab and dash with the cash operations. Some of that may be unavoidable, but Valve could insist on some more transparency from these developers, right?
Are you an actual studio of designers working to see your project through to completion via defined work schedule? Or are you a college student with an experimental game project that you will work on “when time allows?” That’s not to say only “real studios” deserve to put games up, but it might help manage expectations if we know more about who is making our games.
I think Early Access developers should have to post a development schedule. I mean all game studios come up with a schedule, and order in which they’ll work on things and when they think they’ll complete it. If Early Access developers are asking for our money for an unfinished product, perhaps we should expect at least that level of forethought from them. And then, if they meet or miss their milestones, people would have some metric by which to gauge how the development of the game is proceeding.
It might force the developer to be realistic with themselves about a timeline, and also further manage gamer expectations.
Whatever the solution may be, if this is going to be our new normal, some granularity may be in order. Some games are clearly working towards a defined “finished” state, whereas others are the sorts of games that will always evolve and change which makes it near impossible to decide where “finished” actually lies. And still even other games are clearly ‘flash-in-the-pan’ fads, meant to capitalize on some fun gimmick or game play element and burn bright, make some cash, be easy to stream for some laughs and then fade away.
Assigning them all the catch-all phrase “Early Access” sours the term for everyone because it loses all meaning. Or takes on an unintended one.
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