Early access is the modern cancer of games industry. That used to be free to play monetization methods in my mind but lately that thought has changed. While they remain an issue ftp is more an assault on the sense, something that activates the gag reflex and makes you wretch into the air a few times before pushing on. People of course differ in how dull their senses may be from simple skittles dripping from the mouth to a large pool of vomit for the particular heinous elements.
Early access is different though. It’s just like the analogy suggests, a slow death that saps the lifeblood from the game and I’ve seen it time and time again. An early access game that releases but a husk of what it could, and is planned to be. A tide of hopeful supporters that are drawn in by the mere mention of such potential and then of course, the subsequent fall as gameplay flaws, and overwhelming issues poison that original hope. Population dwindles, thoughts of the community turn more negative and the game overwhelmingly begins to flounder – partly due to these failed expectations built on an unfinished project but also because such things were never possible to begin with. Then of course when it’s time to release it is buried under the disease that it released upon itself.
Of course Multiplayer games seem particularly susceptible to the effects of the early access ailment. there are many smaller indie games I backed earlier in their development that aimed for cooperative or competitive online play and while some provide a worthwhile experience many do not. In parts it’s a problem of selling an unfinished product that in this time you only get a small percentage of what could be in terms of players. This leads to a suboptimal experience of poor games, long wait times, and unbalanced matchmaking. I think this was part of the reason why Gigantic and Fractured Space failed to really grab me as much. Waiting so long for a match is annoying enough but to then deal with the unpolished nature of these experiences developed a negative idea of them that stuck from then on.
Then there are smaller indie game like Secret Ponchos and Chaos Reborn that possible could have been bigger, yet crashed and burned while in early access and forgotten once the actual release happened – and many more similar experiences that I’m forgetting. Fracturing the playerbase is but the result after this early access infection has run it’s course but there is so much more to worry about, symptoms of the condition that go unchecked.
Overloaded on Information
Hype seems to be a huge within the gaming industry right as with the wealth of games that constantly get released, and even those currently released competing for your attention. It is incredibly hard for many newer titles to gain the attention and player base they need and trying for early access only exacerbates this problem. What early access and beta periods in particular do is stretch out the marketing timeline for a game to the point of ridiculousness. They try to constantly bombard the player with information throughout this time and it’s mostly inconsequential. Eventually you just ignore such information as irrelevant, a psychological principle called filtering, or selective attention wherin the brain ignores information that is constant.
I often find myself doing this rather often when reading through gaming news. You see too much of the same game name over time showing off only small improvements, updates, and press releases that you barely even notice them. Just skip straigt past to something more interesting. The long development cycle of many AAA products has probably heightened this too, but mostly it;s due to unfinished games constantly asking for attention. Then of course, when a big update or the eventual release comes along it gets the same treatment – missed or forgotten.
It is not impossible to break through this of course, done through sheer dogged determination or with the backing of an industry behemoth but for the rest, it’s reluctant obscurity most of the time.
Removing the Mystery
And then there is the way it removes much of that feeling of mystery around these games. Before the release we already have a constant stream of gameplay videos and guides available. The reveal of variously elements and mechanics, quests and commands. The entirety of the game unravelled before you if you so wish and for me – it removes that sense of mystery I so long for in a new game.
Multiplayer games once again seem to suffer more from such things as you often can not stay oblivious to such things. Groups and other players have certain expectations of other group member, that you be knowledgeable about the content beforehand. Even if you can avoid such peer pressure, their is a sly pressure there that seduces you towards such things. Tempting you to take a peek at what lays before you, go maybe see what’s to come, or to solve a puzzle set before you. It’s a corruptible force on the spirit of exploration and the mystery of new experiences, that in term ends up cheapening the eventual release experince ever so slightly.
There is so much wrong with the extended early access process that games are doing now. It is a path that is fraught with issues and one in which greatly increases the chances of a game failing when launching or beforehand. It weakens the playerbase and community, makes many immune to information throughout, and generally provides a worse experience that creatives negative views of the game that persist well after such things may not be an issue anymore. Unless you are seriously desperate it’s not a great idea and, even if you are that’s probably proof enough you’ll fail with it anyway.