Thursday, 8 May 2014

Selling Early Access Games

Ever since Minecraft, developers all over the world have offered access to their games during the early stages of its development. It's actually become so normal that Steam now has an entire section of their store dedicated to Early Access games to keep them separate from the fully released games. Like everything, there are both good and bad aspects to selling early access games that are still very much in development at the time.

The Grand-daddy of Early Access
In my opinion, Minecraft's success relied largely on the unique nature of the game compared to anything on the market at the time, coupled with the ability for some very creative things to happen in the game, and the small development team (for the vast majority it was just Notch working on the game) who listened to the feedback and ideas that the community around the game had. Along with this, Notch generally delivered on the promises that he made regarding features, kept the community informed as to progress, and Minecraft was frequently updated. People felt that they money they spent was well worth it, especially considering the fun they had from both vanilla Minecraft and the later mods available for it.

Compare this to some other games. Cube World's alpha was released in June 2013 and has currently had one update since then. In October of 2013, the frustration of those who had paid money for the game came to a head and unleashed on Twitter at the developer, Wollay. He responded to say that development was still happening on Cube World. Since then however there has not been an update and any blog posts at Wollay's website stopped as of January 2014.

Towns was another game released on Steam's greenlight system, and one of the first ten to actually make it on the system. Today, it was announced that Towns was being abandoned, and this was not for the first time. The original developer for Towns, a team of three called SMP, originally decided that they were going to stop development of the game due to burnout. All of this came after a post by SMP detailing that, while they were definitely feeling less inclined to work on Towns, the project was "alive and kicking." However in the same post the following was said:
So so far Towns has sold more than 200k units and generated a gross revenue of more than 2M usd. and although we are pretty sure we can and will sell a lot more, we still see it as a huge success.
A game still in development, no where near the final product had made more than 2 million US$ in revenue. Profits from this are obviously hard to work out, but with over 200,000 units sold, they definitely would have made decent amount of money. When SMP did finally hand over the project to the new developer, Florian, they told him that they sold a particular amount each month, but by then it was too late. The hype had ended and the money was no longer coming in as much as it had been.

Early Access has led to the death of many Kerbals
None of this is to say that early access isn't a good thing. It certainly can be. Games currently like Kerbal Space Program and Prison Architect that receive regular updates and communications from the developers have given players hours of enjoyment for gamers who dropped money on them. The money that they make when funneled back into the game can be the difference between a feature making the final release or not. That being said however, when a project goes wrong, it leaves gamers out of pocket for a product that was promised to be much better.

Early access is one of those things in gaming that requires caution, much like micro transactions and day one DLC. There are several games that I have purchased that in their current state are unplayable until further iteration is applied. I could have saved that money and spent it on other games that were more completed than those were, but the idea and concepts behind the game were so compelling that I had to try them out. Now those games probably won't get played until they are more refined and closed to release. My complete opinion? Buyer beware. No matter who it is, you might get burnt by a developer who gets burned out and drops a project. Or you might get another Minecraft style game that ends up being a staple of your gaming library. Either way, a little restraint goes a long way in preventing tears due to an early access game.

As always,


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