Edited by: Cameron Allan
The video game industry has always had its fair share of trends, from World War 2 shooters in the early 2000’s, to zombie games that followed up on The Walking Dead success, to the current trend of massive open world games with RPG elements. Recently we have seen a trend that appears to be here to stay, Indy games and the Indy video game industry. As medium quality games, or AA games, have been pushed to the wayside, AAA games have become more expensive to make and thus, end up costing more for the consumer, especially with additional DLC and pre-order bonus content.
Add on the increasing expectations of quality and substance, and creating a successful game becomes no small endeavor.
The small companies with small teams, and with even smaller budgets, could never compete in this industry 10 years ago. However, this is no longer the case, and Steams inclusion of Early Access gaming serves as a prime example of how Indy companies present day can not only survive, but thrive. Yet despite their many pros, early access games aren’t able to escape downside and controversy.
First, what exactly is Early Access? According to Valve on the front page of Steams Early Access, it is the ability to, “get immediate access to games that are being developed with the community’s involvement. These are games that evolve as you play them, as you give feedback, and as the developers update and add content.”
What this means is, games in Early Access are still in development and allow you, the consumer, to purchase an incomplete, yet playable product. Purchasing a game in Early Access, through steam or other options, allows you to not only play the game, but support the development of this game through your financial backing and feedback given to the developer. Developers will often have several different features that they want to implement into the game during the course of development, and the game will often go through many different alphas before its full release. That is, if it ever comes out.
There is a large risk, and a real possibility, that the consumer, who has dumped money into a game, never gets to experience the complete version of the title. Early Access is a gamble; you don’t know if there will be a final payout. There is no guarantee, other than the consumer expectation that the game will be completed with all of its proposed features implemented. When purchasing a AAA title at the price of 70-80 dollars, there is an expectation that the game is complete and you will be getting the experience that has been advertised to you.
Those purchasing games in Early Access may want that AAA safety net; however, it simply isn’t available with games of this variety. The money you invested by purchasing the game could be taken and run with by the developers, leaving you with an incomplete shell of what you thought you were getting. It’s up to the consumer to do their research on a game, and its development company, before getting involved into this form of purchasing.
If you do choose to support early access games, there are many games to choose from, with many fun and new ideas. In 2014, 255 Early Access games released on Steam and in 2013, 103 games released, which is a 147 percent increase. 85 percent of those games are new IPs according to EEDAR, a game research firm.
Also, this is just on Steam, with the many other early access games available on developer’s websites left excluded. However, since the Values program launched in 2013, around 25 percent of the products have released as full, complete titles.
Of course, games takes years to make, even Indy games, but some games are simply abandoned. Infamous games such as Stomping Ground, hadn’t updated for months and were eventually removed from the program. Earth: Year 2066 also met the same fate as Stomping Ground. The War Z franchise was rebranded as Infestation: Survival stories after the original game was removed from steam due to false advertising. Even Double Fine, a popular and respected developer, failed in Early Access with its game, Spacebase DF-9, which didn’t have anything close to its promised features. It met the same fate of abandonment.
However, not all is doom and gloom for Early Access games and those who choose to support them. There have also been some great success stories. Prison Architect is a wonderful example of a successful early access game that had monthly updates before a recent full release. Darkest Dungeon is a very good, and very hard, game that recently got a full release and is all over YouTube. Rimworld, a game still in early access is a 30$ game that consistently gets updates and is extremely fun and immersive.
All these games allowed those who purchased them in early access to not just try out the game early, but give the developer’s feedback and help make the game a more enjoyable experience. Also, supporting small’s studios that would normally never be able to make their game without help from the public, just plain feels good. Hopefully, the majority of people who use this service enjoy experiences like the ones noted above.
Early Access is here to stay. It is exciting, but can also be very dangerous. New and fun ideas from small teams are taking creative risks that AAA developers would never think of taking. Ultimately, it is up to us as consumers to do our research and decide if the gamble is worth the possibility of huge disappointment.
Andrew has always enjoyed two things, hockey and video games. He is a diehard leaf fan, and an avid console and PC gamer.