Poor Man’s Gamer Presents: The Early Access Situation

As of lately there are two topics that I desperately want to talk about.  The first is the console war; it’s reached a new level of excess and purposelessness.  The second thing I wish to talk about is the recent outspokenness against Steam’s Early Access model by numerous web critics.  As it stands I’m in the middle of working on a lengthier podcast detailing the console war and my thoughts on it, so instead I’m going to spend this week talking about the Early Access system and its criticism.

Steam has always been under a fair deal of criticism, a good deal of which stems from the way that Steam chooses which games to put up on their marketplace.  For a long time this meant that to be featured on Steam meant that you were in business with a larger publisher or you had done something to catch Valve’s interest.  In August 2012 Steam made a step towards remedying this problem with the unveiling of Greenlight, a way for the community to pick which games they would like to see on Steam.  This initially proved to be a great way to allow smaller developers to get marketed on Steam.  I feel like this is a pretty good program, though it does have its faults.  The main fault I see with a program like this is that the community for as smart and tasteful it is, does have a good deal of people who are not and because of this every now and again the community will vote for a game too terrible to be true.  Forgive me for I digress…

A year later Steam revealed yet another program, one to promote games that had not yet been finished, games that still required a certain amount of development to reach completion.  These are Steam’s Early Access Games.  The Early Access system follows, almost to the letter, the Minecraft business model by releasing a game in alpha or beta and allowing people access to it throughout its development by releasing the occasional update to the game, adding features and improving the game’s functionality (something which has served Minecraft very well, but which I’ve had numerous problems with).  When Early Access first appeared it showcased a small group of games that were all fairly well put together with most of their features intact and working.  When this happened there was a lot of hope for Early Access, what it meant, and what it could become.  The developers of these games were fairly devoted to getting community input and keeping the community informed on the states of their games and what updates had to offer.  All the meanwhile, the community was more than happy to help fund the developers throughout the development process.  Those were the glory days, back when Early Access was young and pure.  Sadly this is no longer the case.

In recent months Early Access has been flooded with countless games, games that have remained largely in an unfinished and unplayable state.  It’s a travesty what has happened.  The whole Early Access system came out of an incident involving a game I’ve spoken of before called Towns, which was released on Steam in an unfinished state, which angered a large number of consumers, leading to major problems for Steam.  The main criticism of the whole incident was that Steam had allowed a game onto the marketplace that was in no way playable on any small, diminished level.  The first few games on Early Access were released in states that warranted their “full finished prices.”  Few of the newer games can claim the same.  These games are charging full price for unfinished and nearly unplayable experiences.  It is becoming more and more acceptable to put out a game that is unfinished with the guarantee and promise to put out free updates that will eventually add up to a finished product.  You would not buy a plate of spaghetti under the agreement that you would initially get the uncooked noodles and that the next time you came into the restaurant they would be boiled and covered in tomato sauce, so why do we allow this to happen in games.  There was a time, not so long ago when games were only released once they were completed.  When you looked at a game you looked at it as a finished product with only a very low chance of ever changing.  Nowadays the same cannot be said.  There is no proper way to review an Early Access game.  What you might say about an unfinished game may not be true the next week due to an update of some sort.  Now in the past I have reviewed a single Early Access game, Starbound, and I had nothing but good things to say about it and its potential, but it may be said that most of the things I had to say about it were about its potential and not really the game itself.  As it stands I am going to make a vow to that I will not review any other Early Access game, to do so I would undoubtedly have to review one of the many Early Access games deemed by me as unfinished and unplayable, and doing so I might propagate the idea that such games are sought after by consumers, which is not the case.

As consumers we have the right to certain liberties and respect when it comes to the games we are buying.  Steam and a large number of game developers have been abusing these common dignities by marketing poor Early Access games (I use the qualifier poor, because as it stands there is a handful of Early Access games that remain perfectly worth their costs and extremely fun and decent).  As it stands there seems to be no sign that this behavior will stop on the part of Steam or of the developers until it is shown to them by the community that they expect a certain quality in all of their games, and will not allow trash to be marketed to them.

Now I am in no way sure of the best way to go about this.  As a community we cannot boycott every Early Access game, to do so what inadvertently hurt games that have true potential and content worthy of backing it up.  Yet at the same time it seems like the best way to deliver a message to both Steam and the game developers I’ve been speaking of, would be through sales numbers and the like.  So I really have no idea which way to go, the community must find a fair and just way to deal with these offenses, to speak out their opinions.  In doing so Steam may decide to act in a way that progresses the benefit of the consumer much as they have done in the past with the addition of the Greenlight system and the initial Early Access system.

Now let me apologize for the nature and emotion of this post.  As it stands I feel inclined to do the gaming community a service in detailing events and occurrences such as this.  Diverging from my normally upbeat posts should not be expected, I plan to return very soon to my usual, happier demeanor and showcase to you games worthy of your time and attention.  Just know that at the end of every day what I do in this post, I do for you.

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2 thoughts on “Poor Man’s Gamer Presents: The Early Access Situation

  1. Good post. I’ve been frustrated, too, by the lack of progress in a lot of the Greenlight projects. Starbound is maybe the best I’ve played yet, but even then it feels like Terraria-In-Space. It leaves one to wonder whether or not some kind of deliverables timeline needs to be enforced by Steam. I think crowdfunding is a great idea – it has tremendous potential for spurring innovation in a medium crowded to bursting with lazy knockoffs and tired derivative offerings. But I’m not sure I’ve seen a single Greenlight project go from alpha to 1.0 yet, and that is a little worrisome. I’m hoping to address some of my thoughts in an upcoming column on the subject, myself.

    • As far as I’m aware the only game to go from Early Access to completion is Don’t Starve, which was one of the few Early Access games I know of to be released with a majority of its final gameplay elements intact.

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