Jimquisition: Early Access

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Wait, Eldritch is still Early access? 0_o The game feels seriously complete to me...Coudl use a bit more room variety, but aside from that it was a total and complete blast!

Starbound is still missing a lot of stuff, so I'll wait for that before I jump back in.

...Also, I feel I should mention Sanctum 1 here. It was REALLY a trimmed down experience when it launched, with only 3 maps, and limited customization. But they eventually realeased a bunch more stuff for free and then added DLC for reasonably cheap as well and it turned out pretty decent.

Finally, I'm going to be one of those early access guys when God Factory finally does its official launch. I got to try the beta during the (unfairly failed) kickstarter campaign, and it was GLORIOUS. Def something I would pay for as is, and especially with the promise of more stuff to come.

Vrach:
One important thing I think a lot of people are missing with these Eearly access games that are paid for.

How long do you guys tend to play a single game? Discounting MMOs that I've been able to play for years (and even that was with me in high school, with tons of time on my hands), most of the games I play can at most hold my interest for some 2 months. At most. A few games are exception to that, but most are either multiplayer (usually with DLC) or completely built around replayability, like the Civilization series. Even there though, there's only so much I can play of the game before I just get bored and booting it up again is something that may happen once in 6-12 months.

With that in mind, why in the world would I pay for an unfinished game that's going to be finished several months from now at the earliest? I'd be setting myself up for one of two things - one, that the game is shit in it's state, unplayable and I've wasted money on it. It could possibly even tar the experience for me enough not to bother to install it again (or at least not enjoy it as much when I do) when it does get finished.

And two, that the game is playable and enjoyable enough in it's current state, in which case I'm paying the same price, possibly even a higher one, to play an unfinished product now and not have any interest in it once it's complete. That's a trade-off of quality for time of delivery that the gaming community has a high tendency to rage on about... so why the fuck do it willingly?

So imo, it's a lose-lose situation for the consumer, even if the game is actually playable in Early Access. I appreciate that it makes it easier on the developer and that's cool, but again, in it's shiniest moments, assuming it's not a game you're gonna play for years (and for an indie game, that's highly unlikely [not impossible though]), you're paying for an unfinished product to get it early.

Precisely. I have a large backlog of COMPLETE RELEASED games I have yet to play. Why would I *ever* pay to play through an incomplete buggy game when I'm probably not going to come back to it?

I do not see the problem, Jim.
The choice ultimately falls on the consumer to decide if it's appropriate or not. It's the consumer's risk to make. The only obligation the producing business has is to inform the consumer that the product is being sold as-is, and that it is currently incomplete. It is not unlike a kickstarter. You are in essence arguing against used cars-- which do not have the complete value a new cars has: the guarantee that all parts of the car are in working order, and will remain in working under under warranty. Or, you are arging against currency backed by the good faith of a government: we receive slips of paper that are at face value useless and not as valuable as the numbers printed on them suggest; however, their value is guaranteed by a government which could potentially say "oops, nevermind your paper has no value," at any time. The alternative is bartering, only buying new cars, and only buying complete games, at your discretion.

Now, if the publisher is representing a product as complete, and it is not in fact a complete product, then that's fraud. Obviously, that is wrong, and there are laws in place to protect consumers against that sort of thing. What you are describing is different, and there is a legit consumer demand for it.

I'm kinda conflicted on this topic Jim, but its probably just semantics on my part.

You can't judge a unfinished game as if it was a finished product. Just because digital entertainment is capable of distributing functional unfinished products for a price, doesn't mean it should be judged as a finished product. But since they are asking money and are providing some sort of product it should be sort of reviewable in some way, just not in the way you would a finished game.

The public should be made aware of bad deals and practices, as you have done here now.

Maybe I'm just arguing semantics.

The important part is that they are selling something, and anything sold is worth reviewing and if its shit its worth a warning.

Personally I've had a wonderful time with Starfarer (now called Starsector), its still way unfinished but the part that is playable is fantastic. And its already moddable with quite an active modding community having made tons of mods for it already.

But I'm extremely weary of anything that isn't finished, most finished products are shit so what are the odds unfinished ones fair any better?

Anyway, good show and THANK GOD FOR JIM!!

Great video and I do agree that the new trend is a bad one more than good. I am participating in a couple great and a few bad ones currently on steam alone and have started curbing this habit heavily after my more recent experiences (7DtD).

One game was enough to turn me off to this early access bizniss. Folktale. Was on Greenlight, looked good, comes out in ~Alpha mode, Early Access, I buy it. It has nothing but a tutorial which is not even complete or fully implemented. That's cool, they're working on it right? Right?
-Well, that was June '13. AFAIK nothing's changed, I replayed the oh-so-exciting demo back in November or so just to check. The developer periodically releases statements which I don't even bother to read anymore. The feedback forums appear to be going nowhere, why would they if the core game can't even make it out the gate.

So no, I used to be on the fence about indy games and their funding issues ergo Early Access, but now I'm done. Indy games end up being lackluster (imo) more often than not, but at least I get a full game and a sense of well-being for having aided the indy cause. I'm not paying for half-finished games, that's just encouraging bad business practices.

On the topic of AAA companies, this should obviously never even be an issue. AAA are by definition massive budget games. They don't need any more money to put out their 1080p 70fps games with microtransactions and release-day-dlc and cobbled-on multiplayer to get your friends to buy a copy. It may have even been Jimquisition that mentioned in the past Square-Enix's genius idea of selling 'parts' of games to gamers separately. This is a big step in that direction if it were to become accepted. First the 'DLC' (read: core game missing from 'Early Access') is free, then it comes at a premium.

This is souring my opinion of Greenlight as well. A game can look good, get Greenlit, and then voila it's out for Early Access purchase. What guarantee do I have that these games will ever be completed? It's cynical, but if I were to develop a product, a sandwich for example, and sell someone just two slices of bread for full price, what incentive do I have to ever give them the rest? I got their money, I can either put in a lot of effort for no additional money in hopes someone will hear about it and come for another sandwich, or cash out my chips now. Something about birds in the bush, was it?

Its interesting, i was having a discussion with some friends about early access as a concept and we came to two conclusions. One that buyer beware has never been more appropriate with early access games. Two; early access can give developers insights into what their market wants as they develop their game as well as getting vital early funding to make their grander dreams a reality. I often wonder what developers might have done if they had had their success money while they were still developing...

Another interesting consequence of the early access concept; the consumers have effectively become the playtesters and to an extent the designers also.

I think early access can give developers the potential to produce a much better game for the end user, but the danger to the consumer is that you are buying a game soley on the trust that the game will live up to it's promise.

For that reason I think that reviewers should definately muscle into the early access sector - If someone has alot of games experience and some knowledge of the production process it should be easier for them to identify the diamonds in the rough, or potential wastes of money, and reviewers are in the perfect position to let these be known.

If you genuinely think that a game is perfect for you and if you want a say in it's development then get the game on early access, if not - there's no real harm in this business strategy for the customer that bides their time and buys the completed game.

Jim this is for you specifically;

Watch the development of 'Underrail' and 'DayZ' on steam - through the community hubs of these particular titles you can really see how early access can help developers to deliver a better game to their consumer base...

More advocation that the consumers of the world be treated like children who need to be protected rather than as fully responsible adults who can make their own purchasing decisions.

It's one thing if the devs are releasing an allegedly complete game that isn't, but when they say "yo, this game isn't finished, but if you wanna buy while it's still in development here's the option."

No lies. no wool being pulled over anyones eyes. An honest sales pitch, and it's up to the given player to make the decision for themselves if they wanna put up their money for something they KNOW technically isn't done yet. Buy an Early Access game and are unsatisfied? Tough shit, don't knuckle up money for something that isn't done yet next time. It's no different from you saying the exact same thing to people who complain about AAA releases that ARE finished and just ended up not liking dat shit and complaining, I believe the word often employed for those circumstances is "entitled" right? Somehow seems more applicable to this situation, from my perspective.

You, Jim, are making all the same arguments people who go "think of the children" make, but applying it to financially responsible adults. How anyone can agree with such a position is beyond me.

Cant wait for the DLC for this episode.

Sorry, This episode was a complete waste. The central point is a plea for the consumers to be vigilant and not only will that NOT happen, they are in fact the cause of the problem because they DO keep throwing money at unfinished products. You would have better luck asking cats to be vigilant about how much fur they shed on your clothes and furniture.

Captcha: Trust me.

Oh no, thats what started the whole problem in the first place.

Way to hammer in the truth. Good show.

True, Jimquisition show if free for us all to watch. But Mr. Sterling, your success and paycheck also depends on our patience to sit through all the advertisement siren lights cluttered around your work. Let us not forget that all those conventions and shout outs that depend on fan support. There is nothing wrong with a joke episode or two, but when you make a habit of it, we get the feeling that you are deliberately wasting our precious time.

I really start to despise early access games, wehen it comes down to a small developer charging easily 50% of the full prize (exspecially if the game is still all Alpha and such). It just feels wrong, to pay a heckload upfront, and then wait 2 years to see what may get booted as the final.

Most of the Early access games I own (minecraft, Rust and Kerbal) where rather recommendationtion from friends. Although I start to get really distrustfull, if one of these titles since you know: Money in the pocket obviously doesn't make DEVs obliged to actually work with it, when the run out of Ideas?

Some of those early acces games just feel like kind of knockoffs from other, better games (I exclude Starbound in this, since it is by the same head developer), with only a few gems on the sidelines.

I think I'm starting to grow more and more "hype resistant" these days and well, nothing left to say.

Thank god for you Jim!

I'm fine with early access as long as it is advertised truthfully.

IamLEAM1983:

What I can't forgive, however, is stuff like Planetary Annihilation, on Steam. An indie game, one with no prior track record on its devs and nothing but its own super-ambitious design tenets to hold it together, marketed as an Early Access game - for ninety freaking bucks.

No prior record? Well, only if you ignore all the games in their prior record like Monday Night Fight, Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander. Also, they went after talent like modders for Supreme Commander that are well known in its RTS community to assure their backers they were going for quality over quantity in the development team.

I really need to get this straight here... Planetary Annihilation wasn't put on early access as a COMMERCIAL RELEASE. If you don't like the price, you already didn't care for it. They did a kind of weird maneuver that I don't totally agree with. The early access was more like a catch-up for anyone who missed the kickstarter for it but would still want to contribute. They put the price high PRECISELY so the early access wouldn't sell much, like being bought by anyone stumbling into the game on the Steam Store. The price was a filter against impulse-buyers and regular customers. They wanted, at that stage, feedback more than anything and dedicated people willing to help ironing the game. It was a way of gaming the system itself. Not everyone instantly knows of everything that goes on Kickstarter. And their objective was to create a game that modern publishers haven't got the slightest intent on buying. The backing they got, while impressive, was still peanuts compared to what their game demanded.

Sure I don't agree with the early access decision, but only because I knew PRECISELY that it'd be bad PR because people who don't even know about what the game is about or care about knowing what it was about was still going to take up to arms against the game. Even if they have absolute no intention of buying it even if it was 5 bucks.

But the backing proved there's still a lot of people craving for an actual RTS to be launched.

People need to understand that, just like Kickstarter, earlier access is not a commercial product. It is a promise for a commercial product where they ask for your assistance to improve it. You can trust then or not. It is not a gamble, it is an investment. And if they find people willing to pay this investment, there's no harm done... AS LONG as these people know that any investment has risks.

I really don't want to use this term, but if consumers are too dumb to differentiate between a commercial product and an investment, it is their own damn fault. If Steam doesn't care to properly label the difference in their store, then the responsibility is on Steam. But the developers are usually upfront about what the early access actually is in the story to any consumer who'll actually bother to know what they're actually buying. If they don't they're the one's who're irresponsible with their money. People lose money all the time in bad investments. It is something that happens.

Oh man this is one of my big bugbears. When Arma III launched its "paid open alpha" I was so stunned that I put a large post on the Steam forum calling it the beginning of the end. Open betas were bad enough, but now devs were expecting US to pay THEM to be their unpaid bug testers.

For a long time I've been fed to the back teeth with idiots defending blatant flaws in a prerelease game with "it's still in beta, what do you expect?" Not bugs, huge flaws in the game. I expect the fucking game to work is what I expect. Now with Early Access we're being offered games that we have absolutely no right to expect to work at all. It's nauseating.

Fortunately there's a very simple solution: don't buy into the fucking things. No matter how interesting it looks, don't be taken in by the devs bullshit of "you get to help decide how the game develops" (they're lying) and just tell yourself "it'll be better later when the finished version is completed". If it ever gets completed at all, of course.

I really don't like the idea of early access games. I get that small developers want to check for bugs on people's computers since they don't get to have huge debug teams but charging customers to do a job for them seems very unfair. Why not just do a free beta that disables at a certain date? Even big evil greedy companies like Mircosoft and Activision let me do that (with Windows 7 and World at War respectively). What's even worse is that these often seem very expensive. Prison Architect was €30 when I first saw it (not sure what it's at now) and while I'm sure it's a fine game, €30 is a lot for any indie game, never mind an unfinished one.

I get that they often want money too but they can always go to Kickstarter for something like that. At least in that context it's laid bare for what it is: a donation. You like someone so you just give them money and trust them to use it well. They're in your debt because you've just done a nice thing for them, maybe in return you'll give a cheaper copy of the game instead of a more expensive one.

At the same time though, people are completely happy to pay for it and often shoot down anyone who raises the issue like a blasphemer. I can't see it going anywhere as long as people are still happy to pay it.

The problem with frontloading all the cash is that there is no incentive left for the developer to finish his product in a way that satisfies his customers.

The majority of people who want your game have allready bought it, those that wait for a finished product are in the minority.

You allready got most of the money you will get for your game so why finish it? There is absolutely no reason to do it... you allready got paid and the customer has no way of demanding their money back.

This is unique to the PC software market... since because of "piracy" PC software is excluded from return in most countries. So its more or less officialy sanctioned to screw over your customers in the PC games market.

All they need to do is put a "buy at own risk" in the fine print and voila... they never need to finish.. after all you bought the game on your own risk... it was clearly unfinished and the Dev never promised to finish it anyways... not that things like "promises" mean anything in the industry.. after all they are not legaly binding. And even if they where.. whats the chance of getting sued?

This whole early access is doing more harm then good. If you dont have the money to finish a project perhaps you shouldnt have started it in the first place.

Ergo early access might have been a good idea on paper, but its use on the other hand seems to be to rob people of their hard earned cash with vague promises and half baked game tech demos.. you know.. only show enough leg to draw all the suckers in and then dash for mexico with all the money

Minecraft's the one to blame for this, but that's because it got it's popularity from YouTube stars. Anyways, I'm not sure why anybody would trust early access unless there was evidence of the core game working in damn near perfect condition (Minecraft had a lot of evidence to support itself). But then again, I pre-ordered Battlefield 4 and its Premium.

I'm actually not that upset about BF4 since the game itself is so goddamn fun to play, it's easy to forget that it didn't actually work as intended. It's much better now, but it needs a lot of improvement still. As a long time fan of Battlefield and DICE, I expect some sort of apology (adding of previously cut China Rising levolution, maybe?). But then again, they have Mirror's Edge, Star Wars Battlefront and the next Battlefield coming out, sooooo... fuck me, I guess?

rasputin0009:
Minecraft's the one to blame for this, but that's because it got it's popularity from YouTube stars.

How is Minecraft to blame? It's certainly not the first game to use alpha funding, not even the first popular one.

Personally, I don't feel there is a problem with early access. Do people waste money on products that will never deliver? Absolutely. But that happens with complete games as well. Many games have bugs that can ruin the experience or simply just aren't worth their asking prices. The buyer's attitude is the problem here. If you don't feel like the game is worth the price they're asking for right now, not when hopefully eventually improved, then you should not buy it. Games I've bought for a fraction of the final price like Mount & Blade, Minecraft, Kerbal Space Program, were all enough fun in their alpha stages to play as they were.

I've been burned for buying "complete" games (read buggy, unfinished, broken mess) like Civ5, next-gen NBA 2K14, Spore but never for an alpha funded game, granted I do my research before buying. Besides, Paradox Interactive and Creative Assembly have a proven track record of releasing games that only get out of their "early access" mode once they have a few expansions out.

I wonder if Early Access would be a bit less problematic if developers were required to have significant discounts for the more incomplete stages. Say, 25% off for Beta, 50% for Alpha, and 75% for Pre-Alpha.

Glitchy and unfinished episode?
So meta :D

NEXT CAR GAME on steam not only is a early access but you can pay extra for the DIGITAL DELUXE VERSION... a step too far, i already think that if we are funding the game development and beta testing the game should be CHEAP, real cheap, not retail price until its a retail game.

lord.jeff:
I'm fine with early access as long as it is advertised truthfully.

Yeh, I second this. The level of advertising is humble too. They maybe get a front page banner ad on steam, with "early access" clearly stated on it. Trying to draw parallels to BF4 which was advertised everywhere, constantly on my tv and everytime I went to the cinema... Not seeing it.

Valderis:
I'm kinda conflicted on this topic Jim, but its probably just semantics on my part.

You can't judge a unfinished game as if it was a finished product. Just because digital entertainment is capable of distributing functional unfinished products for a price, doesn't mean it should be judged as a finished product. But since they are asking money and are providing some sort of product it should be sort of reviewable in some way, just not in the way you would a finished game.

The public should be made aware of bad deals and practices, as you have done here now.

Maybe I'm just arguing semantics.

Yes I agree, while its ridicolous to review a demo in the same standards as a fullgame, its a different story if they are charging money for it. So I think the 4 different categories of games should be judged on different set of criteria:

Low standards: demo
Moderate standards: Early Access
Full standards: Full release
Highest standards: Re-release (HD release or a port)

Every review site should carefully construct a set of criteria for each of these categories of games. Criteria are important.. you don't take a sports game specialist and have him review a first person shooter do you? It would paint a inaccurate picture of the title. Early Access games should be judged mainly for the asking price compared to the actual product, if its not upto par then you have to say whether its worth paying the asking price for the "future promised features". If it is, by how much extra are you paying for promised features?

As someone who worked on a cancelled "MMO" browser game, I can tell you that the beta period is nothing more than when you test the market for suitable marks. If a game is going to be successful, your buying into it or not isn't going to make the slightest amount of difference. Games are successful or not and a few people monetising, regardless of how much, doesn't make any difference. You aren't supporting anything. At best, you are reducing the costs of the company. If the game isn't successful, they'll sack everyone anyway. And if it does have the traction needed to become popular, you're not going to make any difference with your pittance of money.

People thinking that spending money on a beta will help it along are like people who think giving 20 to Greenpeace is going to stop global warming.

Your contribution is meaningless, unless 100,000 people are doing the same thing.

This is a fiscal fact whether you like it or not. And companies budget how much they're going to spend long before they start seeing the returns.

Although don't let that stop people making spurious remarks based on zero knowledge of the industry, since that's the fuel the internet runs on.

I finally figured out what pisses me off about this practice: It's taking jobs away from playtesters. Why perpetuate a system that's a good entry level way of introducing new blood into the games industry than playtesters, who get to see what works and what doesn't work in games to build an intuitive knowledge of game design to help ensure better game production in the future while they earn scratch for their efforts? Because we can get communities to do it for free, similar to the jimquisition on PC gaming communities where individuals days fix major bugs that take development teams months to work out. Of course, there are economic problems and tons more that I shouldnt get into.

Early access games will continue to flourish as long as people are willing to pay for it.There will soon come a time when every game will either be early access or free 2 play(read pay to win) with microtransactions.

I don't mind it with the indie crowd. We can fairly say that 9 out of 10 indie games are mediocre at best and total shit at worst, but we support them for the 10% that are gems. We can accept that what we'll be getting in an early access is, by definition, an alpha version with limited playability. And on Steam a buyer can always check the forums first to see what people are saying.

What you have to realize is that Early Access is like Kickstarter but better. Kickstarter asks you to pay with the promise of a finished product. There are nasty examples of people spending the money and never delivering on their promise. With Early Access, you at least get a product. It may be a muddy, buggy, unplayable mess, but you get something. Of course, if you buy that mess without researching, you deserve what you get.

I don't expect a whole lot of big name developers to try this. There'll be a few, but it's otherwise counter-productive. If your game is good, you lose out on the hype and anticipation that you get on launch. If your game is bad, you're displaying your shitty game for all the world to see. Aliens: CM wouldn't have sold a single copy post launch if people had been able to play the alpha or beta versions.

Anyway, TGFJ.

I'm indifferent about this one, mainly because I would never play an Early Access game no matter how good it was. I learned my lesson with Don't Starve. By the time it was ready, I was already bored of it and so didn't see quite a lot of the newer content.

I think the option for Early Access should exist. If it was a game I was super-hyped about and had a vested interest in, I might even consider it. But really it's no different than backing something on Kickstarter. You're doing it because you like the idea they have and want to help make a real product out of it.

I am a little tired of hearing people oversimplifying things and saying "they are endorsing the sale of unfinished games, while they bash games like BF4 and ACM". The difference between Early Access and unfinished game is that Early Access actually warns you that it's unfinished first.

So yeah, although I have no issue with Early Access and think it can be useful, I myself am not interested in it and it would also be nice if they could allow the option to remove Early Access games from the storefront on a customer-by-customer basis.

Dear Jim Sterling:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JPOoFkrh94

That is all.

I think it may be around for a while, and I can see the appeal, caveat emptor certainly, but wouldn't you love it if all your games became more fun to play as time went on?
Also, as gamers, we're trained for this, in good games you start out with crappy weapons, powers, or stats, and then get more powerful and more skillful as time goes on.

It would be an interesting experiment to make skill progression a community process from beginning to end.

Well, just to necro an old video's forums, Valve has clarified in the EA FAQ that apparently if anyone ditches an Early Access game, the people who bought it are stuck with a shitty Alpha product and don't get a refund. Thought you might like to know that.

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