Prison Architect Dev: Early Access Trumps Retail

Prison Architect Dev: Early Access Trumps Retail

According to Introversion, Prison Architect's alpha was successful because it didn't need to compete with Triple-A games.

If you want evidence of how much games publishing has changed over the past decade, look no further than indie developers. Teams like Introversion can bypass traditional retail distribution by putting games on digital platforms, sometimes before the project is even finished. At a recent Rezzed 2013 panel, Introversion's Mark Morris and Chris Delay stated that sales of playable alphas have become incredibly beneficial tools for indies. As proof, Morris revealed that Prison Architect's alpha is currently Introversion's biggest financial success, something that couldn't have happened in a traditional publishing environment.

"Publishers and retailers are c***s," Morris said. "I can expand on that. From our perspective we couldn't get our games anywhere near UK retail when we started out. There was no interest in picking up any obscure titles. They just wanted 100 copies of the latest AAA title. If that model had continued then the indie revolution would not have occurred."

Meanwhile, early access models popularized by Minecraft and Steam allowed Introversion to obtain revenue and feedback that paid off in the long run. "Prison Architect is the most financially successful project that Introversion has ever done, without a shadow of a doubt," Morris explained. "It's wonderful for us as we've never previously released a game that we were happy with - it always took us another six months to get to where we wanted to be on version one."

Obsidian's Chris Avellone, also speaking at the panel, added that Triple-A publishers admittedly have a hard time investing in risky projects. "To play devil's advocate here, to an extent I understand where publishers are coming from," he began. "When they're investing $20-30 million in a crazy Triple-A game, their desire to take risks and be innovative, their desire to experiment with a hardcore or PC-only game... They don't want to hear any of that. They know their investment is so large and they understand the level of return they need to get."

Either way, Avellone certainly doesn't want to drop digital alternatives for traditional publishing. "The more we can get out of the loop of the old business model the better."

Source: Eurogamer

Permalink

Fanghawk:
"Publishers and retailers are c***s," Morris said.

Sums up the entire post for me really.

I really like this growing trend in pre-retail sales. It's good for the developers because they get free playtesting by potentially thousands of people as opposed to having to pay 4 or 5 people or do it themselves. They also get more money which can then be channeled into more development. And they look cool for letting people into their game early.

As for the consumer; we get to play games sooner, laugh at hilarious bugs, maybe get your own idea into the game if it sounds good (the devs have all that pre-retail cash in the bank right! Why not use it?) and also each update makes the game better and in a way feels like you're getting free DLC.

I don't like the preretail sales and such. It's going to encourage shotty and fly by night developers who are just there to make a quick buck and don't give a damn about actually delivering so long as they have the money in pocket. That sort of thing is what lead to the first great video game crash.

I noticed Prison Architect on Steam a while ago.

The game itself didn't look like it's for me, and the price seemed a bit high, but I really appreciated that the tiered model (much reminiscent of what we often see on Kickstarter) has made its way onto Steam.

And, as usual, it's up to the individual consumer to decide what is worth investing in and supporting.

JediMB:
I noticed Prison Architect on Steam a while ago.

The game itself didn't look like it's for me, and the price seemed a bit high, but I really appreciated that the tiered model (much reminiscent of what we often see on Kickstarter) has made its way onto Steam.

And, as usual, it's up to the individual consumer to decide what is worth investing in and supporting.

I can't wait to support this game... around $15 bucks or so. I can wait for a steam sale until then but I am glad that they are doing well. I feel torn because I want to support them but I feel a bit ripped off when I've played equally fun games if not more for half that price. It becomes hard to justify when I think of it that way.

I like the look of Prison Architect, but it's a bit too expensive. Get the price down to $20 and I'll buy it, though.

synobal:
I don't like the preretail sales and such. It's going to encourage shotty and fly by night developers who are just there to make a quick buck and don't give a damn about actually delivering so long as they have the money in pocket. That sort of thing is what lead to the first great video game crash.

This is admittedly the downside to such a system, and we saw this happen with War Z. Of course you will then recall that War Z got it's ass chewed out by the gaming community at large and was pulled from Steam, and only allowed back with a big warning that the game was incomplete.

The old crash happened not just because of a large influx of shoddy games, but also because consumers had no way of knowing what was or wasn't good (hence Nintendo's quality stamps).

We now live in the age of the internet, with reviews, Metacritic, Let's Plays, and so on. The information consumers need to avoid getting scammed is readily available. To top it off these alpha games are usually marketed to more hard-core niche audiences that tend to be well informed.

I admit the risk is totally there, but I also think that this situation is far less likely to result in people getting ripped off, and greater consequences for developers that try to do so.

Stevepinto3:

synobal:
I don't like the preretail sales and such. It's going to encourage shotty and fly by night developers who are just there to make a quick buck and don't give a damn about actually delivering so long as they have the money in pocket. That sort of thing is what lead to the first great video game crash.

This is admittedly the downside to such a system, and we saw this happen with War Z. Of course you will then recall that War Z got it's ass chewed out by the gaming community at large and was pulled from Steam, and only allowed back with a big warning that the game was incomplete.

The old crash happened not just because of a large influx of shoddy games, but also because consumers had no way of knowing what was or wasn't good (hence Nintendo's quality stamps).

We now live in the age of the internet, with reviews, Metacritic, Let's Plays, and so on. The information consumers need to avoid getting scammed is readily available. To top it off these alpha games are usually marketed to more hard-core niche audiences that tend to be well informed.

I admit the risk is totally there, but I also think that this situation is far less likely to result in people getting ripped off, and greater consequences for developers that try to do so.

I think it just has to happen with one or two big games and it will do enough damage that the rest of the industry will feel it. This fear though is admittedly one of my own, and why I don't do kick starters or preorders at all for games.

What does everyone think of Prison Architect? Is it worth picking up? I've been looking at it, and it seems like something I'd like but I'd like some players' opinions before I finally commit.

OT: It -is- a nice model. It's also kind of cool seeing games go through additions and updates as you do with this model. I've seen a fair few scared about people who'll just take the money and run without delivering on the product they're supposed to; whilst it's a very valid fear we haven't seen that happen too often so far.

I'll buy it, simply because these are the insane geniuses who released Uplink, the best hacker sim of all time, and DEFCON, the most awful, horrifying concept game I'll ever whole-heartedly demand that you try, as well as one of the most intuitive and simple yet bizarrely fun combat strategy games I've ever tried (Multiwinia) and a computer-terminal based Strategy-RPG hybrid.

A Strategy-RPG hybrid.

That won awards.

I agree with them, really. Uplink got more or less no attention at the time that I can find, and remains one of the most tragically overlooked games ever, as far as I can tell. Because publishers. >:(

I'm glad to see that they're out of their fiscal slump.

....

does that say "alpah"?

i saw a fanfic for uplink and it was super cool, although i forgot where it is now.

either way it's readily available on sale or in a bundle during significant amounts of time

Fuck pre-retail sales. They basically mean that you pay to be the devs QA. I prefer to pay for a finished product, no way I'm shelling out money to do someone's job for them.

This from someone who was in paid beta for SW: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2. One of them was worth it, the other taught me a lesson about pre-paying.

Jamous:
What does everyone think of Prison Architect? Is it worth picking up? I've been looking at it, and it seems like something I'd like but I'd like some players' opinions before I finally commit.

OT: It -is- a nice model. It's also kind of cool seeing games go through additions and updates as you do with this model. I've seen a fair few scared about people who'll just take the money and run without delivering on the product they're supposed to; whilst it's a very valid fear we haven't seen that happen too often so far.

Its like Dwarf Fortress without the Z-Level, and you in it. That is to say, you will be shanked in your own office when no one is looking. It updates around the end of the month or the start of the next month. It should update at the end of June.

Its still rough, but its still nice. Most of the stuff works, except execution and 50% of the morgue. Things like prison labor is in, but it will be expanded and much more dangerous.

Its really brutal like Dwarf Fortress, even the tutorial depresses you.

Don't have the money for laundry rooms? Prisoners don't care, they riot and murder all your guards.

Prisoner arrives late to lunch and doesn't get a chance to eat? He stabs another prisoner to death in front of everyone.

Low security inmate? Turns out to be a secret psychopath who tries to grab a weapon whenever he has the chance while a high security inmate turns out to be a giant teddy bear that won't hurt anyone.

The game throws you a lot of secret curve balls, inmates have their own "secret" personality and its said to be expanded later. You CANNOT just have the game run by itself and expect something to not happen.

I tried that and came back to my prison 10 minutes later to find dead prisoners in an out-of-the-way section of the prison and an escaped murderous prisoner who's only prior crime was speeding. It was hilarious.

Basically: If you like this kind of game, you should get it. It takes a lot of influences from Dwarf Fortress. The rioting system is cool too.

I was there! Wahoo =P

"Early access trumps retail"

Sure, if you're a developer like those guys, you sell an unfinished product for $30 and never deliver the promises you made... yeah, I can see why they like it.

BiH-Kira:
"Early access trumps retail"

Sure, if you're a developer like those guys, you sell an unfinished product for $30 and never deliver the promises you made... yeah, I can see why they like it.

They made a litany of other games.

Multiple that won awards or became cult classics.

Its only this game did they have funding issue with because their last game fell through.

People whine about Early Access, but its no worse than a pre-order of a AAA game. Except early access gives you proof what you are getting while its developed.

If Aliens Colonial Marines got an alpha while it was being made, it wouldn't have gotten as far as it did.

Fanghawk:
"When they're investing $20-30 million in a crazy Triple-A game, their desire to take risks and be innovative, their desire to experiment with a hardcore or PC-only game... They don't want to hear any of that. They know their investment is so large and they understand the level of return they need to get."

But this game definitely didn't cost $20-30 million to make!

They should be investing smaller amounts into games such as this, where it's going to be easier to hit the level of return where it's greater than what they originally put in.

Damn guys.

Ultratwinkie:

BiH-Kira:
"Early access trumps retail"

Sure, if you're a developer like those guys, you sell an unfinished product for $30 and never deliver the promises you made... yeah, I can see why they like it.

They made a litany of other games.

Multiple that won awards or became cult classics.

Its only this game did they have funding issue with because their last game fell through.

People whine about Early Access, but its no worse than a pre-order of a AAA game. Except early access gives you proof what you are getting while its developed.

If Aliens Colonial Marines got an alpha while it was being made, it wouldn't have gotten as far as it did.

I'd say this is the risk. You can either know EXACTLY what you're getting but not always be sure that it'll reach completion, or KNOW that it'll be completed but be unsure if it's what you're getting.

I didn't really need to hear it from Introversion, I know publishers are the lowest form of life on this planet. Personally I like Introversion games, they may look very different than what you were expecting. But they have never let me down in the fun department, including Prison Architect.

Fanghawk:
"Publishers and retailers are c***s," Morris said.

not much more to be said here really, and couldn't agree more.

but i will say that it's hard for new indie/studious to be able to do this, if you haven't proven some kind of track record, then its really hard to justify paying for alpha/beta status and then keep adding more.

Yay, a way to put alpha and beta testers out of work.
Its a decent idea, but it can seriously backfire if handled poorly.

Vaccine:

Fanghawk:
"Publishers and retailers are c***s," Morris said.

Sums up the entire post for me really.

And the industry, while we're at it.

Vylox:
Yay, a way to put alpha and beta testers out of work.
Its a decent idea, but it can seriously backfire if handled poorly.

I was discussing this in another thread a while back, and it's quite possible that it already has. Monetising betas is already a thing, but the question of how likely a fanboy is to be thorough is a VERY dubious one. Whoever it was I was talking to speculated this may be why games have declined in quality, and I do have to give some credence to that theory.

Then again, we're talking indie games here: if they're half-finished, it's just part of their "charm."

Zachary Amaranth:

Vylox:
Yay, a way to put alpha and beta testers out of work.
Its a decent idea, but it can seriously backfire if handled poorly.

I was discussing this in another thread a while back, and it's quite possible that it already has. Monetising betas is already a thing, but the question of how likely a fanboy is to be thorough is a VERY dubious one. Whoever it was I was talking to speculated this may be why games have declined in quality, and I do have to give some credence to that theory.

Then again, we're talking indie games here: if they're half-finished, it's just part of their "charm."

And that is a serious issue. A paid tester is going to make sure everything is up to a specified standard, and a pay-to-test player is going to leave exploits around for their own benefit. Plus the pay-to-test person isn't likely to have standards that they are being held to.
I have done paid alpha testing, and I've done unpaid alpha testing, and there is a huge difference in what companies expect from people they are paying compared to those that are doing it for free.

As for quality of games... many of the games released today are essentially games we already bought 10-15 years ago. There's only so much "new" stuff you can do with sports games or first person shooters. And the major players in the game publishing industry have ursuped Nintendo's field of expertise in this manner (Nintendo has done this with a lot of games... see anything Mario or Kart, see anything Zelda, see anything Pokemon, Kirby, Smash Bros.) But since Nintendo tends to also have ownership and control if the dev teams as well as being the publisher and console franchiser, it works better for them.

Vylox:

As for quality of games... many of the games released today are essentially games we already bought 10-15 years ago. There's only so much "new" stuff you can do with sports games or first person shooters.

I meant in terms of actual quality of gameplay and the like. Bugs and glitches and the like. Though it does bring up the issue that we're getting largely the same content, we get so many game-breaking bugs.

Ultratwinkie:

Jamous:
What does everyone think of Prison Architect? Is it worth picking up? I've been looking at it, and it seems like something I'd like but I'd like some players' opinions before I finally commit.

OT: It -is- a nice model. It's also kind of cool seeing games go through additions and updates as you do with this model. I've seen a fair few scared about people who'll just take the money and run without delivering on the product they're supposed to; whilst it's a very valid fear we haven't seen that happen too often so far.

Its like Dwarf Fortress without the Z-Level, and you in it. That is to say, you will be shanked in your own office when no one is looking. It updates around the end of the month or the start of the next month. It should update at the end of June.

Its still rough, but its still nice. Most of the stuff works, except execution and 50% of the morgue. Things like prison labor is in, but it will be expanded and much more dangerous.

Its really brutal like Dwarf Fortress, even the tutorial depresses you.

Don't have the money for laundry rooms? Prisoners don't care, they riot and murder all your guards.

Prisoner arrives late to lunch and doesn't get a chance to eat? He stabs another prisoner to death in front of everyone.

Low security inmate? Turns out to be a secret psychopath who tries to grab a weapon whenever he has the chance while a high security inmate turns out to be a giant teddy bear that won't hurt anyone.

The game throws you a lot of secret curve balls, inmates have their own "secret" personality and its said to be expanded later. You CANNOT just have the game run by itself and expect something to not happen.

I tried that and came back to my prison 10 minutes later to find dead prisoners in an out-of-the-way section of the prison and an escaped murderous prisoner who's only prior crime was speeding. It was hilarious.

Basically: If you like this kind of game, you should get it. It takes a lot of influences from Dwarf Fortress. The rioting system is cool too.

Congratulations my friend, you just sold a copy of Prison Architect. Going to pick this up on pay day. :D

The most significant takeaway from indie game development is a drastic reduction in budget, with some parallels in the indie movie industry. If you're throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at something, you've got so many people that you've got to please that you're almost never going to take a risk, so you'll just continue to churn out what you think are safe blockbusters (which can still fail), with the occasional outlier that is a big budget movie or game that does stand out. But even AAA game land has plenty of expensive failures, or games that are successful but not record-breaking successes and it destroys the studio involved. There's some definite room for improvement here.

Selling early access is a way to boost funding and to involve the community, and I can't for the life of me see why people complain that they're being charged for an unfinished game when they are, very clearly, backing a game that is still in development. Back projects you think are worthwhile and want to succeed, don't put money in those you're not sure about.

I like how Prison Architect looks, but I won't bother picking it up until it's finished. But they've given everyone the option to buy in now if they want. Were this another kind of game (like a few I've backed on Kickstarter) I might have bought in. But I think it's fantastic that they're able to do what they're doing and that they've got a supportive community growing up around the game.

I was at Rezzed today. Fantastic place. Hope it goes far.

I think the industry needs to be careful so not to blur the line too much. The physical event that is a release holds alot of value for people. Removing this may not be for the good.

Stevepinto3:

synobal:
I don't like the preretail sales and such. It's going to encourage shotty and fly by night developers who are just there to make a quick buck and don't give a damn about actually delivering so long as they have the money in pocket. That sort of thing is what lead to the first great video game crash.

This is admittedly the downside to such a system, and we saw this happen with War Z. Of course you will then recall that War Z got it's ass chewed out by the gaming community at large and was pulled from Steam, and only allowed back with a big warning that the game was incomplete.

The old crash happened not just because of a large influx of shoddy games, but also because consumers had no way of knowing what was or wasn't good (hence Nintendo's quality stamps).

We now live in the age of the internet, with reviews, Metacritic, Let's Plays, and so on. The information consumers need to avoid getting scammed is readily available. To top it off these alpha games are usually marketed to more hard-core niche audiences that tend to be well informed.

I admit the risk is totally there, but I also think that this situation is far less likely to result in people getting ripped off, and greater consequences for developers that try to do so.

The tools for consumer awareness has improved but consumers haven't gotten any smarter with their purchases. All you have to do is look at The War Z or Aliens: Colonial Marines to see that people still support scams.

In no way should consumers pay up front for incomplete content. It is a bad growing trend that WILL encourage shoddy practices.

I was pretty interested in that game. But the price seems a bit much for me. If they dropped it a bit by like $10 bucks I would grab it pretty quickly.

Zachary Amaranth:

Vylox:

As for quality of games... many of the games released today are essentially games we already bought 10-15 years ago. There's only so much "new" stuff you can do with sports games or first person shooters.

I meant in terms of actual quality of gameplay and the like. Bugs and glitches and the like. Though it does bring up the issue that we're getting largely the same content, we get so many game-breaking bugs.

That's shoddy workmanship, and can be drawn back to the guidelines that are given to testers. Many strong and solid companies, such as Blizzard or Atlas, have extremely strict guidelines for both their paid and free testers. Others such as Activision are really lax and just don't give a crap. And that is the big problem with the game industry.

Great companies are more inclined to deliver solid and strong products, while the so called AAA set of developers and publishers tend to just churn out and regurgitate the same old garbage.

Me, I'll stick to Disgea, Pokemon, and the mobile games on my tablet. They are high quality (bar Pokemon, but that's a different story) with ridiculously low production costs and provide enjoyment and value.

 

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