Early Access Has Ruined Indie Development

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Most gamers would benefit from a year in QA to better understand this issue. I am basically saying "can you do better?"

Nearly every MMO has some form of Early Access. That big a game isn't finished in "beta".

Agree with waiting on release (even if that really helps neither side - feedback from players is great when it isn't toxic)

Anyone here play Mount and Blade? (Early Access before Minecraft) ;)

I'm not a fan of Early Access and I'm concerned about the number of games that are going down that route, but I wouldn't go so far as to say its ruined indie development.

I will never buy an Early Access game. I don't even preorder AAA's anymore because I got burned too many times by games that were broken, buggy or just not as good as advertised. I wait for reviews and forum comments - so there's no way I'll buy a game I know is unfinished by definition. I paid for MechWarrior Online's founders package in closed beta which I guess is the same as Early Access ... still waiting for that to be finished more than 2 years later. Never again.

However, I have bought some games that have come out of Early Access and I've enjoyed them (State of Decay, Sir You Are Being Hunted, plus I own Divinity, not started playing it yet but its got some positive feedback). I think the players who do buy during the Early Access stage and report bugs are helping me to get a better experience with the finished product.

In the meantime whenever I see an Early Access game that looks interesting, I just add it to my wishlist. The only things I'd personally change is to get a better system in place to announce when a game has reached full release status, and to not include Early Access games in the Steam sales - those places should go to finished games as a reward for being a finished game.

I wonder when people will stop complaining about optional options.

No one is forcing you to buy it with a gun to your head. There's literally no reason to get upset about it. If you want the game but it's in early access, then behave like you would for literally every other game and buy it on release.

If it's never released, then it was never meant to be, like The Last Guardian. It happens.

Early access can be a good thing but it has gone the way of DLC, that is a good idea that is getting used way to much so some greedy assholes can make money.

Here's one I want to add to the list: the hardest thing about making your first game is finishing it (especially for a deadline)... yes, I'm serious. People get side tracked or other things more important comes up. And multiple developers start making their games can't finish their games and just leave them. Remember a certain game called "Towns"?

http://store.steampowered.com/app/221020/

If it was just small free games there would be no problem but EVERYONE wants a slice of that pie. So they start, put the game up on Early Access for prices as ridiculous as 15 that has nothing functional and barely update it or not even try for months when it gets hard or they steal assets from other games. It gets abandoned unfinished and runaway with everyone's money though thankfully I hear that Early Access and Kickstarter severely declining. I don't hate it but they are being so abused by people who have no idea how to make games.

Edit: I may have been a bit harsh actually but you really have no idea how hard it is to actually finish your first few games before deadlines. When you finish more games you start to learn how to effectively plan out your schedule that will let you finish a game for a deadline.

It's Some Indies ruined early access, not early access has ruined Indies. Early access has became crap now. Early access should have been " hey our game is almost done, if you want to buy it early you get to play whats done" Not here's alpha version 0.01 if 10000 people buy it for 25 bucks I'll put 0.02 out in 5 months.

The only way to save early access other then throw it in the fire I think, is a title in early access, can be played for free while it's in early access. You like it, well you can pre-purchase it and support the developer other then that when the game comes out you lose access to it completely till you buy it. That way you won't have to buy it first to see it's a piece of junk that will never be finished.

Oh look, another person who wants to act like the sky is falling because of a few early access bad apples.

The only thing that those few early access scams have done is force buyers to be more informed and stop being complete morons. Which isn't a bad thing on any level. But it's far from the doom of indie or any other sort of development.

Vivi22:
Oh look, another person who wants to act like the sky is falling because of a few early access bad apples.

You mean a few good games in about 500 early access titles.

Doing a search for early on steam yields 393 results, now I know all of the games aren't early access but I'd say about 300 are. How would even a good title get noticed in that. It's the Itunes store of unfinished games.

William Fleming:
Here's one I want to add to the list: the hardest thing about making your first game is finishing it (especially for a deadline)... yes, I'm serious. People get side tracked or other things more important comes up. And multiple developers start making their games can't finish their games and just leave them. Remember a certain game called "Towns"?

http://store.steampowered.com/app/221020/

If it was just small free games there would be no problem but EVERYONE wants a slice of that pie. So they start, put the game up on Early Access for prices as ridiculous as 15 that has nothing functional and barely update it or not even try for months when it gets hard or they steal assets from other games. It gets abandoned unfinished and runaway with everyone's money though thankfully I hear that Early Access and Kickstarter severely declining. I don't hate it but they are being so abused by people who have no idea how to make games.

Edit: I may have been a bit harsh actually but you really have no idea how hard it is to actually finish your first few games before deadlines. When you finish more games you start to learn how to effectively plan out your schedule that will let you finish a game for a deadline.

towns was never an early access game

NuclearKangaroo:

William Fleming:
Here's one I want to add to the list: the hardest thing about making your first game is finishing it (especially for a deadline)... yes, I'm serious. People get side tracked or other things more important comes up. And multiple developers start making their games can't finish their games and just leave them. Remember a certain game called "Towns"?

http://store.steampowered.com/app/221020/

If it was just small free games there would be no problem but EVERYONE wants a slice of that pie. So they start, put the game up on Early Access for prices as ridiculous as 15 that has nothing functional and barely update it or not even try for months when it gets hard or they steal assets from other games. It gets abandoned unfinished and runaway with everyone's money though thankfully I hear that Early Access and Kickstarter severely declining. I don't hate it but they are being so abused by people who have no idea how to make games.

Edit: I may have been a bit harsh actually but you really have no idea how hard it is to actually finish your first few games before deadlines. When you finish more games you start to learn how to effectively plan out your schedule that will let you finish a game for a deadline.

towns was never an early access game

Sorry, I was using it as an example (even though it technically wasn't early access, its still a relevant example) though it would have been an Early Access title if it was a thing when Towns was released. They released saying it was "finished" and would patch in intended features and content (which they patched some things in but still left unfinished).

Maybe a subtle campaign. (I dont know if Jimquisition-style doxxings) would be in order, but something to make scamware folks worried about flooding steam to make a buck when they see all the rabid hyperaware pitbulls on the other side of the fence. A sort of unofficial community policing of games might be in order.

If YT, Lets Plays and Steam tags (which are being counterpoliced) aren't enough to clear the air about what type of experience people are getting themselves into. Then we may have to find ways as a community to more aggressively spot out potential turds or games that just won't jibe with certain play styles.

They can't just take peoples money. They gotta work for it.

Especially with AAA married to sleazy microtransactions, and paywalls.

Early Access has the potential to make great games.

However, it also has the potential to make games like Starbound.

It's down to the developers.

Some developers (Like Chucklefish) will refuse to interact with the community and take every piece of negative feedback as some slight against them as people. Whilst failing to live up to both expectation and promise.

Other developers will produce finished games in a timely fashion which live up to the promises made in the first place.

I think people either werent around for, or just plain forgot about the mid to late nineties shareware age.

Where rubbish and clones were thrown out en masse, and it became an issue to filter through the huge number of small titles to find the gold.

And now we've hit that point again, where small easy developed games are accepted once more, and are flooding into the market. And just like last time, there are some great gems in among it all, but the nature of 'Cheap enough that anyone can try' is once again creating rubbish, clones and unfinished messes.

I'd be hardly shocked if the smaller side of the industry buries itself again and burns all good will, only to pop again in another 5 years.

On the flipside of that negativity though, there really are gems, which would never be made outside these conditions. Viewing the whole thing too harshly results in throwing away the baby with the bath water, or whatever those old sayings are.

That larger developers tire of the AAA ways and go to these ways means they can bury (or have success) themselves just as easily.

So let me get this straight.

People are rushing in to buy games on promise alone and not bothering to research or wait to hear others opinions ?

Am I the only one here who remembers Aliens Colonial Marines ?

In all seriousness though Early access should be approached the same way as buying any other game. Is there enough content present to justify buying it and do you believe you will get your time out of it ?

Only buy a game without looking for more info if :

1) You trust the developer entirely and are prepared to lose money

2) If you have spoken to the developer themselves in person and believe they are capable of what they want to do

3) You are prepared to lose that money into a sink hole.

I've bought games early and I bought them because I knew what I was getting.

Minecraft I bought in after the piston update.
Viscera clean up crew I've got and and have played a fair bit
Awesomenauts Star Storm I had during it's early access time.
I have Fortresscraft Evolved (and have spoken to the developer of it)

Again do not buy an early access game unless you believe there is enough content for you and as such you're buying the product as is expecting nothing more with it.

Early access is just highlighting people buying games without being informed.

Now I know some people will take this as an insult to them but let me just say I've done it before, I bought Homefront without checking out reviews simply because I loved Frontlines Fuel of War. I regretted buying on faith alone and I learned from it to be very cautious.

AAA gaming has had this exact problem for a while and to be honest Early Access is no different at present.

The only thing I do believe Steam should do is force developers to list the features in the game which are presently working, not coming soon but presently working.

I forgot which developer it was who literally had a message like "Look guys this game isn't finished, it will be broken it will most likely bug out on you so if you don't want to play a potentially buggy broken game then please don't buy this. If however you can accept some bugs and think the game has enough for you then thank you for helping fund further development and helping me make the game you are enjoying more enjoyable and hopefully enjoyable for others."

Do not buy a promise, buy a product is what I'd say.

I agree, if we can learn anything from Minecraft, KSP, hell even Warframe, is that when a game is released during it's developement, it will never be properly finished.

The approach makes it so the already have a playerbase, so if they want to revamp parts of the game that don't work, they'll have to reset player's progress, remove parts of the game first and possibly render the game unplayable for a while. This would cause a huge outcry from the players and can't be done. This way, a lot of baggage accumulates inside the engine, things that don't have a real place in the game and wouldn't be there if the game was designed as a whole, but are there because they made sense at one point in developement.
It applies to the theme and tone of the game too. Minecraft started with placeholder textures, but soon enough these became so iconic they left them. The dirt block with grass is now their game logo, so any atempt to improve the graphics would betray it's "identity".

And every update needs something shiny for the players or else they leave, so instead of a solid engine, fundamental gameplay aspects or a generally richer experience, we get new weapons, wolves, different parts, new planets, whatever. This, instead of building a coherent experience, creates a clusterfuck of little unrelated features that either make each other obsolete or don't fit together.

And these little updates is all that keeps players interested, because the devs are so busy delivering bite-sized updates regularly that they don't actually develope the game. And once these updates stop and the game is called "complete", the fanbase leaves and it dies.

Not to mention the impulsiveness of indie devs. Remember when Skyrim came out and Notch started adding Dragons to Minecraft even though it made no sense? Or someone modded collectable resources into KSP and then suddenly the devs wanted that too. Then they went on claiming KSP Multiplayer was impossible due to Unity limitations, until a mod proved them wrong again and they ditched Resources for Multiplayer...

Early access is where more up to date developers are getting used to sustaining game developent in an Internet-based society.

We will never go back to a time where video games are products, lining up on shelves, waiting to be picked up for a fix price, like they are cans of food.

That AAA studios are still pretending that they can keep presenting them that way, only digitally, is an archaic tradition. AAA studios are more flexible, more on their feet, so they are more likely to utilize the practical realities of the market.

Yes, we are moving towards a situation where many games don't have "proper" finished versions, they just begin at some point, and keep evolving in the public eye for some time. And where they are not supported by an uniformity of $60 purchases, but by a variety of Kickstarter pitches, highly priced alpha accesses, monthly Patreon payments, pay-what-you-want offers, massive sales, and who knows what other diverse means.

As long as people keep making games, and get paid for it, we will get by. 10 years from now younger gamers will be pretty weirded out that not being able to play the earlier versions of their games before 1.0, and not getting any development after that, is referenced as a matter of pride by older gamers.

Entitled:

Yes, we are moving towards a situation where many games don't have "proper" finished versions, they just begin at some point, and keep evolving in the public eye for some time. And where they are not supported by an uniformity of $60 purchases, but by a variety of Kickstarter pitches, highly priced alpha accesses, monthly Patreon payments, pay-what-you-want offers, massive sales, and who knows what other diverse means.

This is a pretty big negative in the long run when you think about it. Almost all games are still released at 20, 40 or 60$ (50 also being common on PC), and that's a good thing because the price alone gives us several indicators about different things about the game. It's far from perfect, but it is a system that works for the most part (it's why even digital distributors use it, it just works).

Then you get to things like Kickstarter, where you aren't buying anything but large numbers of people seem to think you are. OR the cancer to gaming that is the highly priced alpha access, which is both an insult to customers and to the idea of a product in general (and yes, video games will always be a product), on top of having all the problems that Early Access has in general (ones which have killed games before their time) it only amplifies said problems. I've never herd of the Patreon payments one, but by its own concept that sounds terrible. Pay what you want doesn't seem to have worked out that well given the only place doing it has made 6, 10, 15 and 20$ tiers now. It seems to have been reduced to a simple extension of the massive sales, which is really the only thing digital distribution has going for it.

1) There is the flipside to the "if you don't want a buggy game don't buy this." If no one (publisher or otherwise) supports the game during it's buggy stage it won't get to the good stage (people won't be being paid for it). Yes, there is risk. Why do you think publishers fund so few games? And, does this mean democracy doesn't work? (both in the fact that there are too many games being made, and too many games to curate effectively)

2) Early Access games don't really have a playerbase anymore. It's not just due to the fact that people are fleeing it due to threads like this, but that there are just too many games coming out (20 new games in Early Access just in the last week). That's a huge amount of distraction for any gamer. Quantity and quality of both fans and feedback both matter to the developers and translate directly into quality and quantity of game updates.

3) Impulsiveness applies to any developer. Most AAA devs would be very happy to be indie until they realize all the issues that are attached.

4) Release early, release often and listen to your customers -ESR 1997
This isn't new folks. And at least some of us are listening.

Democratizing development and curation has led to commoditization and saturation. Which leads to "the industry is too big to fail"... hmm sounds familiar, like 7 years ago.

Except there's still plenty of competent indie developers continuing on as usual despite the 'fact' that early access destroyed a whole development environment somehow.

I wouldn't really say that either...

So OP stated a few points that were also mentioned in this video:

I can't really disagree with any of it.

However, Early Access also allows for more experimentation among developers who otherwise wouldn't have the money or resources to fund their games. These are even people with, believe it or not, good intensions and honest ambitions. As with anything else there will always be people who abuse the system or developers that put out a poor product but at the same time no one has to buy those games. And usually the games that play their cards right are the ones that are actually successful. Not many people remember the trash after a few months.

I haven't even been on board with Jim Sterling regarding Steam and Early Access lately. At least ever since I heard the counter argument about more awareness in the press instead of outright censoring by Steam itself. Since apparently there are blurred lines between a good and bad blockbuster of an indie title. I'm looking at Goat Simulator specifically.

Curation is not censoring.

Poor products are often made poorer by poor crowd curation (the vicious/virtuous cycle goes both ways - a product will improve when it has the money needed for that improvement)

Also the press has to be careful on what it promotes as we get stuff like Goat Simulator then being seen as success by devs...

Some trends are just too much to jump on (the Simulator or Flappy trends... ugh)

Early Access Has Ruined Indie Development.

Hardly. Perhaps it's hurt it a little, but ruined? That's a hell of a stretch.

Elberik:

1) Developers can use it as an excuse to release unfinished, broken products.

And those developers will suffer for being lazy and putting out a terrible product. Consumers are not entirely clueless you know.

Elberik:

2) It can create an entitled fanbase composed of people who think they're venture capitalists.

That sentiment already exists, whether the game is early access or not. You see this on almost any game's forums or comments section. This is a PR problem that sadly a lot of indie developers have trouble with due to limited resources and insufficient training (how many IT/CS majors do you think actually take any courses on marketing or Public Relations?)

Elberik:
3) It can use up all the publicity on an early alpha or unfinished beta so that when the game is actually done everyone has already moved on to the new shiny.

Now this is a possible issue, but a good developer with a solid reputation shouldn't have any issues with this.

Elberik:
4) There's little to no certainty the game will ever be properly "finished"

Once again, developer reputation, and also a developer doesn't HAVE to use/offer early access deals. It's convenient yes, but it isn't a requirement to pull off a successful product.

Now one thing that actually IS an issue with indie development is that some developers aim far too high, which especially risky when it's your first commercial project. This is the actual cause for a lot of those issues you're citing. Eager and brazen ambition without the experience and foresight to effectively complete their product.

Another major issue is oversaturation. Not just a saturation of indie games or Steam releases, but numerous games with similar settings and concepts. It makes it very difficult to make your game stand out if other people are making and showing off the same kind of content you're trying to make. Again, this is the fault of developers if they can't cross this hurdle.

And lastly, alpha/beta testing. Early access isn't just convenient for the financial backing, but it also makes it easier for developers to have a huge number of testers to help them work out the kinks and the bugs throughout development. This is partly a communication and organization issue for developers, but this is also an issue for early access consumers who... maybe just use early access as something of a demo or a preview. Or somehow expect a game to be stable or playable at that stage of development. Which it very well might not be. But at the same time it won't become more stable if those testers the developers were eagerly hoping would help move development along aren't actually.... testing or reporting bugs. Once again, this is largely a communication problem.

So... in conclusion, for a much larger post than I had intended, people are pointing fingers at the symptoms, not the actual cause of some of these issues we're sometimes seeing with indie game development.

Wouldn't it be better if we didn't take labels such as "early access", "alpha", "beta", and "finished" so seriously?

How about if we judge the quality of a game by how it makes us feel. By how it affects who we are.

So Crypt of the Necrodancer, for example, is a great game already as far as I'm concerned, despite it's "early access". It's far better than most "finished" games, and is a great experience in it's current state.

Do I care that it's labeled "early access"? Not really. They could label it "disgusting and horrible" and it would be the same experience.

It seems like the "early access" trap mostly applies to people who are overly optimistic about what a game can become based on nothing other than hope. People like this are much like addicts - if they don't fall into this trap they'll just fall into something else.

I look at this as simply a huge representation of the process of darwinian evolution.

Designs that don't work go extinct, designs that do work survive. Same goes for developers.

I still havent bought any Early Access game that I didnt enjoy because I only bought about 2 and both of them could have already be sold as full games because they were that content filled and polished.

We have the internet and so many means of knowing the if the game is broken or shit.

Completely Agree. Beta is for the gamers to break the game as much as possible, not play a game with only 3 of 5 mechanics. It does allow for lazy production and indefinite alphas. Cube World is a perfect example. The developer IS working on a patch, but this will have been the first patch since release OVER A YEAR AGO. Most people have given up on the game, and so even if he does release a finished project, it will receive little hype from those who bought the early access. Although, some less reputable developers may count on recieving that early access buy-in and never having to finish the job. It's the new microtransactions craze.

you are wrong, none of those 'points' (which are flawed, heavily) stop indie devs from making good games. So people are using early access? Good for them! Good games will still come out. Games like Spelunky, Binding of Isaac, etc.

IMO abuse of early access won't last long. When you take advantage of people they tend to not forget, nor forgive. When people hate you, they stop giving you money, and you go out of business. Simple as that. The people that try to 'steal' from people by releasing unfinished games, or simply never finish their job? They won't earn a good reputation (needed to continue to succeed in the MEDIA world, video game or otherwise).

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