I feel like I am playing a lot of early access titles at the moment. Some of them are part of the territory. New games become playable, and people want to hear about upcoming titles and how things are going. Others are things I pick in my spare time, looking for something relaxing or different to relax and as a palette reset.
The results of my time playing games in Early Access are many, but a few common possibilities stick out:
- I get bored before release.
This one is rough. Sometimes I play so much during Early Access, through the various tuning passes and feature additions that by the time the game releases, it is old news to me. Doing that onboarding process one more time is just too much for me now. All those early moments of working out the puzzles and mechanics of the game are old hat to me and I just can’t go back and get through the parts I have played too many times already.
- I get frustrated and quit.
Sometimes you are rather excited about a game and you finally get your hands on it. However, every studio has its own idea of what Early Access is. One developer might mean things are feature-complete and they are looking for bugs and feedback on the core loops of the game. In other cases everything is still pretty rough, missing everything from sounds to animations and art objects. Sometimes the game crashes a lot, or important bits are missing from the game. After having a few quests bug out on you or losing all your progress due to something going wrong, the joy that was there evaporates, and you move on. Did it get better? Maybe, but I will never know.
- Steady progress keeps me coming back for more.
Some games find the sweet spot of Early Access. They have the core loop nailed, things are fun and you can more or less play the game as is. Then they add new art, new features, new loops to keep you busy. Each time this happens it is exciting and you hop back in, either starting from scratch or finding out how things work from where you left off. I wish more games hit this option, giving me enough to keep coming back, but not souring or overstaying the time before release.
There are so many reasons to go for Early Access. Keen players can hop in and give feedback on game systems, bugs, glitches and interactions, and this can help developers find the best way forward and what to focus on. The injection of money can help developers focus on work instead of shipping early or spending their time worrying and chasing funds. It can also help with hype as people start talking about the game and their thoughts on it, getting more people aware and excited.
I know in my short list up there that maybe option 1 and 2 could be to do with me and not the developers, but maybe that is just a risk that needs to be made? Games like Hades got shined, refined and honed to greatness in the flames of Early Access, thanks to a community that provided heaps of feedback to a team that was able to translate that into a better experience. I look back at some of the Early Access games I played a lot rather fondly, but there are a few that have dampened my interest in the final release by being so… early in development, I guess. It is almost like Early Access is too wide a net and we need more clarity on what we are getting into. Is this a beta, or a push for money or input early on? How do all these things fit into a single category.
Do you play Early Access titles, or must they release first before you dive in?