This is a personal take
* on games which are sold on every available platforms like Steam, where customers can browse through a selection of games enrolled in a distinct Early Access program.
More specifically, I want to talk about games which are marketed and sold with the “traditional” feature-stable
** games, yet are sadly not feature-stable.
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You might want to skip to the third one…
"Perpetual beta", or "Early Access"?
“Perpetual beta” is an expression I saw somewhere on the internet once, and I honestly looked at the Wikipedia entry about the concept. I’m not entirely sure that the definition of “perpetual beta” is 100% applicable to games like Generation Zero, but I’m trying really hard to find a different expression than “Early Access”. I just read “Mass Effect: Andromeda becomes an early access game after launch” on Polygon, and I think that the problems raised by the author apply to a lot of games today.
Consumer rights, let's quickly get that out of the argumentation
While I think that publishers, developers and stores are not playing nice with consumers when they don’t put what should be an Early Access game in the Early Access category of the store, this is not my issue right now.
Main argument: Leaving no one behind
That is my main issue. When I buy a game like Before We Leave
***, No Man’s Sky, Per Aspera, or Generation Zero, and then I realize that the game is not finalized, I get worried, and I look for:
- a public explanation;
- a public plan with milestones and pauses to engage with the existing player base before setting or working towards the next milestones;
- a prioritization on bug-fixing and Quality of Life improvements (over new “features”) which will create a pleasant, coherent, and consistent User Experience (When needed or asked);
- effective and efficient communication channels, some being bidirectional, some not;
- mechanics and awareness in the development process to avoid or mitigate any disruption for the existing player base while finalizing the game. “Disruptions” include:
- Modifications to the existing story.
- Modifications to the core mechanics/systems
- Addition of new core mechanics/systems
- Additions of new rewards in existing mechanics/systems
“Why?”, you could aks? Because I am worried that a game I bought one day, becomes a significantly different game some other day without me having any way to do something about it, whether by avoiding this entirely through “team effort”; or by circumventing the disruptions with official thought-through and community-plebiscited solutions. I’m worried about the developers attracting a new and significantly different player base that would steer the game I initially bought away from those things I liked.
“Bu-Why?” Because I don’t like change, and I like rules; and games (board games or video games) usually have stable rulesets which are why I keep coming back to them. On the other hand, video games also offer a great opportunity to play with those rulesets and bend them, but I cannot do that if the rules keep changing. My 3-years old nephew likes to change the rules as we play, and it can get boring really fast; When I play a video game, that’s because I want time off from the nephew I just babysitted!
So that’s it. If I’m worried when I look at a game in my library; this game, its brand, its creators, and its partners are tainted in my little reptilian (or caveman) brain. The thing is, I liked playing that game for 20+ hours (and I want to keep playing), but I decided to wait for the Landfall Update before playing more. I waited because I was anticipating a better experience
**** and I was worried I would not have a great time playing in the meantime. Now, I’m worried
***** again because the update did not meet my expectations and I’m worried this might not be the last time. I’m also worried because I don’t know what is the creators’ stance on the current situation; which is really one of my biggest issue. It’s a lot about trust.
*This is not an attempt at analysing best business practices.
**When I use the expression “feature-stable”, I mean games which have all their core features and mechanics finalized. Except for bug fixed and minor Quality of Life (QoL) improvements.
***Before We Leave is actually a very polished games. Developers simply decided to add stuff over the current game mechanics. In fact, this game is the only one in my list that never decreased my trust level into its developer. I love that developer, even though their game should have stayed in Early Access a bit longer.
****“Better experience” was about a good weapon wheel for the gamepad players; bug fixes; User Interface improvements; improved general “User Experience” (UX).
*****Yes, the overuse of “worried” was intentional, and lazy.