A look at early access games that aren’t so early anymore.
In 2008 satirical new site The Onion released one of my personal favorite video reports of theirs; “Should the Government Stop Dumping Money Into a Giant Hole?” Of course, it was in good jest and making fun of things we all talk about. However, haven’t we all experienced our own money holes? Maybe it’s a kitchen upgrade, or your car, or really any sort of personal project; you just keep throwing money into something that seems to never finish. Well, it seems that maybe a few games are becoming similar pits of cash.
ARK: Survival Evolved has been a rather popular game on both P.C. and Xbox One, recently releasing DLC, as an early access title. It originally became available on P.C. in July of 2015, and later X1 in December of that same year. Since then the game has been updated multiple times and even been given DLC, as previously mentioned, however, the one thing it has not seen is a full release. Now it was recently announced a final release would be aimed for April of this year, however, that does not make it an easy pill to swallow. This game has been on the market for close to a year and a half without a full release. Most games don’t have promotions going for half that long, let alone shelf lives.
Now you may be asking “What’s the big deal?” well I plan to answer that. Games take time, yes? Sometimes longer than others (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy 15 and The Last Guarding) but as long as it comes out that’s all that matter right? Wrong. Well to an extent. It’s extremely important a game is given time and effort otherwise the product made for us will suffer. With that, to be completely fair to ARK it is still a very enjoyable game. However with the recent release of DLC before the game reaches final release there is a problem worth noting: Where is the line between early access and excess cash grab?
To be direct; extended customer funded development is dangerous for both us and the developers. When you give your money to a company for a game you are saying “I trust you with this and believe you have earned it” however it not inconceivable that developers only remember the first part and not the latter. This leads to the danger for us which is that developers may be lazy. Game development is hard especially with a small team, so if you can make money on an early product and move forward with it, you would be happy to do so. However when the product becomes popular enough and becomes a financial success on the part of the company what incentive do they have to stay? They’ve been rewarded for their efforts and they don’t have to work about continuing returns so why stay other than to fulfill a moral obligation? From a logical standpoint, why deliver a full product when you’ve already received full payment.
An example of this to some extent is crowd funded money monster Star Citizen. As of right now over 130 MILLION dollars (US) funds this game, which is ridiculous. How do you make good on a 130 MILLION dollar promise? As of right now the game has only been able to put out small modules to try out and while it is certainly still talked about frequently, it is more in the case of “Is it ever coming out?” Now Star Citizen could absolutely be the greatest space game of all time, however, will it be as great as the 130 million we put into it? Probably not. We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t write checks that you can’t cash.” and unfortunately sometimes that check comes in any way.
On the other side of the coin is that it can hurt developers. This is simply through the danger of over gestation. Most things spoil, nothing lasts forever. This is especially true for video games, which often only have short periods of time for making large amounts of money post release. A number of the biggest games coming slated for next year like Horizon Zero Dawn, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and For Honor either have not or have barely begun advertising in major ways (two of those titles are slated for the first quarter while Andromeda is rumored for the first third) this is simply because we get tired of things quickly. Over exposure is always bad and in the case of early access and crowdsources continual development, it is a very real danger. You may be able to establish an initial audience however if there is too much time between access and release you will not maintain it which is often more damaging than initial low sales.
Early access and crowd funded development are great things that have come to us in this new generation of gaming. We are becoming more connected to our games and their developments which are amazing! However, we (and developers alike) should also recognize the thorns in a rose, and be wary of creating a money hole. In the end, the market will decide as it always does.
By Chris Ruskin