Early access games offer hard lessons to consumers and developers

, | Games

Early access is a double-edged sword for developers and customers. Many people think early access games are a relatively new phenomenon but anyone that purchased any of the Battlecruiser titles can tell you that it’s not. Developers have been selling games in development for years. The idea has always been that the work-in-progress would eventually be completed, but that the developer needed the players’ support (and feedback) to continue. Sometimes this worked out and sometimes it didn’t. Crowd-funding and Steam have made early access more prevalent – which is great for developers that need the funding – but it’s also made failure more public.

After the break, let’s check in on a few early access games!

Earth: Year 2066 is a post-apocalyptic survival game that got through the Steam Greenlight program in January. Once it was released in early access, the game immediately came under fire for being made with lifted assets from other games, as well as being a buggy mess. A Reddit thread about the game’s issues resulted in Valve offering refunds to buyers and removing the game from the active catalog. Killing Day Studios has so far offered no comment about the news which is no surprise given the volume of accusations and evidence that gamers have dug up on the developer’s history of asset theft.


Towns, which was one of the very first games offered on Steam in an early access state (before there was even a special category) is being abandoned. The game rode a wave of early hype because of the concept; an easier to play, more graphically pleasing take on Dwarf Fortress. On a post in the official forums, developer “Moebius” broke the news to players that he will cease working on the game as financial hardship has made it impossible to continue. He also suggested that he could begin work on a sequel which would allow him to renegotiate the financial arrangement with a partner as well as implement features that would be too difficult to put into the original Town’s code. This announcement has thus far been met with overwhelming negativity.


While not early access, the state of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is notable for its pedigree as well as the reasons for the current difficulties it’s experiencing. The MMORPG was pitched as an old-school throwback to high challenge and group play designed by none other than Brad McQuaid of EverQuest fame. The Kickstarter failed to meet its $800,000 goal in February, but that didn’t stop the developers from collecting funds through their own crowd-funding effort. Development was supposedly continuing, but community members have dug up evidence that the project has stalled due to financial mismanagement. McQuaid hopes to continue development with a temporary all-volunteer team, but needless to say the project’s success looks grim.


In more positive news, early access tea and robots survival game Sir, You Are Being Hunted recently graduated to a full release. Although Tom wasn’t smitten with the final product, backers can at least say they got what was promised by the developers for the release version. Big Robot says they will continue to support the game and is working on multiplayer features as well as more options for world generation. Huzzah for reaching the finish line!


The zombie survival builder game 7 Days to Die continues to improve. Developers The Fun Pimps have pushed out alpha 8 which takes the game from blocky Minecraft terrain to smooth rolling hills and more natural environments. Interestingly, this was highest stretch goal they proposed in the original Kickstarter drive. Future plans include a “Colorado” pre-generated map in addition to the current “Arizona” environment, as well as a random map option for new games.


Finally, Star Citizen continues racking up crowd-sourced funding that many games could only wish for. The current pledged amount stands at a staggering $43 million! With the recently well-received demo at PAX East, Star Citizen seemingly has a firm hold on its fans despite releasing what amounts to little more than a vanity ship garage to most of the backers.

Some buyers welcome the opportunity to watch a game develop through early access, while others find it a source of frustration. For every early access game project like Shadowrun Returns that makes it to release, there is a total failure like Earth: Year 2066. For every early access work-in-progress that has dedicated support like Rust and DayZ, there is something like Infestation: Survivor Stories ready to snag the unwary consumer. As the concept of early access gains acceptance, gamers will have to learn that caveat emptor remains the best advice, while developers will need to keep in mind that failure is sometimes an opportunity for growth.