Bad game design choices: Early Access

Early Access for games is a more modern invention, which did not exist in the past, it was once praised as a good and innovative thing, but now I think it has more drawbacks than it does good.

What does Early Access do? It grants users an early access to the game before it is finished, so they can get the game before it is actually finished and therefore help develop the game through testing and giving feedback.

Sounds all good at first? So let us break down what is bad with this model:

1. People pay often full price for an unfinished game.
2. Unfinished game means worse user experience.
3. More bugs decrease the user experience further.
4. They may already spoil the game, but cannot play through it yet since it is unfinished and later they are too bored of it to actually play it through.
5. It is uncertain how long it will take until the game is actually finished or reached a playable state.
6. It may even never be completed.
7. Even if you are able to resist to get early access to not spoil the game for you, you might accidentally watch streamers, articles, friends etc spoil it for you, since they cannot resist.
8. The game may be announced as having no Pay to Win in early access, but when released the developer adds Pay to Win screwing all users over.
9. It is unclear where the distinction between early access and the full game is, it is kind of arbitrary.
10. The knowledge of the game already existing makes waiting for the full game even harder.
11. Early Access gives developers an excuse for bad and slow development.
12. Developers may even use it as an opportunity to make money without ever planning to actually finish the game.

As you can see no matter how you turn it, in most cases it means a worse user experience, if you fall for it, you are screwed and if you are able to resist, you are also screwed. So is it all bad? Not directly, it depends on the kind of game. I would admit that Early Access may work for multiplayer games that are intended to be a constant work in progress, where the base game is already there and there is no story to spoil or a storyline that could be broken through bugs etc. However for single player games or games with story Early Access may turn out much worse, since those kind of games people usually just play through once and then never touch it again and if they already played it in an early inferior version with bugs, they may not be motivated to play it again when it is released and if so, they will already be spoiled.

There may be good examples of Early Access out there, but as I already said, the term is kind of arbitrary. How you are going to distinguish an Early Access Game from a normal game that gets like DLCs released over time or just gets regular updates? Adding content and updates over time is a fine method and pretty common especially in multiplayer games, but this even existed before the concept of Early Access existed, so why have it then? I think Early Access specifically refers to an early access to an unfinished product, like a beta version or a prototype, where as games that get updates and DLCs are already complete and just get something extra over time.

From a developer perspective however it can be actually beneficial, since you can get away with unfinished development and more bugs, since you can just say: "Ah that's because it is Early Access". For example I should have released Uebergame as Early Access first, since it would have given me some buffer time to fix things before all the players rushed into it, however it is too late for that. Back in the time I already found the concept of Early Access stupid, since it was just arbitrary and Uebergame was never supposed to be Early Access since it was not clear where development will go, it is more like Always Access, since it is open source. Open source in itself means everyone has always access to everything, so granting an Early Access is not even possible, since I cannot restrict the access in the first place.

So back to the problems Early Access games, well I think most is already said, in most cases it makes the experience for the end user worse, but for the developers it may actually be beneficial. Developers get away with worse quality, they can outsource their beta testing for free to the end user, they can make money before having a finished product, which may help indies and so on. Overall I think Early Access should be abandoned, at least the terms, since they are not clearly defined anyway, rather make a smaller sized game, that is in itself complete and add things later, than releasing a larger scale game that is not complete in itself and partly finish it later.

Initially I did not have Early Access on my notes list for bad game design choices, but after getting so frustrated about some games I want to try or I have tried that are unfinished yet I just had to write my frustration down somewhere. I mean having bought an Early Access game feels like having paid full price for a demo, but not just a demo, instead a demo with more bugs than regular demos. Now I'm waiting in limbo for a game to actually get finished and another game I did not buy yet to get into a state where I might try it out, but the reviews still say do not buy yet.

As you can see I speak a bit out of my own experience and I thought it would be much better if this Early Access did not even exist, since then a game would be released instantly or not at all and you would not have to bother with when to get it and reading the reviews or watching streamers to figure out when the game is developed enough to be worth playing without ruining the experience for yourself. In the past things were much simpler., almost every game released had a certain quality standard where you could just grab a game out of the store and be sure it was complete and mostly bug free, those times are probably over, but maybe the trend reverses again in the future.

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