Why I love Early Access games

Posted by June 9, 2014 Publishing No Comments
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I love Early Access not just because we are able to develop SpeedRunners while funding the development. It’s great for our business, but the real reason lies in today’s top-list on Steam. Finally concepts that would otherwise never get funded by major publishers are coming to life.

This was the premise of Kickstarter couple of years ago as well, but as times have shown — game development always gets underscoped, delays happen. I’ve never seen an interactive product (read: game) ship on time/budget, with quality, and with the initially planned out features. You can usually have two of the three. But with Early Access we’re able to give small teams the resources required to make completely new and unexpected experiences.

Casper van Est (SpeedRunners’ lead designer) works part time teaching game development, and says that the first game you usually come up with as a game student is…

  • You wake up on an island
  • No idea what’s going on
  • You have to survive

Let’s take a look at the top list of Steam today:

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The Forest, DayZ, Rust, Stomping Land. What do all these games have in common?

You wake up on an island. You have to survive. All are developed by small teams. You have a lot of preparation time between combat (crafting and/or scavenging).

If you take The Forest away, the other three rely heavily on social interaction (read: players like being dicks to each other — yes I can say dicks on this blog, we’re independent). I particularly enjoyed keeping people hostage in cages in The Stomping Land. Or dragging someone for 25 minutes, until getting bored and dumping them in the sea. I cried when my 5-hour-invested-into fortress got raided in Rust. I obsessively stalked the people who raided it… for 3 hours. I was taken hostage in DayZ.

Most of all, I ignored all the rough edges around these games, because the premise and these interactions overshadow the pitfalls. These kinds of games weren’t possible 3 years ago — and not because of technology, but the business model. If you talk about an open world MMO where you can build cities, scavenge weapons, shoot each other, raid people’s houses — 2 years ago it’d be a multi-million dollar project. Today, though, a team of students can make a minimum viable product, put it on Early Access and fund their development. Assuming the initial product is good enough, assuming they have talent and can show it at early stages of game development.

Yes, the tools also got easier – with Unreal, CryEngine, and Unity competing for indie developers’ attention. But the business model has changed as well. And I love it!

I honestly can’t wait for the next wave of survival MMOs. Where you could modify not just the item placements (and basic house building), but the entire map, Minecraft-style.

Imagine the possibilities — if you’re on a server with 200 people online, you could create your own fortress within a mountain, creating a labyrinth and traps inside. Essentially you would design your own dungeons, and have teams of bandits try and raid it. You’d have the map and would know how to get in there safer to hoard all your loot, and teams of other players would be challenged to raid you.

The only limit to the above is likely technology. Doing online multiplayer is hard, as it turns out. But the possibilities of social interaction, and players making their own games (make-your-own-survival?) within the games are limitless. I insta-bought Rust after reading a post about someone building a house around someone else’s house, and keeping them hostage inside. I got very excited about hunting dinosaurs, and keeping people in cages after dragging them around. Luring hordes of zombies into a group of other players while biking away has never been this much fun.

What I really hope will happen this year is consoles recognizing in-development games and their potential, giving second wave to paid betas. I understand some people being frustrated at these games for being buggy, incomplete, that development sometimes isn’t fully on schedule. But the bigger picture makes me feel super enthusiastic and excited about the games industry.

I truly believe that giving these small, enthusiastic teams a way to keep on creating crazy games is what will keep us moving forward in the next few years.

About Alex Nichiporchik

Alex Nichiporchik likes to play, develop, and write about video games. In the past 10 years he was a pro-gamer (Warcraft 3), a games journalist, and got into game development as a producer and marketing guy before co-founding tinyBuild.