Is Early Access Worth It?

This is apparently a hot-button topic. I think a lot of the problem lies in the definition. I have seen games go from Early Access straight to full release. This kind of clouds the whole Alpha-Beta process for games. A sense of misgiving also comes from broken promises. For example, I read an Early Access game statement the other day that said their intention was to stay in Early Access for 6 months. That statement was over 2 years old. Games that are perpetually in Early Access are a bit of a problem. I want to go over the pros and the cons, but for full disclosure, I am pro-early access.

Paying For Inconvenience

First up is paying for Alpha/Beta access. As a player of Early Access games, you are essentially paying to play an unfinished, buggy game. Generally developers give this kind of access for free because you are doing them the favor. So why should players now pay to test games? I think this is the strongest argument against Early Access. I personally don’t have a direct answer for it. I do think there is a more important consideration, which I’ll point out later.

It Always Comes Down To Money

The next part of this discussion is cost. In my experience, Early Access games are generally cheaper than AAA game titles. Most EA titles run right around the $20 mark, while AAA titles almost always start at $60. This is because you are investing in a game. It works the same way as investing in the real world. You are putting money into an Early Access game now, hoping it will be worth more in the long run. EA games definitely do not offer the same quality and amount of content when they start. Early Access is essentially self-funding. EA developers are using your money to continue development of a game. The alternative is having a big money developer back their title, but that comes with a huge price. Games that are released too soon, cutting features or mechanics to ‘dumb down’ things, and various other loss of control related cuts. EA developers don’t answer to shareholders, they answer to customers. Also worth mentioning, some EA games raise their price on release day. So getting in early can literally save you more money too.

Infinite Possibilities

I’ve saved what I consider the most important consideration for Early Access. I mentioned investing already from a monetary sense, but you’re also investing in a broader sense. How many games have you played where you thought, “If they added just this one feature, this game would be amazing.”? I bet even games you’ve enjoyed, you’ve still had some idea of how to make it better. Well, EA games are bringing those ideas to fruition. The alternative is to wait for some AAA developer to pick up the idea, and statistically, well, good luck with that. What was the last big AAA dinosaur title? ARK started as an Early Access game, and I love ARK. I’d argue that it’s a complete AAA sized game now, but the point is that dinosaur-lovers like myself have a game to play that involves dinosaurs thanks to an EA title. It offers PvE, PvP, as well as mods to make whatever play experience you could want. What other game could dino-lovers play that offers even half of that? EA games expand options for us, and I personally think this is the most important reason to back Early Access games. Otherwise, we’re stuck settling for what some corporate bean counter says will make them the most money. There’s an entire company with a reputation for releasing games early, and ironically they share the EA abbreviation.

Measure Value In Early Access Games

Early Access gives developers time. They can fund their development by selling copies of the game, instead of having to answer to timetables of profit-hungry investors. It clearly evokes some strong emotions in some people. I know people that will outright ignore any early access game, no matter how far along or how proven a game it is. I’ll look at a game, watch it for a little while, and then buy in. You’ll notice several games on my Black Friday shopping list are early release. For me, price is definitely the deciding factor for investing in Early Access. The earlier it is in development, the less I’m willing to spend. At the end of the day though, my measure of success for Early Access isn’t whether it releases or not, but if I have fun playing it. If I’ve gotten hundreds of hours out of a $20 early access game, I don’t care one bit if it ever makes it to full release or not.

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