There was a time when we’d only get to play the new hotness upon release. The words ‘Beta’ and ‘Alpha’ meant something, and Early Access was shorthand for knowing a guy who had some copies of Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 that had definitely not fallen off the back of a truck.
Times have changed though. In 2017 ‘Open Beta’s’ are bandied around like condoms at the regional swingers Christmas party and the word ‘Alpha’ has become a marketing term to sell pre-orders and shit plastic ‘merch’.
Early Access too has taken on a different meaning. Game creators now give players the option to buy a game as it’s being developed. Instead of hoping the game is good, we can directly influence the direction a game takes along its road to the finish line.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have some trouble with the concept of early access games as a whole. It’s not that I don’t like the basic idea of funding a game’s development, or being there on the ground floor for a games creation, but that it seems to be all too easy for certain developers to abuse the good will (and money) of their customers and fans. That being said, I think it becomes an easier pill to swallow if you’re able to accept the following; that you’re paying for what is currently available, and not what is promised.
Take Player Unknowns Battleground’s for example. I put my £30 down for a game I knew was a long way from completion. A week later and I’ve had 10 fantastic hours with the game; an incomplete and sometimes rather wonky game. Do I hope it gets better? of course, but if the developers go AWOL on me tomorrow I’d have gotten more than enough out of my £30 to justify it.
Buying games on an early access program is always going to be a little hit and miss. For every Player Unknowns Battleground’s, you’ve got ten Towns or even a GODUS. It’s a minefield of broken promises and undelivered potential, and as a customer it’s understandably troubling. That doesn’t mean it has to be a no-go area though. With a little research, you can make an informed decision about the game in question. Is it playable?, Is the game in its current iteration fun? How are other people responding to it and what does the developers track record look like?
So the next time you’re thinking about buying into an early access game on steam, or Itch, or XBOX. Remember that there’s a chance you might ‘waste’ your money, but if you, like me are happy to ‘waste’ that money on a game that brings you many hours of entertainment, it’s not all that bad. Do your research. Take some time and look at what other people are saying about the game and if you’re still unsure, walk away. If the game is worth your money, chances are it’ll be worth it upon final release too.