Early Access is nothing new to PC players but they have been creeping into console gaming for some time now. For example, titles like 7 Days to Die and ARK Survival Evolved have all released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but both did so unfinished states.
It brings to question what exactly is an Early Access title? Is it a title that has on-going development? In today’s age, the vast majority of games are constantly evolving and changing so what exactly constitutes this label?
When players hear the term Early Access it conjures visions of bugs, crashes, incomplete features, placeholder assets and janky animation. But it seems a lot more developers are moving towards game projects with persistent online connections.. These shared experiences are constantly updated, and with the aid of player feedback, create a completely different experience six months later. The very idea of a gaming experience that doesn’t evolve and change over time is no longer the norm. So what exactly are we going to consider Early Access in the future?
Currently, we see an Early Access title as basically an Alpha that we have to pay for. A shell of an experience with the promise of features comparable to a full release later down the road. While this may always be the case moving forward, I look at major titles like Destiny 2 or Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and how they also feel incomplete but are still sold as premium experiences, with early adopters being treated as Early Access testers. These developers will put out a title with seemingly unfinished or experimental features that the developer plans to tweak or change in the next few months. These features alone do not justify the Early Access label applying to these games, but it is an interesting parallel that we are seeing in our AAA titles as of late.
As we move into 2018 this is going to become more normalized and should be expected in our AAA titles. With titles like Sea of Thieves awaiting release, Destiny 2 still awaiting another expansion, and even much later in 2019 is yet another “game as perpetual service experience” in Bioware’s Anthem. This raises a pressing question: should these games rely on feedback upon release to improve and grow? If developers want to go this route and keep their fanbase happy at the same time maybe they should be adopting the Early Access tag with a lower point of entry.
Games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite have been wildly successful with this model and keep their fanbases happy even at their worst. But looking back to September with the release of Destiny 2 players were justifiably angry with the lack of content and removal of key features players had come to expect from the first game. Would there have been less anger and frustration if the game released as Early Access and sold at a slightly reduced price tag? I definitely believe so.
The gaming industry is changing and it’s changing quickly. There have been several successful Early Access titles released over the last few years. Beloved games like Darkest Dungeon, The Long Dark, and even the underwater horror adventure Subnautica have all had successful Early Access progressions. Some of these Early Access titles are even launching with new story campaigns and content well after they were declared finished. Big budget developers can definitely learn a thing or two from these games and if games as a service is going to be the future of gaming this is something that needs to be addressed. If dedicated players are shelling out $60 to $100 for a AAA release, it’s expected to be a full and completed experience. It might not be a future these developers want but if they want a happy player base and a consistently growing game then this might be the answer.
When there are missing features, little to no end game content or dozens of microtransactions in a full release, it sours the experience and divides the player base. Do you think lower price points with the expectation of Early Access prior to an official release is the answer? If not, how would you improve the state of games like Destiny 2 moving into the future?