Game Industry Misbehaving Series: Steam Early Access, Fraudulent or Truthful?

Do you think the Steam Early Access Program is fraud and allows developers to release broken games and charge for them (7 Days to Die)? Or is it truthful, by allowing developers to gather funding for their great projects (DayZ, Starbound)?

Does the Early Access program steal your money, or use it in creative ways?

Think About the Developer's Rent

Developers are humans and so need to pay for everything. They need to have a roof, and some food, as well as all the other nice things humans need.

Without this sort of system, and no publishers to back the projects, how can small studios make their games? The answer is that they can't, without sacrificing such luxuries like food, or water, or a place to sleep.

Money Grabbers

Developers need houses, yes, but that's only the developers who are just starting out. Take other developers who have already got a publishing deal. Games like Arma 3 or DayZ, in this case the developers are the publishers.

However this does not stop the fact they already have all the funding and houses they need.

So why would these people put an unfinished game on Steam Early Access?

To milk money from an unfinished game and from their fanbase is why.

Glitches were very obvious in the Arma 3 Alpha and Beta.

What Would the Developers Point of View be?

You, the consumer, may see this as a money grabbing scheme from the Bohemia Interactive teams, but they see this as showing you their game. They want to show you how it grows, expands and improves. Simply put to get the game, in an early stage, into gamers hands. They can then optimise the experience to fit the gamers wants and needs, to shape the game how gamers want it, while keeping to their vision. Balancing the game, stress testing the game and generally testing the game, to make sure it releases with as little bugs as possible. Indeed, Arma 3 is the least buggy Arma game, with the best AI.

DayZ was held off for a long time untill Dean 'Rocket' Hall, the creator of the DayZ mod and the head honcho for the DayZ team, held off the release untill he was happy it was ready to be playable, and in a reasonable condition. (Mr Hall is leaving DayZ soon).

DayZ Standalone has a few glitches, but nothing more than the mod.

Should you Always Trust Developers?

Do you trust a developer who releases a game which isn't created to its full potential, making the game broken and difficult to play? The outrage at the Battlefield 4 multiplayer being a prime example of this leading to a significant number of gamers demanding refunds. This then led players (like you) towards not trusting DICE as much as they may once have. So why when a game like, 7 Days to Die comes out (and you are made to pay full price for it, if you want it) is there almost no backlash? Do we just accept poor quality or down right broken games because it bears the mark pre-alpha or the like? Are gamers buying into this purely because the games bear the mark, "Steam Early Access"? Do you have any ideas?

7 Days to Die may have good ideas, but it doesn't make them look good, or work.

Who is to stop a developer just never finishing their game? What if they run out of money because they can't manage said money, and so cannot pay for staff or office/house rent? Will they, in effect, been stealing the money, of possibly thousands of gamers, on a false promise? In my books, that's fraud.

What is an Alpha or Beta for?

For developers:

  • Alpha 
    • When game's story has been implemented, but often unfinished
    • A small part of the world has been made
    • Very buggy or unoptimised
  • Beta
    • When full game is playable from start to finish
    • There are bugs (sometimes game breaking)
    • Optimisation issues a plenty.

For the consumer theses should mean something a bit different.

  • Pre-Alpha
    • When the core concept is there.
    • Game isn't fleshed out.
  • Alpha
    • Building upon the pre-alpha
    • Core concept works and is fully playable
    • Minimal game breaking bugs.
    • Like the state DayZ is currently in.
  • Beta 
    • Fully functional
    • There are some optimisation issues
    • Servers need to be stress tested, due to online features
    • Such as the Titanfall Beta
Attach These Definitions to 7 Days to Die

Is 7 Days to Die in a fit state to be released? I don't think so, but for a game like Interstellar Marines it's ok right? Errr... I'm not sure, do you want tell me what you think?

Interstellar Marines has one of the most open developers out there, Zero Point Software. They often release 'behind the scenes' video logs (vlogs) for small announcements, and they release previews for upcoming updates. All of this really shows how basic the game is, and where they want to go with it. But the game is functional and has only minor bugs, well with the exceptions, and the issues that come with PC gaming, it will crash. Overall the game is very stable, I think in part it's due to Zero Point developing it in public eye and in small sections. It's in a pre-alpha stage, where there is only multiplayer, and no single player as of yet. So this is a good thing right? Even if I do personally like the game, even in its current state, I am waiting for it to be fully released to play it as much as I want to. I payed for it as I wanted to fund the game, just like I wanted to do with their unfortunate Kickstarter. Is this how Early Access should be used? To fund a game in a similar way that Kickstarter uses?

Interstellar Marines was released very barebones, but works. Almost flawlessly.

Is Early Access Just like Kickstarter?

In some ways yes. You give a developer money, before the game is out, to help fund the development process. Only the game has to be playable right? Well not always, as I have explained before, but the developer does have more of an inclination to finish the game as it's playable, and in the publics hands. Which is always a good thing. Look at Broken Age for a great Kickstarter success.

The game may have gone over budget, but it's still great.

The good side of Alphas or Betas

As I have said before, the Early Access Program allows a game to be shown to people before it has been released; as a sort of pay for demo. This allows player feedback to shape the game. Then it's exactly how gamers want it. Think Goldilocks and her porridge, it's just right. I think it also opens the development process of the game up to the public, as they can see exactly how the game takes shape, what features are harder to make (these will often be the features implemented last) or what features get taken out, if any (but hasn't happened as of yet).

The Name: Steam Early Access

Does the name of the program make you think you can have access to games early? Sure. But does it also tell you the game is still in development? Not so much.

I think Early Access says to someone "you can now have access to our game earlier than anyone else, and it will work". Which is not the case. Maybe a more fitting name would be, Steam Funding Access, or Steam Pre-Release Access. Ok, not those, but something which screams. This game is still being made, it will be broken, and/or unfinished. This is purely for funding the game and seeing the progress we make.

My Views

If the system is used well, like with DayZ, then great. On the DayZ Steam page, it says:

They are actively trying to stop you from buying their game unless you want to fund it, or are able to deal with game breaking issues. This is great, as it tells you exactly what to expect.

I hate Early Access when it's used to push out a bad, broken, or unfinished game, and claim it's like that because it's still in development. So I mostly hate the way some developers use the system. I really hate it when the terms Alpha, Beta, etc, are used as get out of jail free cards. I know the game is still being made, but as I can play it, it should work.

I like the idea behind Early Access, but dislike the way some use it.

Readers Your Money! Please?

Now as this article is in an unfinished state, I demand your money! Or you will never get the full article. What's that? This article is finished? Never mind then.

Please leave your mumblings, thoughts, musings, or fully constructed and formatted ideas in the comments bellow. It would be best if all of the above are to do with the article, but feel free to write about anything.

If you cannot complete your fully constructed ideas, please don't ask for money, that's just rude.

Published Feb. 26th 2014
  • Novacula _2574
    I agree there are certainly games on Early Access that are dodgy. 7D2D Is not one IMO. Updates are regular, hot patches implemented post haste and almost as important the developers are in regular contact on forums such as reddit.com/r/7days to die. Having said all that I am looking forward to the devs polishing up existing features which according to one source should begin sometime after 8.2

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