Early access games, smash and grab or legit vehicle for independent developers?

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Last week I fell, at least I believe I fell, for the old early access trick. Early access, for those of you who are not video gamers, is a way for game developers to get their product to market earlier than usual. What early access does then is it offers the consumer an opportunity to play an unfinished video game months or even years in advance of the game being released in it's final official version.

Steam early access games have a clear warning to all who are about to purchase an early access game. The warning mentions buy at your own risk, the game may never make it to market in a finished state, etc. Most of us, me included, have been tempted to buy a game that appeals to our inner child but is no where near a finished product. We know the risks and we buy anyway. Reasons.

So why do I say fell for the early access trick last week? Because it dawned on me that some unscrupulous developers may use the legal mumbo jumbo to extort money out of trusting customers and then run away never to be heard of again. In other words, they use what is intended to give honest developers a chance to receive further income to support a game they're trying to finalize and release as a way to just take "free" money from the internet.

Never again will I buy another early access game. What happened to me last week is the last straw. I don't want to mention the developer's name or the game but I do want to at least warn fellow gamers that early access is like playing with fire.

Have any of you been burned by early access?

Extra data: Only 2 of around 15 games I've bought in early access ever made it to official final release.
 
I’ve never bought one because I haven’t really bought any games in years, those I do buy are already old anyway, and I don’t want to spend money on an unfinished product.
 
The only times I've played an unfinished game have been as a beta tester with Big Fish Games. And you don't have to pay for those. All they want is people to test the games and answer questions as to whether or not the game ran smoothly on whatever you play on, and if you liked or didn't like things like the music, storyline, artwork, etc. They also want to know if you'd be willing to buy the finished game when it's released.

It's interesting to see how well the devs take suggestions from beta testers. Sometimes they fix what wasn't a problem. Other times they ignore what people said was a problem. I didn't get to beta test King's Heir, but I'm flabbergasted at one of the differences between the beta test and the final product (someone posted a video of the beta test version on YT). They removed a door from where there should absolutely have been a door. Some beta tester probably got confused and asked why the pov character had to climb up a ladder to get into the room when there's a perfectly good door there. Well, obviously because the enemies were ransacking the lower floor and would have seen him using the stairway to the door and would have killed him. So he used the ladder instead.

Not that it helped; they still caught him. What gets me is how his rescuer got up that ladder (30 years older, wearing heavy armor). When I started novelizing this game, I put the door back where it was!
 
I've seen this go pear-shaped too many times to count. Just pay for QA.
 
I've had pretty positive experiences with early access games. But I am careful before purchasing. I make sure that the game I'm buying is playable already, with EA being used to add extra features or flesh out content. And of course, price somes into play. I'm much more willing to drop £10-15 pound on an EA indie game, as it won't take that much gametime for me to feel I've got my money's worth. Take for example, Slay the Spire. When I picked it up, it only had one character (the Ironclad). But I was pretty confident I'd get a decent amount of enjoyment out of that one character and it only cost a tenner, so even if it never reached release, I'd've not wasted the money. Of course, it did get relased, and I've spent over 1000 hours playing it, but even if there hadn't been any updates after I bought it, I'd been happy with what I bought for the price I spent.

I've gotten even more out of Factorio, another game I picked up before release.

Another one that stands out is Starsector. It's been in early access for over a decade now, and updates are pretty infrequent (maybe one major one and a few bugfix patches a year). But it's still a lot of fun to play and I've more than got my moneys worth (in no small part to the healthy modding community the game has), so if it never gets finished, so what?

A recent game I picked up in EA is The Last Flame, which again falls into the category of cheap and playable - and the dev also put out a demo so you can try it and make sure you think you'll enjoy what's there.

There definitely are a lot of dodgy EA games, but pay attention to what you're buying and there's a lot of gems that use it well, and might never have been made without it.
 
Why don't you want to mention the game or the developer?

Anyhow, there's no hard and fast rule for this thing. Games development is an increasingly cutthroat industry dominated by the massive giants of software in general (see: Activision-Blizzard into Microsoft, and there are many other examples). Add to that the rise of indie games development and the competing platforms for player / consumer attention, and it's harder and harder to have a breakout hit. Sometimes just breaking even is the sensible financial target (and I know enough indies that do this - it's a job, at the end of the day - aim for what you can afford to make, and don't commit further than that).

But being burned by Early Access games is no different from being burned by any other game. Cyberpunk 2077 on release? Or going further back, Warner Bros' Arkham Knight (which in a relatively unprecedented move was actually taken down from Steam for not meeting standards)? Unscrupulous management is always going to unscrupulously manage, or however the saying I just made up now goes. Games are made as commercial products to buoy a company's quarterly statements. The game being good is often a desire of the people making it, but not the people financing it. This creates a tension that manifests in a number of ways (good game, bad game, burned out devs, fired devs, etc).

So yeah, do your own research. The same as you should with any purchase you make. It's a shame that some people see it as a way to make a quick bit of money, but what are we supposed to do about that? Other than unionise the industry and oppose giant monopolies, of course.
 
Baldur's Gate 3 was pretty good
 
I don't want to mention the developer's name or the game but I do want to at least warn fellow gamers that early access is like playing with fire.
Your generalized rant is much less useful that being specific. If you got burned, you should tell us so we don't go down the same path. Why give bad boys a free pass?
 
I’ve never bought one because I haven’t really bought any games in years, those I do buy are already old anyway, and I don’t want to spend money on an unfinished product.

I'm beginning to realize the same thing. What I mean is I find much more enjoyment buying and playing old games because at least they work as intended for the most part.

Why don't you want to mention the game or the developer?

Why give bad boys a free pass?

I agree guys. I didn't want to trash talk a developer simply to trash talk. On the other hand you two have a point.
So the game I bought in EA is called Skies Above the Great War buy Puntigames. It caters to a niche audience for sure, but none the less I highly recommend staying away from this game until it either is officially abandoned or gets fixed.
 
I agree guys. I didn't want to trash talk a developer simply to trash talk. On the other hand you two have a point.
So the game I bought in EA is called Skies Above the Great War buy Puntigames. It caters to a niche audience for sure, but none the less I highly recommend staying away from this game until it either is officially abandoned or gets fixed.
The developer is apparently a one-man show, with a previous release in 2022 that holds decent ratings on Steam. There doesn't appear to be anything to suggest that they're taking the money and running, but a lot of the reviews suggest the game has a long way to go to be considered a finished product.
 
a lot of the reviews suggest the game has a long way to go to be considered a finished product.

Indeed it does. The campaign portion of the game is unplayable. When a saved game is resumed all of your airfields are empty of planes and pilots despite being filled from the previous save state. During the campaign missions are assigned to the player. These missions run on a timer but if completed before time runs out grants bonuses to morale, production, and income. These missions are not working as intended unfortunately.

I understand the developer is a one man show but Hexes of Steel, which is also made by a one man show, received astonishing support from it's release until this day.
 
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