About five years ago, Mojang popularized a form of pre-purchase known as “early access” with their game Minecraft. By allowing players access to the most current build of the game, back during the Alpha and Beta build days, Mojang opened the door to player’s direct feedback, letting them essentially playtest the game through development. This system worked pretty flawlessly for Mojang, and since then, countless independent developers have understandably followed suit.
Early access releases are now a pretty normal way for developers to release their games to players anxious to get into the latest build. But, this method of direct developer-to-player feedback has begun to develop a dark side.
Within the past year I have observed a number of player bases lash out at development teams, going so far as to call the developers scam artists regarding their early access releases. The buyers of these early access titles feel like the developers have abandoned them, essentially making a prototype of a game, selling it as is while promising more, and then taking the money and running.
Last year, for example, a game called Cube World took off and a huge player base sprung up around the game. The developers, a simple husband and wife team, released Cube World as an early access title, and planned updates that would add significant content in the game’s future. When months passed without an update, and with the developers remaining extremely quiet about the state of the game’s development (sometimes with months passing in between mere tweets), it’s easy to see why the players felt betrayed.
The argument that seems to take shape in these situations, as Cube World is hardly the first early access game to receive such a reaction from their players, is that “if Mojang could put out regular updates with their small team, developer XYZ should be able to do that, too.”
The truth of the matter is that not every developer can operate like Mojang. While it is frustrating for players to have to wait long periods of time without a significant update, they are getting what they paid for — which is typically a decent amount less than what the retail price will be. While weekly developer updates are a great way to keep in touch with the community surrounding a game, it also distracts quite a bit from the overall development time put into the game, and as seen with some developers, it is a pretty exhausting task to keep up with.
With that said, it is difficult to be able to tell buyers that they can trust that the developers will complete their games when things like last week’s Towns debacle take place.
In this particular case, the developers of Towns (a game currently, and probably forever stuck, in Steam’s Early Access program) admitted that the game is no longer profitable, and are promptly ceasing development on the title. To further salt the wound, the developer announced the possibility of a sequel to Towns.
Yes, that’s right: a sequel for a game that they couldn’t make profitable the first time around.
Whether the developers are overly optimistic or downright foolish is debatable. One thing that’s certain is that the vast majority of players who partook in Towns will certainly not be transferring to the sequel. It’s a very fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on you again, situation.
Not every game is developed like Minecraft. As early access releases become an even more common method of releasing games, it’s inevitable that the number of games that flop like Towns or frustrate players with long bouts of no updates like Cube World will continue to increase.
So to answer the question, where’s my game? …you have what you paid for. It’s a tough reality, but you should probably consider anything you get beyond the build you bought as a bonus, and try to stop with the mentality that the developer owes you anything more. The faster you can come to terms with this new way of thinking, the less you’ll be disappointed when more developers fail to rapidly release updates, or completely fail at finishing the game all together.