Early Access Games: The Impatient Gamble

Screenshot from Steam

The age of early access games is now upon us, giving us unfinished games for full price with promises that the game will eventually be completed and polished.  We no longer have to wait endlessly for developers to fix bugs, pushing the release date back months, or even years, giving us the game on time, or at least some form of the game.  We get the privilege of experiencing fixes and new content as it’s added to the unfinished game, keeping us on edge if it will ever be fully completed and we can finally learn the entire story.

Seriously though, why do us gamers continue to buy these games, reinforcing the idea that it’s okay to charge full price for an unfinished product?  Would you pay full price for a new car that didn’t have windows in it?  Or a cheeseburger that didn’t have a burger?  I recently saw a hilarious reel on Facebook that summed it up pretty good.  Why are we okay with game companies doing this when we wouldn’t allow it for most other products?

The truth is simple: we are impatient.  We want that game and we want it now.  I don’t know when we became so impatient.  I remember waiting years for a game to be released, and when it was postponed due to bug fixes, you were okay with that because it meant you were more likely to receive a fully functioning game that was free of flaws.  Now gamers complain if they have to wait, pushing companies to release unfinished games that are then met with criticism.

It isn’t always gamers.  Remember No Man’s Sky?  Publishers are to blame for this as well, pushing developers to release games that the creators do not feel are ready for consumers, often full of bugs and lacking the grand vision that was intended.  But, as with all other business ventures, the gaming industry is about making money, which often means half-finished games are suddenly considered good enough to publish, and, over time, us gamers just accepted it.

A lot of early access games I’ve encountered are from small developers, which makes sense: they don’t have a lot of corporate money to throw around, so selling the game early provides them with revenue to continue working on the project.  It’s still a bit of a strange concept, but I can get behind it a little more because of the diversification it can create in the gaming industry.  Many of the big companies have become too full of themselves, thinking that no one else can possibly compete with them.  They release games that are lacking in content or that are just not good and pretend like they are the best thing ever simply because they, the big game developer, created them.

Do you remember back when video games became big because they were actually good?  You bought a game and you had a full game.  Now, depending on the developer, you buy a partial game, and then you pay for “DLC” that should have been part of the game.  We all know the biggest culprits, EA Games being one of the worst, with some releasing same-day DLC as if they knew that their game was incomplete, perhaps purposefully locking content behind a paywall.

We have let this kind of behavior slide for far too long because we are impatient.  We have normalized this, thinking that is just the way the industry works.  The only reason companies continue to do this is because we go along with it willingly, basically throwing our money at these companies, which are likely laughing at how stupid we are for agreeing to this type of behavior.

Generally speaking, impatience has normalized a lot of stupidity, with people paying $11 to have a small cup of Dunkin coffee delivered to them at work.  Yes, I have seen this personally, and it was ridiculous, especially considering that caffeinated soda was available at the workplace and the person in question would sometimes drink a Coke.  Nope, that day she wanted a coffee, and she paid $11 through DoorDash, then proceeded to complain about the price she paid for a small cup of coffee.  And for Dunkin—not even good coffee!  Starbucks was within walking distance on a lunch break!!

But I digress…  We have become far too impatient and demanding, wanting everything right now.  It brings to mind Veruca Salt’s song in the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie: don’t care how, I want it now.  I’ll admit that there are many times I fall victim to this mindset, my ADHD making me super impatient, but not so much that I am willing to pay extra for rush delivery or pay full price for the promise of a finished game eventually.

Perhaps I’m lucky that I am old enough to remember the glory days of gaming when excitement built for months, or even years, and then you maybe went to a midnight release to get the game you pre-ordered months ago.  The last time I experienced anything like this was Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018: my husband and I headed over to GameStop when I got off work at 8:30 PM and waited in a line of fans (and one angry mom) for the 9:00 PM release.  I let the game install while I ate a late dinner, and then I started playing.  That’s how it should be done, and I miss that.  A finished game that lives up to the hype, justifying the price and the wait, as well as the vacation time I scheduled for my trip to the virtual Old West with Arthur Morgan and my boy John Marston.

Thankfully, Hello Games did right with No Man’s Sky, fixing the mess that launched and giving us a great game that is still wonderful today, although I am a little angry that I have to pay billions of units to get my ship’s storage space back to what it was before.  Really Sean Murray?  Stop messing with my beautiful fighter!  In all seriousness, Hello Games and Sean Murray showed us what can happen when a developer stands behind their product and fixes it, and companies should strive to achieve that level of loyalty to their consumers.  Hello Games is one company worthy of our money, and the story of No Man’s Sky is one to which other developers should pay attention—I’m looking at you Todd Howard and your Fallout 76…  16 times the detail my ass!

Gamers: we need to be patient and expect more from companies, or else we settle for a future of subpar games with paywalls and small developers who just abandon their creations rather than commit to the fans.  We need to expect more and wait for excellence.

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