That Whole Early Access Thing

So following the E3 2014 announcement that we were going to be releasing Line Of Defense via Steam Early Access, a bunch of folks – as is typical of the glorious Internet – have taken upon themselves to once again rave, rant and otherwise behave badly. Because they can.

This despite the fact that, as of this writing, there are over 200 games available on Steam’s Early Access. Of which a handful are from mainstream, industry recognized developers such as myself.

This, also aside from the fact that, to date, a bunch of fans have crowd funded the likes of Star Citizen to the tune of $46m as of this writing.

Not to mention that Frontier Development, the developers of Elite Dangerous, having also been successfully crowd funded, are currently charging $150 to get into that game’s Alpha.

Oh, and there’s Stardock, still taking flak for their decision to also charge $99 for early access to their upcoming GalCiv3 game.

Then there’s Planetary Annihilation, Wasteland 2 and a bunch of other high-profile titles doing the same thing.

And of course, as they are voted most likely to throw the baby out with the bath water, some gamers have been doing just that by abusing, insulting and generally behaving badly online. Because they can.

As I wrote on Twitter here and here, a lot went into the decision to release the game as an Early Access. But apparently. as if I needed to justify what I do in the best interests of my company, games and fan base, some think that I owe them anything; let alone an explanation. But here we are.

I used the term “freeloader” in one of my Tweets. And some people took issue with that as well.

free·load·ed, free·load·ing, free·loads Slang

To take advantage of the charity, generosity, or hospitality of others.

freeloader n.

My “harmless” use of the term was simply to say that I don’t want to pay for server services, backend services, bandwidth etc for people who are NOT going to provide any meaningful feedback. Nothing is going to stop people who just want to rave, rant and freeload, from gaining access to a game that I’m paying to develop, only so they can spend their time being jerks – at MY expense – instead of, you know, actually HELPING us focus test the game and make it an enjoyable experience.

And with the limited clients that we’re going to allow to access the servers, some gamer who has all the best intentions, could very well be staring at a “server full” message, while anti-social misfits and their dumb buddies hug the connections without supporting the whole premise of why they are IN THE GAME.

That’s why it’s not free, nor is it $19.99 to get in. It is $99 because I am targeting a specific group of people. And once the Early Access program ends, it will go down to the final cost of the game.

Those who are clamoring about the very premise that is Early Access, DO have a valid concern and as a gamer, I have absolutely NO problems with that. After all, the only way – as a gamer – to support something, is to vote with your dollars.

Despite all the noise, there have only been (at last count) two or three Early Access horror stories. And in those cases, the developers were either new and inexperienced or just scam artists. Yet, a bunch of people gave them money.

Same thing happens on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and any number of crowd funding sites and is not just restricted to videogames.

Same thing happens with COMPLETED games. You can buy a fully completed game, even one with a demo, and still be pissed about the end result.

There is a reason that the Steam Early Access program exists. Here, let me quote Valve from their Early Access FAQ:

Get immediate access to games that are being developed with the community’s involvement.

These are games that evolve as you play them, as you give feedback, and as the developers update and add content.

We like to think of games and game development as services that grow and evolve with the involvement of customers and the community. There have been a number of prominent titles that have embraced this model of development recently and found a lot of value in the process. We like to support and encourage developers who want to ship early, involve customers, and build lasting relationships that help everyone make better games.

This is the way games should be made.

In fact, this sort of thing has been around since the beginning of the gaming industry and most of us are old enough to know that. It just so happens that, Valve, the behemoth of digital distribution, brought it to Steam in a way to – as always – help smaller developers gain traction by connecting with their fans. If you think about it, that’s pretty much how Kickstarter, IndieGoGo etc work.

And even in the face of some tomfoolery, Valve does take action by removing scams, refunding money etc. To the extent that they even recently updated their Early Access FAQ so that people get a CLEAR understanding of what they’re getting into.

In the case of my game, I’m not on Early Access because I need to raise funds. I have never started a game without being able to fund it. And this is my sixteenth game. The game was approved for Steam awhile back and even before Line Of Defense Tactics which I released early this year, was even finished.

The decision to put it on Early Access, despite being advised by my marketing and social media people NOT to do it due to the whole stigma associated with Early Access, is exactly as I stated. This is a massive game. I am not going to spend money on third-party testing networks, services etc when I can get the fans to do it and put that money into, you know, THE GAME. After all, THEY are the ones that MY games are targeted at.

Competing games like Planetside2, are built by HUNDREDS of people and have much larger funding than my small outfit could possible muster. They – and other large publishers and devs – can get away with public Betas and the like. But as you all know, the games STILL ship either unfinished, buggy – or have launch day issues. Imagine what my small outfit would be faced with, then multiply that by a magnitude of five. It’s scary. And since this has been my most expensive game to date, I decided not to take any chances.

And above all that, the game is nearing completion, it’s not four years out or looking to raise money to go start working on it like almost every Early Access game. So I felt that now, rather than later, was the best time to do this in order to – at the very least – get as much feedback and testing as possible, before locking things in during final Beta because there is a point where you simply can’t change certain things without breaking other stuff or worse, going back to the drawing board. My vision for the game, as well as my team’s, is all well and good. But MEANINGFUL external influence and feedback is very valuable. And that’s why most industries have “focus groups”.

If you don’t like and/or support something, don’t buy it. Period. End of story. Why fret over it? Do you really think that someone, other than your like minded buddies, rely on YOU for their buying decision, let alone what they define as “fun”? That’s the height of arrogance. And trust me on this, I know all about arrogance.