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Why I love Early Access games
by Alex Nichiporchik on 06/09/14 12:07:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I love Early Access not just because we are able to develop SpeedRunners while funding the development. It's great for our business, but the real reason lies in today's top-list on Steam. Finally concepts that would otherwise never get funded by major publishers are coming to life.

This was the premise of Kickstarter couple of years ago as well, but as times have shown -- game development always gets underscoped, delays happen. I've never seen an interactive product (read: game) ship on time/budget, with quality, and with the initially planned out features. You can usually have two of the three. But with Early Access we're able to give small teams the resources required to make completely new and unexpected experiences.

Casper van Est (SpeedRunners' lead designer) works part time teaching game development, and says that the first game you usually come up with as a game student is...

  • You wake up on an island
  • No idea what's going on
  • You have to survive

Let's take a look at the top list of Steam today:

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 5.08.24 PM

The Forest, DayZ, Rust, Stomping Land. What do all these games have in common?

You wake up on an island. You have to survive. All are developed by small teams. You have a lot of preparation time between combat (crafting and/or scavenging).

If you take The Forest away, the other three rely heavily on social interaction (read: players like being dicks to each other -- yes I can say dicks on this blog, we're independent). I particularly enjoyed keeping people hostage in cages in The Stomping Land. Or dragging someone for 25 minutes, until getting bored and dumping them in the sea. I cried when my 5-hour-invested-into fortress got raided in Rust. I obsessively stalked the people who raided it... for 3 hours. I was taken hostage in DayZ.

Most of all, I ignored all the rough edges around these games, because the premise and these interactions overshadow the pitfalls. These kinds of games weren't possible 3 years ago -- and not because of technology, but the business model. If you talk about an open world MMO where you can build cities, scavenge weapons, shoot each other, raid people's houses -- 2 years ago it'd be a multi-million dollar project. Today, though, a team of students can make a minimum viable product, put it on Early Access and fund their development. Assuming the initial product is good enough, assuming they have talent and can show it at early stages of game development.

Yes, the tools also got easier - with Unreal, CryEngine, and Unity competing for indie developers' attention. But the business model has changed as well. And I love it!

I honestly can't wait for the next wave of survival MMOs. Where you could modify not just the item placements (and basic house building), but the entire map, Minecraft-style.

Imagine the possibilities -- if you're on a server with 200 people online, you could create your own fortress within a mountain, creating a labyrinth and traps inside. Essentially you would design your own dungeons, and have teams of bandits try and raid it. You'd have the map and would know how to get in there safer to hoard all your loot, and teams of other players would be challenged to raid you.

The only limit to the above is likely technology. Doing online multiplayer is hard, as it turns out. But the possibilities of social interaction, and players making their own games (make-your-own-survival?) within the games are limitless. I insta-bought Rust after reading a post about someone building a house around someone else's house, and keeping them hostage inside. I got very excited about hunting dinosaurs, and keeping people in cages after dragging them around. Luring hordes of zombies into a group of other players while biking away has never been this much fun.

What I really hope will happen this year is consoles recognizing in-development games and their potential, giving second wave to paid betas. I understand some people being frustrated at these games for being buggy, incomplete, that development sometimes isn't fully on schedule. But the bigger picture makes me feel super enthusiastic and excited about the games industry.

I truly believe that giving these small, enthusiastic teams a way to keep on creating crazy games is what will keep us moving forward in the next few years.

[this post is a miror from my blog on]

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Sebastien Vakerics
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Perhaps you should write a blog post focusing more on why you like griefing so much. You don't mention any other games that have gone through Early Access on Steam other than those kinds of games (and Speedrunners). Seems like your enthusiasm for Survival Island games is what's important here rather than a discussion of Early Access.

Alex Nichiporchik
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You're in a way right, I do talk about specific types of games in Early Access, and the top selling lists on Steam kind of confirm that this combination (Early Access + Survival) is something truly special. I don't like games from bigger companies launching in Early Access.

Or things like Plague Inc. It's my hands down most favorite airplane game. There's just something mesmerizing about it, making long flights more tolerable. Yet launching in Early Access makes zero sense to me. I get it being a new engine and visuals, but the game's already designed, it works. You do need to adapt it to a new platform, but it doesn't justify an Early Access tag.

Kai Boernert
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Exactly the hard griefing part is what makes this games lees and less attractive to me.

I wish i had at least taken hostage in DayZ once, usually it's just I get killed on sight with no real social interaction at all.

I really wish for a survival game, that is so difficult that you are forced to play together. (Read difficualt as in the world itself, not as in other players)

Will Hendrickson
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Great post, Alex, thanks for the insight :)

Alex Nichiporchik
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It's ironic that I made this post, because seems like Steam made an update that hides Early Access games from the top selling list (home page)

Matthew Thomas
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This is a really neat in-house perspective, but I worry about the long term ramifications of more developers doing early access games. I experience the gamer "burnout" pretty quickly, and if a game isn't finished I'm usually left with a bad impression.
"That game had some cool ideas, but really suffered because of the lack of polish." in those situations, I've already had a chance to experience the innovative parts and have little to no reason to come back after it's fully polished. Such examples for me so far have included Glitchspace, Banished, Starbound, and quite a few others in my steam library.

Not to say I didn't have fun with them. I just regret that I will have no interest in playing them in their finished and polished state.

Alex Nichiporchik
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I haven't played Glitchspace, but Banished and Starbound do heavily rely on the developers delivering certain levels of quality. They don't rely on social interaction, which is what builds and defines the games I refer to.

Scott Sheppard
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Is that a problem that you experienced the fun parts and moved on? Seems to me you got your money's worth... even if it was before the game actually released.

I guess the question is what are you looking for that you didn't get? A polished game? Because if that's the case... that doesn't make any sense.