Early Access Revisited
I mentioned the other day that my buddy and I were looking for games. First, I want to thank everyone who made suggestions. They were all brought to his attention and discussed. More on what we ended up doing to follow. Today, what I want to talk about was one of his hesitations – one of the features he considers a red flag – that I mentioned in the post the other day: games in early access (Alpha / Beta) development phases.
Many, many years ago, one of my old buddies who I don’t keep in much contact in any more was filled with vim and vigor over an idea he’d heard in one of his college classes. Having a bit of an obsessive personality, over the next few weeks he regaled me with tales of this idea over and over again. “Stubborn,” he’d say, “in the future, people won’t pay for software products any more. They’ll pay for software service. And the service will be necessary to so many because the software will be so complex.” He was crooning about this because, in his mind, it looked like the triumph of the nerds, a veritable technocracy that would leave him with all the power and control.
He’s a code monkey now at a government contractor. He has a kid and a wife. He’s a nice guy; we just grew apart.
And yet, I see pieces of that future approaching. The free-to-play model is dominant in MMOs now, even though the dominant MMOs still require subs. The service you pay for isn’t what he had in mind – support service (though there are programs that work like that, too) – but is instead game services: more xp, better items, more bags or bank space, or the like.
So when I read Dahakha’s (that second H is tricky) response to Liore’s post on paying for alpha and beta development stage games, I had very mixed feelings. If you haven’t seen them yet, I highly recommend you read both; they’re both well written and filled with good arguments, which is odd, if you think about it, since they’re opposing view points, but I think that comes down to why I’m so torn, too; really, it’s not right versus wrong. It’s a clash of cultures.
I’ll say up front that I agree with Liore more – obviously, to some extent, since avoiding early development stage games is one of my buddy’s and my criteria. Heck, we even want to avoid just-launched games because it seems they’re too often just late betas still full of bugs.
That said, games I’m super excited about I’m willing to jump into during the early development phases. I played The Secret World beta as soon as I could get my hands on it, even begging a customer service rep (notice I did not say “booth babe,” as that’s sexist) at the TSW booth at PAX for beta keys (which she kindly produced for all my friends and me). I’m likely going to jump into Shadowrun Online, too, just to see what it’s about, but not quite yet.
So I’m torn. I agree, philosophically, with Liore. I don’t want a service, I want a finished product that’s been polished as much as reasonably possible. I don’t want to pay to be a beta tester, just like I wouldn’t want to pay for a car to see if it’s safe to drive (of course that’s a false analogy, as I won’t die from a faulty game, but I still like it).
Then again, if you know what you’re getting into, I don’t see any harm in volunteering to beta test a product that catches your eye. Like Dahakha said (I keep wanting to put the H before the K), there’s a slew of potential benefits including development decisions with more player input.
Then again, I’ve never paid for early access. But I suspect I will, someday, and maybe even someday soon. That change, I think, is what Liore’s worried about, the idea that, if we keep paying for beta access, eventually there will be no free betas, so only those with the money to pay for early access games will get input. Liore covers this pretty clearly in her post, and I think it’s hard to specifically refute that point; money talks. Look at Washington, D.C., and all the problems money causes there. Unchecked campaign donations, billionaire lobbies, and, of course, good ol’ fashioned pork-barreling have led to a ton of governmental vice.
I hesitate to accuse the game industry of such greed and malice, but then I look at how the biggest titles every year are basically just recycled versions of the previous years’ titles (sports games, Call of Duty-style games, another bad MMO churned out, etc), and I wonder if there’s not already a bit of a problem.
The catch is, of course, as I’m so fond of saying, only time will tell. Dahakha may be right. Liore may be. Something totally different might come to pass. But it’s interesting to think about these ethical quandaries that surround our shared pass-time.
What do ya’ll think about early access gaming? Do you agree more with Liore? With Dahakha? Or do you have a separate opinion?
Stubborn (and on the fence)