[Editor’s Note: Frustrations of a Gamer is a new recurring feature on GameRevolution where our staff discusses game design elements or recurring themes in gaming that are often problematic.]
As I sit here looking at PlayerUnknown’s Battleground Steam page I can’t help but feel impressed. With over 56,000 user reviews and a consistent best ranking of top 10 on the Steam top-sellers list, there’s no doubt that it’s king of the jungle
But part me is also frustrated. Frustrated by the fact that, despite being a complete game, it bills itself as Early Access. Frustrated that, technically speaking, I can’t review the game because its developer treats it as an unfinished product. Frustrated that, once again, one of the most popular PC games… isn’t even out yet
Early Access is one of the most popular themes in PC gaming today, with the total number of games tagged as such currently at 678 and growing, several of which hold remarkable popularity.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the most recent of its kind, bearing a huge banner on its Steam page that warns users that the game “is not complete and may or may not change further”. The developer goes on to write, “We don’t expect Early Access to last longer than six months”. We’ll see about that.
These are currently the best-selling Early Access titles on Steam.
The original idea of Early Access made a lot of sense. Games cost a lot to make, a large portion of modern developers are smaller studios that aren’t able to secure the investor funding necessary to realize their ambition, and there are seemingly millions of gamers willing to fork out money to play incomplete (beta) games. There was huge potential lying dormant in the ethereal world of crude monetization concepts. Thus, Early Access was born.
With this, gamers were, for the first time ever, able to add an in-development title to their Steam library.
The problem is many games overstay their welcome in Early Access. One such example is Rust, which I remember playing for my first time back in 2013. I remember thinking to myself, “This game is going to be amazing once it’s complete”. Little did I know that “completion” might never come.
It’s been almost four years since Rust first debuted as an Early Access title, and yet it still hasn’t seen launch. If release were on the schedule, things would be perhaps a bit more tame. At this point, its developer tries to avoid any mention of the term, instead spending great deal of his time sharing all the imaginative ideas he has for the game.
ARK: Survival Evolved is probably the most well-known Early Access title. Having released in June 2015, it celebrated its two year anniversary during this month. Listed as having four developers (Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, and Virtual Basement LLC), it’s had all the time in the world to wrap up development. While apparently 24 month isn’t enough to complete the game, it certainly was enough for the team to develop a paid expansion pack titled Scorched Earth.
Will ARK leave Early Access before Earth boils to ruin from global warming?
At this point it feels like the privilege of Early Access is being abused. Sure, the moment a game walks through the Early Access door it gives up its privilege to blame any shortcomings on it “not being a complete game”, but that shouldn’t stop developer from crafting a roadmap to release, and then continuing to support the game beyond launch.
At this point it seems like the only way to make Early Access more reasonable is for Valve to set limitations. Maybe an 18 month max would be reasonable, if only to prevent developers from sitting on a game that gamers have paid for in-full instead of simply tossing a big warning sign their way before purchase.
What do you think of Early Access? Let us know in the comments below.