With as much controversy as “Early Access” type games are causing these days, one thing I’ve never thought to consider is how the discussion would change or intensify if these titles were sold at retail. Currently, they’re available digitally on Steam but if they were sold in stores, how would that affect your viewpoint?
For those who aren’t really PC players or are unaware, Early Access games are essentially titles that the developer is releasing to the general public early. You, as the consumer, pay full/normal price to gain access to the game with the general understanding that the game isn’t finished but the developer will continue to create, shape, and eventually complete the title. Well, that’s the hope anyway as we have seen some games do get taken down or outright abandoned which means that you’re out of the money you spent on it. On paper it’s a win-win as you get to play the game you’re interested in and the developer gets money they typically wouldn’t have so soon.
I came across a post over on Game Informer yesterday about Planetary Annihilation, a Kickstarted “Early Access” PC game being sold at retail. The game’s currently in a Gamma state which Uber says is somewhere between beta and retail ready, but is targeting a full release later this year. It’s also a development state that I’ve never heard prior to that article. In case you were curious, yes, there is a big label on the box stating that the game is an “Early Access Edition” without further context on the front. Hopefully there’s something on the back explaining it a bit better lest someone assume that it’s a special edition of a finished game.
I honestly don’t know how I feel about this as a trend going forward. I’ve purchased one Early Access title before (Mercenary Kings if you were wondering), but it’s not something I’d do unless I was 100% sure of the developer. I like to think I’m pretty up to date on trends and releases in the gaming world but for a lot of common people who enter retail based shops, they’re more than likely not terribly familiar with everything that may be going on. Who’s to say some mom walks into this place looking for a cool game to get their child? That “Early Access Edition” isn’t going to mean much to them, at least in terms of it being unfinished, so there’s potential that it may deceive a lot of consumers when they discover later that day that the game seems to be unfinished. The need for communication and information has never been higher in situations like this. Buyer beware and all of that.
While I don’t feel that Uber Entertainment will disappoint and fail to finish the game, their experiment will more than likely open the door for other companies who may not be as trust worthy or capable. This very well could be a slippery slope especially now when you take a system that was firmly rooted in a gaming educated environment like Steam and release it into one that has much less knowledge of these practices. There’s little doubt that this new way of doing things will spark a fierce debate among supporters and detractors.
So what do you think? Is bringing Early Access to big retail chains the way to go? Is this something that’s more dangerous than it’s worth? Let me know in the comments below, I’m curious to hear what you think.