Is Alpha Access A Smart Thing To Do?

I have been reading a few comments about the Everquest Next: Landmark alpha and noticed that they seem to fall into two broad categories: Love It and Don’t Love It. The love-it crowd are gushing about the game despite the fact that there are bugs and tons of missing features, while the don’t-love-it folks are not happy because of the bugs and missing features and in some cases deciding that the game-play simply doesn’t suit them.

Note that this is an alpha release, the game is not even at the beta stage yet, so in my mind both sides are missing the mark a little.

In a beta, it’s generally accepted that the game is pretty much complete; the features are all in, coded at least, most of the art assets have been included, and that the story if any is also effectively complete. All that’s left are the bug fixes and general tweaking. In some cases, network capacity is also tested. At least that’s the gold standard for the beta test stage.

But in an alpha, none of that is the case. The game is not only feature and code incomplete, there is a strong possibility that how the game plays can change. I seem to remember a case where a game went from sci-fi to fantasy (or vice versa.) The name of the game escapes me, does anyone remember that?

And we all remember Duke Nukem Forever. That game changed engines several times along with art and story direction.

It’s entirely possible that Landmark will change substantially before it hits beta, so any exclamations of Wonderful! or Terrible! are somewhat premature.

Having said that I reckon I’m a bit conflicted about the current trend of game developers releasing Alpha or Early Access versions of their games.

Sure I can see the benefit to the developer. They get a cashflow during the development of the game rather than only once the game is complete. That would definitely improve the chances of completing the development.

But it’s also a two edged sword.

There are gamers who expect any release, alpha, beta or final to be bug free and feature complete. Just note some of the comments made about Landmark over the last few days to see this in action. Get enough negative feedback and you could hobble your sales later.

What happens if the game fails anyway?

Not every software project is completed, game or otherwise. It’s an unfortunate part of the software industry: projects fail. And they fail for any number of reasons. What happens if a game never makes it out of alpha, and the developer has spent the money from the alpha sales? Does this then become fraud?

And for the gamer buying into an alpha. Well, I’ve bought a few games on early access through Steam, and gave them a shot. But after having done that a few times, I think now I’d prefer to wait at least until a late beta or even release. I have too little time for gaming these days, I reckon it’s important to make it count.

Having said that I did head to the Landmark page yesterday to check it out, after reading a bunch of posts about it. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it looks like the minimum system specs are beyond my six year old beastie (which is even struggling with framerates for games that once worked fine.) So it looks like I’ll be needing a new computer before I get Landmark, or even Everquest Next.

How about you, what are your thoughts on the early access trend?

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  1. Zoso

    I think Tabula Rasa was fantasy (or Roman-ish) (or Roman/fantasy) (or something not terribly sci-fi anyway) early in development, might that be the one you were thinking of?

  2. Stropp (Post author)

    I think that may be it. Thanks Zoso.

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