A few years ago, in a land far far far away from any Tesco Extra. I stood outside a metal shutter. It was cold, dark, wet and windy. And I was surrounded by what seemed to be the extras from a Lord of the Rings movie – they looked like orcs anyway, faces for radio and a dress code to match.

This was me lining up just before midnight to be one of the first in my local area to get hold of Halo 2. Bearing the cold for 45 minutes to get in the door and another 15 to get my copy before heading (legging) it home for that sexeh dual wielding multiplayer brilliance.

See, back in the day this was the only way to guarantee you got to play a game within it’s first week of launch…not to mention the fact your mates would be bragging up the game to you over an over until you got hold of it yourself.

Fast forward a few years and pre-orders are not the big thing. Putting down a fiver to cement your purchase – I thought this a little odd at the time, partly buying something before it’s actual release but it’s the way things were.

You have to remember that back as little as 10 years ago, when games were released…they worked. There were no game breaking/halting bugs, no day one patches and no locked content on discs without a bonus preorder edition code.

Skip ahead to about 2 years ago with crowd funded games becoming widespread. This is genuine game developers wanting to make their dream come true but lack the funding. So they call out to the community to donate some moolah! Sounds good right? It is, there are some great games born of such.

Finally this leads to the present day, to the half baked mess we have today…you see, all of this committal to buy games before actual release has become the norm where we now finalise the quality assurance ourselves on the games we play.

Enter “Early Access”, an alternative way to get your dream off the ground. Same principle as crowd funding but this time, you pay in full.

Your basically paying to alpha/beta test a game that has zero promise to fulfil its marketing.

Done right, you get a team that love their craft but need to make ends meet while in development. They commit themselves wholly to the project to deliver the loftiest of aspirations – Subnautica, Conan Exiles, Ark: Suvival Evolved, Everspace and PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds are a few of the heroes here.

But every hero needs a villain, and there are many… these vastly outnumber the former. I won’t go on and on with names but I will drag one out of the swamp. The DayZ Stand-alone.

The mod that arguably started all the survival/craft game genre that wasn’t about hitting blocks with a stone pickaxe. This mod made the jump to a stand-alone early access title and gained monumental hype, it sold remarkably well… 5 years later and the game is still in early access.

With all the funds garnered from great sales, Dean Hall (the man in charge of DayZ) decided to make a card battle game and leave the company.

I am one of the many that are no longer waiting for it to leave “early access”. I have no delusions, it’s not coming…neither is my money paid for the title.

So, this is my point….there is one. Promise.

You do it, they do it, I do it. We buy into these early access shenanigans hoping for the best, but in truth we are just buying a promise. A promise easily broken and forgotten. We pay to get access into a prototype without a guarantee that it will ever be completed. Would you go to Greggs and buy a steak bake without the steak. Or you’re at the cinema having paid to watch a movie released before post production has occurred and you’re stuck watching raw mess.

How many games have you preordered or accessed early in the last couple of years that never came to fruition or even mislead the product entirely **cough, no mans sky, cough**.

I see this as another Greenlight dilemma.

When done right – we get the good stuff, often cheaper (eh, Ark…how appropriate, you fight like a cow) and with some extra free fluff for our monies. When done wrong – we feel scammed, hoodwinked… bummed.

Maybe this is the way things will continue on, maybe we will get some form of refund if undelivered in the future or maybe we are headed for more of the same or worse… no steak in my steak bake…doomsday.

Written by Michael Jones.

Advertisements