So I Tweeted out something semi-amusing Thursday morning:

But as I progressed through the day, I started to wonder if it could actually work. I could upload a video of me talking about grandiose mechanics… make all kinds of promises… produce a vague schedule… instant profit!

All right, so that’s all a bit in the extreme. But it got me to thinking: Are we still head-over-heels in love with the concept of “buying in” to a game before it’s launched? And should we be?

(While Kickstarter and early access aren’t exactly the same, they still both offer the same basic premise: Pay now for a game you’ll get in full later. I’ll focus mostly on early access here, since it’s more immediate and more likely to arouse gamers’ suspicions.)

Just like the betas of old, early access is both a way to test a game before its “full” launch, and a way for a company to drum up interest in a game. Unlike those old betas, early access can actually provide income, which probably explains why every type of game, from MMOs to shooters to simulations to sandboxes, are offering it.

It’s not just the smaller, indie devs, whom one could argue need the financing to help see their projects to completion, that are doing this. Larger companies, like SOE and Trion Worlds, are offering early access to their free-to-play games, meaning that you can play a “free” game now – by paying money for it.

Granted, those buy-ins include special items and/or cash-shop currency when the game formally launches, but it still rubs some people the wrong way to see not just a F2P game cost money to play, but for a big company with millions of dollars behind it to take such an approach.

Both points are easily enough refutable, though. If you don’t want to pay, you don’t have to; just wait until the game launches and enjoy it in its F2P form. And, as much as SOE (for instance) might have a large budget behind Landmark and H1Z1, and they won’t cancel the games if they don’t receive enough pre-purchases, they do expect a return on that investment. Does it really matter if that return comes now or six months down the road? And if you were going to buy it anyway, does it matter when you pay for it?

But it would seem to me that the earlier the money goes into a game, and the more it feels like players are paying for a “premium” service – whether that premium includes early access, special items, or both – the more players will expect out of the game. Sure, “it’s only alpha/beta” will satisfy people for a while, but unlike in the old days, when people never saw the warts and blemishes of grossly unfinished games, players now see the sausage as it’s being made – and it can sometimes be an ugly business.

Even if you’re satisfied with a game you buy into, there’s the question of fatigue. Every game eventually loses its appeal, whether that comes after playing for 20 hours or 200 – or, in the case of some games, 2,000 or more. By heavily playing an unfinished game before it launches and has all its features, are you starting that “burnout clock” more quickly?

On the one hand, getting your entertainment value out of a game, whenever you get it, is what really matters. If you like the pre-launch game, that’s great. But online games are a moving target for developers, and that thing you really, really like might still be months away. Sure, you can always come back to it, but will you still attack it with the same fervor you did when it was new?

Offering early access is a double-edged sword. As a vehicle to promote the game, put it through its playtesting paces, and provide early revenue, it’s great. (The cynical among us might realize that those first two goals could still be accomplished without the third.) But it also exposes a game’s most flagrant flaws at a time when it’s most crucially trying to gain traction. In that sense, maybe charging for it isn’t such a bad idea – if it’s free, people can just chalk it up to a bad experience and move on, but if they’ve got something invested in it, they’re more likely to return when things are “fixed” and get their money’s worth. In any case, it’s a fine line between development and sales efforts, one that always seems to be getting adjusted.

What are your thoughts on early access games? Is it still something you look forward to? And are you generally happy with the early access purchases you’ve made, or are you in more of a “never again, I’ll wait until it’s released” mindset?

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the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

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  1. Drago on February 18, 2017

    I remember a time when games companies use to make a game (with their own money) and pay for us users to test it. Now we pay to play an unfinished game, which most of the time never gets finished or is anything like how it was meant to be. I for one am sick to death of unfinished games (even AAA titles) and EA games.

  2. Bic Boi on April 29, 2014

    Far as I’m concerned this early access/founders nonsense is plain stupidity. 90% of people who pay for it are in it just because “I wan play gaem nao”. Back in the day getting closed beta access meant you needed to qualify by sending in an app and it was reviewed before you were even accepted. Beta testing was done by people who were interested AND (more importantly) wanted to help weed out what was wrong with the game.

    Nowadays almost no one gives any fux about doing a beta tester’s job. Then you wonder why so many games come out with metric tons of bugs even when going into open beta/commercial release–it’s because barely any of these testers actually tested. Instant gratification is all that matters.

    • Jason Biggs on April 29, 2014

      Pretty much. These days money talks all too much. It’ll never change, sadly. People keep buying into it. Perpetual cycle. Ouroboros. The snake devours its tail.

  3. Razer on April 27, 2014

    Early Access is like F2P. It has good potential if it’s used correctly but instead it has turned into a sick joke because of sh*tty corrupt people that abuse the system and ruin it for everyone.

  4. Adosan on April 27, 2014

    Beta access should always be free and people in their right mind would not spend money to have “early access”. Primarily people spend that much money for special in game item that either no one can get for long time, no one can purchase after release… and in some cases … never ever get the chance to have one. The early access is just the icing on the cake. I am not saying you should spend money just so you can have the special item. You have to have a damn good reason for your investment.

    We (consumers/players) are the investors and not some white collar business chump in some high rise investors who has no clue about the game. We (the players) decide who deserves our money early on and who doesn’t, and because we are the micro-investors we also have to be careful who we throw our money at.

    My investment (or as you call it.. waste money for early access) were for Piranah (MechWarriors Online), Chris Roberts (RSI – Star Citizen) and EverQuest Next (yes I still have my doubts). Why.. because I know most of them devs from way back, I know their passion, their skills, their goal and played their games in the past. I have done my research, and I still read up on their progress, watch what they say and promise as I watch what they deliver. So far they have not failed me (knock on wood). I can’t say the same for many other games, I don’t know their devs, their passion or skills even if they give me free early access I will still have my doubt and keep my money in my pocket.

    Why pay early, why not wait until release?… Simple, knowing who is running the show and who is behind the computer grinding those codes, they too are humans and they too have to work on decent equipment to deliver the product and that costs money, so I pay ahead to help them out. In return they give me some virtual item (its all pixels) and early access to watch their progress as their thanks. True, everquest doest have a publisher, so why waste money on them? Yes I do have my doubts because its SOE after all the fubars they did, yes they do have publisher so they do have money to fund for their equipment, BUT… they came up with something NO other game could offer in one shot. They call it the 4 holy grails (watch the youtube about it), because of that and because of what I see from my initial investment, along with all their interaction with players, discussions, etc… i am planning to upgrade my investment from 60 to $100 founders pack. Just wait, few years later, more game companies will follow their footsteps with similar concept to EverQuest Next (besides the minecraft part).

    At the end of the day. Difference between X corporation doing investment on a game or us the micro-investors is almost none. Investment is investment. The only difference is that with X corporation investment, the game has to be released by deadline, regardless what gamers want or how buggy it is, while with micro-investors (us the gamers) have some say what we want in the game, game is release with far less bugs and is not so restricted on deadline.

  5. Marvin on April 26, 2014

    LOL they might aswell just make the game P2P seriously who pays $150+ just to play some days earlier than the others players I mean if you got money to blow or are just plain dumb I see no reason why.
    I personally wait till I see some users reviews to see if the game is to my liking than wait to invest money into it.

  6. zzyx on April 26, 2014

    Won’t ever buy into early access again. Would you pay full price for less than half a car on a promise that the rest of it will be delivered and built in an undetermined time?

  7. Padsoldier on April 25, 2014

    I don’t like the idea of early access.
    As said in some comments above: you pay for the developers so you can test the game and report bugs – being a tester used to be a paid job, now it’s something you have to pay for?

    Also, how would early access look in any other industry? You bought a book, but every third letter is missing, but don’t worry, within an unknown amount of time you’ll receive the rest – you can still make some attempts to figure out what each word is supposed to be, you can’t enjoy it as you could with the full version and effectively made a donation for the creator to support him until the product is released. That whole thing would be totally unacceptable, yet somehow it’s a “good” thing in the games industry.

    It’d make some sense if immediately at the start of the EA program they told you when the game comes out and what features it’ll have by then (and of course if they don’t meet both of those, they didn’t meet a contract they accepted and should have some legal retorsion). As this does not happen at the moment, early access does not have a place.

    Also, it’d be probably less of a bad thing if Early Access titles weren’t on the front page of Steam (for months now!).
    (This is a topic TotalBiscuit has covered many times before, if you’re interested I highly recommend to check out his opinion on his YT channel, or almost any recent Polaris Podcast.)

  8. Eviil on April 25, 2014

    Wildstar is being pretty confident with their only 150 buck founders pack. hope they don’t let people down!

  9. A on April 25, 2014

    I totally agree with removalmitt. Why do you have to pay for being a alpha orbeta tester? You have to pay for playing a broken game with many bugs. I’d never pay for early access.
    Beta testing is ok but why do we have to pay for it? We are helping the company to improve their game. Just because one guy started with that bullshit everyone follows him. Now we have many games that offer this bullshit. You pay them for being their free worker.
    I guess only idiots don’t realize it. Do they also go to work and pay their company just to be able to work for them? Damn I should open a company for them. Free workers who don’t want any money. Free workers who give me money.

    On the other side there are games like battlefield. EA is forcing origin to release the unfinished game and they sell it as already finished. Then we are all “beta testers” for a realy expensive game.

  10. removalmitt on April 25, 2014

    paying to be able to test a game for the companies benefit……well if you’ve got money you don’t need then….

  11. Beizelby on April 25, 2014

    The “Early Access” and “KickStarter” methods of releasing games serves it’s purpose for the genuine developers that are actually going to finish making their game. But, there has been a few, especially with “Kickstarter” that simply disappear never to be heard of again even years later, with the ‘apparent’ developers no longer able to be contacted when asked about it. A lot of money goes out to them for nothing.

    And it is nonsense like that that is ruining it for the genuine ones.

    As a result I refuse to put money forward unless the game is at least in Beta, forget about alpha and especially pre-alpa.

  12. Phanda on April 25, 2014

    After i bought 7Days2die i wont pre order any alpha/beta games not worth money spending bettter wait 1-2years

  13. HellcatM on April 25, 2014

    Early access is a double edged sword. A lot of betas now a days are pretty strange compared to what they use to be.

    I’ve betaed many games and in the early days you just downloaded the game and played until the beta ended, usually a few weeks or months later. Then after the closed beta there would be an open beta and that would last for weeks or months. Now a lot of games are doing these weekend betas which I don’t find really worth it. You get to play a game for a few days and then its over..maybe they’ll have another beta maybe not. If the game is good you get a little taste but not really enough and if its bad you just stop playing before the beta ends.

    The early access is not to bad I guess, at least you’re not pressured into buying it. The problem is when you play a game that is in alpha and you buy into it, and it sucks then you may not keep playing even if later on it gets better. I did one early access “StarForge” and its ok, but there wasn’t much meat in the game. I played it a little while and haven’t touched it since. Will I go back into it later on? Maybe, but Landmark is coming out and other games similar, if I like one of those I may forget about this. On the other hand if you believe in your game and need the extra money why not? As long as you under promise and hopefully over deliver you’re good, but if you over promise and under deliver you’re screwed. So if you’re going to make a game and have an early access or do a kickstarter you better you better 1. Be able to deliver the game. and 2. Give the basic idea of the game without spewing out to many features you might not be able to put into it.

    I have a few ideas for games and I’ve thought about doing a kickstarter too but since I’m not a coder I’m afraid to do s kickstarter because then I’d have to find a good team and put my trust in them that they’re going to be able to deliver my vision. I thought about seeing if I could find people who will work on a contingency that if the game makes money we all get rich but if the game doesn’t make money then I don’t have to pay them anything. Thats a hard thing to ask for too, because people are working their hands to the bone for maybe nothing.

    Well I probably won’t buy into early access games (or kickstarter) again unless its a game I really believe in and it probably wouldn’t be to an indie developer because I’d want to know the game I’m buying into has a team I can believe in because I’ve seen (played) a past game(s). Maybe if I were rich I would be more likely to take a gamble…but if I were rich I would have tried to get my own game made.

  14. Merkadis on April 25, 2014

    M@rons and rich boys always pay for near dam anything, even if you offer them an early access to a g@y @nal hole, they will pay for it like theres no tomorrow…

    Wise and/or smart ones? they wait a bit and get same and perhaps even better than before with all the patches coming in… but why not, let them pay to support the game in your stead, often thou it’s not even worth the support it gets.

  15. FrosTanK on April 25, 2014

    Early access for me is just a test, and stupid at the same time, why will you play a game that has plenty of bugs then everything gets erased, then start all over again?? plus the founders pack items and early access to races plus different items given to starting players are somewhat…. uhhhh?? useless in the long run… well yeah that pretty much sums it up, just plain stupid.

  16. tolshortte on April 24, 2014

    I like the Early Access option myself. for the most part its smaller companies doing it. but large or small, its like a pre order with immediate access. I like seeing the ‘warts’ and gain insight to what devs go through to make a game.

    personally id rather give money to a new company trying something new even if unfinished over giving money to another iteration of the same old stuff we have seen for years. but that’s just me. I want to see the industry evolve, and I put my money where my mouth is as they say. hopefully in time the big boys will take notice and actually use their huge bank accounts to deliver something memorable.

    if you don’t trust the devs, cant or don’t want to take a risk, or will be upset if the game is a bust simply don’t buy into Early Access. it is a risk, you are buying a promise. if you aren’t willing to risk the money then avoid it at all costs and just wait for release if it ever happens.

  17. thetrue on April 24, 2014

    Kick started stuff its just lame some times the game its not gonna give u back what u pay for ,i know u get an realy access but for what? for an Alpha that its not gonna give u the same feelings than playing the real thing? i think it was like 1 or 2 years ago when the games start with that kick started phase and stuff,they just make money out of u and then u play it for like a few weeks or less until u notice the game was repetitive and crappy pay 2 win

  18. CByl on April 24, 2014

    I think it’s a good method of earning some investment for indie developers or smaller companies, but I think larger corporations should take a different alternative when looking for dedicated players to help develop the game (by reporting bugs, crashes, etc)

    Sometimes it’s being abused however. I feel like a lot of developers start to slack off once the money starts kicking in from “early access”; for example the game Banished boomed when it was first released, but nobody heard from the developer since, even though it was in “early access/alpha”.

    I personally don’t like this method and probably won’t ever participate in another early access, but I can see how it’s sometimes needed.

  19. Mim on April 24, 2014

    well idk anymore all new mmorpg are almost same just diffrent graphic

    • kasaxhasunohana on April 24, 2014

      Like shooters have been for years?

    • MitchellTaylor on April 25, 2014

      ok so … skyrim online is the same as world of warcraft?????? news flash! its not theres a BIG diffrents in both games play them and youll see

      • Deroni76 on April 26, 2014

        The f*ck is Skyrim Online? You mean The Elder Scrolls Online?

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