LawBreakers looks neat, and I’ll certainly want to check it out when it goes live. And it’s good that its creators, Boss Key Productions, and especially CEO Cliff Bleszinski, understand that gamers are wary of the free-to-play model and will try to keep the free players happy while also providing a fun and rewarding experience for paying players.
But there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance at work regarding terminology. In an interview with Destructoid, Bleszinski makes the following two statements:
“We maybe have a program where if you want early access, give us $15 or $20. Then you can play the game before anybody else and then maybe get a super discount on the initial pack of stuff that other people pay a few bucks for.”
“Yeah, for me, that’s [traditional sales metrics] completely dead. That’s pre-orders, that’s ‘how many do you get in the first two months’ and then it’s an exponential curve downward after that.”
So, what’s the difference between “early access” and “pre-orders”? They seem to me to be basically the same: You pay money for a game before it’s available because you trust the company making it is going to do a great job. You might have some solid information to go on, in the form of videos, reviews from people playing early versions at conventions, and so on, but it’s still mostly a matter of faith.
I don’t think you can say that early access packages, especially ones that go for $100 or more, as we’ve seen for ArcheAge, Landmark, Neverwinter, and other games aren’t effectively pre-orders. They’re instances of companies wanting your money now, when the hype is strong and there’s relatively little bad press surrounding the games. It’s little different from pre-orders for AAA games, which might cost $60 for the base edition but $80, $100, or more for the Super Mega Deluxe Edition that comes with “an initial pack of stuff,” as Bleszinski puts it.
And, as we’ve seen, a lot of games that are aggressive about selling their early access packages suffer the fate Bleszinski hopes to avoid with LawBreakers: big initial hype and sales, then “an exponential curve downward.”
This isn’t to say that LawBreakers will turn out like those games mentioned above, all of which have disappointed large numbers of people on some level or another. And quoting “$15 or $20” for an early access package isn’t too crazy. (Though charging $20 for a free game’s early access is akin to charging an $80 pre-order for a $60 AAA game.) But I don’t see how you can talk smack about pre-orders while, in the same breath, talk about your own “pre-order” package under the name “early access.”