Once again someone has done something in the games industry that has other people going on and on about how horrible it is and how it’ll destroy the industry.
That someone is Uber Entertainment and Nordic Games and the something is Planetary Annihilation being sold in stores in a box as an Early Access title (at least in Europe).
Planetary Annihilation is a real time strategy game on the PC. In 2012, Uber Entertainment went on Kickstarter to try and get funding for their game (after all, most of the developers had worked on Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, so they had a good track record).
Uber set their goal at $900,000 and pretty quickly met that goal, which then brought about the stretch goals. When it was all said and done, Uber had raised over $2.2 million for the development of the game… not bad at all.
Planetary Annihilation entered alpha on June 8, 2013 for “alpha-level backers,” and entered Early Access on Steam on June 13th. The game entered beta on September 26, 2013 and in November the beta opened up for all Kickstarter backers.
Today, the game still hasn’t officially released although it is no longer in beta and is instead in what Uber Entertainment is calling “gamma.” And now, in this gamma state, Planetary Annhiliation is being sold in box in retail stores with an Early Access label on the cover and a note that it includes a free upgrade to the final release.
Naturally, a lot of folks have been almost up in arms over this with tons of hyperbole that this is the kind of the thing that is going to collapse the industry.
Forget out of control budgets, teams of thousands, pay2win micro-transactions, and absurd marketing spending, early access is the thing that is going to destroy the gaming industry as more and more publishers look to charge consumers to test their game.
Early access was already “a problem” on Steam, but now it’s spreading to retail stores and soon publishers will be doing the same on consoles. But the thing is, it isn’t that big of a deal and it most certainly will not destroy the gaming industry.
In the case of Planetary Annihilation, the folks who Kickstarted the game have already been playing it since November 2013 thanks to their investing in the game. Others have been able to purchase the game, via Early Access, on Steam and now in stores.
What the hell is gamma though? When games come out of beta, some things get changed and polished based on beta feedback (real beta feedback, not glorified demos that we see on consoles most of the time), and then the game releases.
Gamma is something that Uber has apparently made up, which brings up the question of when is a game truly finished these days? If the game is in a good enough state to be out of beta, and where most games would be in full release, why not just say its released and continue working on the game like most other developers?
It seems like Uber Entertainment is committed to making Planetary Annihilation be the best they can make it, and so they’ve arbitrarily delayed the games official release with this “gamma” phase and are continuing to sell the game as early access over a year after it originally launched in early access. The only difference is that now it’s being sold in stores.
I don’t see how this is a problem, or why Uber Entertainment should be blasted for having the audacity to do things a different way.
As is, most games aren’t finished when they release these days. If they were, they wouldn’t need day one patches that are several GB’s in size or patches fixing things for weeks or months after release. Of course a lot of this has to do with certification process, which can take a while, and so I don’t know why many gamers expect developers to sit around twiddling their thumbs for the month or more the process takes.
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And that’s not a new phenomenon either, the only thing is now patches can be issued and games fixed after release. What about all the Atari/NES/SEGA and up games that released prior to the days of patches that featured game breaking bugs and gltiches? You had no way to get those issues fixed and the games costs around the same as they do now (actually more when factoring in inflation). One could say you paid to beta (or alpha in some cases) test those games only you never got a full fixed version.
When asked why they’re doing this by Game Informer, this was Jon Mavor’s, one of the game’s directors, response:
“At Uber we’ve been trying really hard to innovate on business models during the entire development of [Planetary Annihilation]… We had planned to do a retail release all along and the early access box came about as part of our experimental attitude. Since early access works so well, our partners at Nordic thought that it would be worth trying an early access retail edition and we agreed it was a cool idea.”
Not satisfied with the answer, Game Informer asked “why release an unfinished game at retail?” Mavor responded with:
“The real question is, why not? After all, they are getting the same game, just earlier. It’s a changing world and we hope to continue trying out new and innovative ways to make games.”
The why not of course angered the group of gamers who think this kind of model is going to harm the industry. You can read this thread on NeoGAF to see many gamers talking like this is just a horrible thing and a lot of “collapse the industry” stuff.
Here, NeoGAF member Azure Dream quotes Mavor’s “why not?” answer and follows it up with his comment on it: “The words that signaled the start of the next great video game crash.”
Absolute nonsense. The gaming crash of the early 1980s happened because there were a ton of consoles and a nonstop stream of bad games being released. That’s not going to happen again (maybe mobile, but those are typically free anyway).
The only way gaming crashes again is if the entire economy collapses, and that’d have everything to do with bad governments, entitlements, and worthless fiat currency being created “out of thin air” resulting in massive inflation… nothing to do with gaming.
Whether vocal minorities on the Internet like it or not, this kind of thing is going to happen more often. And it won’t just be early access sold in stores for PC games, but it’s going to be console games as well.
I don’t have a problem with that; in some cases I’d actually welcome it.
Now granted I would want to see early access games release first with a public alpha for a few days, or a beta before early access becomes available. That way you can get a taste of the game to see if you’d be happy buying it as early access versus waiting until it’s actually finished.
If Bungie and Activison would have responded to the overwhelming positive buzz to the Destiny alpha by releasing it (the alpha) as an early access title… I would have dropped $60 for it right then. Why? Because I thought the game was excellent in its alpha state and would have gladly continued playing just that little slice until the beta and then the full game.
They’re going to get my money regardless, so I’d just as soon rather start playing the game now rather than wait months for something I already know I’m going to get day one. The same goes for Assassin’s Creed, WWE, anything Naughty Dog puts out, and others.
Of course there is obviously the prospect of developers/publishers releasing games as early access in horrible states to try and secure additional funding from consumers. It already happens on PC; I doubt it’ll be as bad on consoles since Sony and Microsoft have more stringent policies. In any case, the market for early access titles would work itself out fairly quickly and then ones who push something out that isn’t playable will likely not find too much success with that model.
Frankly, after seeing games like Battlefield 4 and plenty of others release in broken states, to many degrees, I think having the hardcore fans who are going to buy the games anyway get to pay to beta test would prove more fruitful than focus groups and laughable QA testing by folks who don’t care or don’t know the franchise like the hardcore players do.
I know someone will pull that “pay to beta test” comment out and try and get on a high horse about how betas should be free (or get paid for) and not something you pay to test… but we’re talking about folks who are going to buy the games anyway; they wouldn’t be paying to simply beta test, they’d be paying to start playing a game they were already going to buy months early.
Uber Entertainment isn’t doing anything wrong by releasing an “early access” version of Planetary Annihilation in stores. They aren’t doing anything that is going to eventually cause a gaming crash or anything that is “anti-consumer.”
If you don’t want to buy an early access game, no one is making you. Wait for it to actually release in full. But don’t act like it’s some great travesty or an immoral cash grab when people who want to pay to play a game ahead of its release actually buys an early access title.