The Daily Grind: How long is too long for early access?

Let’s be real here, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that DayZ has been in early access far longer than it should be. By the same token, I don’t think anyone would begrudge Radical Heights for still being in early access. But somewhere between those two extremes lie a large number of games, some of whom have been in ostensible early access for months, some of which have been there for years, and so forth.

In many ways, early access is like the new version of the game in perpetual open beta; there were many free-to-play games that never technically launched, just stayed in open beta forever until they finally shut down. And yet those games were selling things normally, making the distinction between launch and open beta into a very blurry and nebulous thing. Early access is already blurry, since it asks for money for a game that is decidedly early in its development cycle.

So what do you think, dear readers? How long is too long for early access? Is there a clear limit beyond which games should just bite the bullet and launch, or is it entirely down to the specific game?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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44 Comments on "The Daily Grind: How long is too long for early access?"

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Erik Heinze-Milne

It always amuses me that DayZ thinks they are going to be able to charge MORE for a game years after it has been functionally launched. Seriously, whatever they are smoking over there, I want some.

Leontes
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Leontes

Hmmm… Probably the time it takes reading ’til the second “c”…?

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Jeffrey Meade

I don’t really care for early access and have really barely played anything that could be considered EA. Occasionally I come across a interesting game on the trash heap known as Steam and then realize its early access and walk away. There are games that are considered early access for literally a year or longer. That’s ridiculous. Like anything there are some good games out there using EA to make a better game, but its mostly a handful of good games surrounded by endless piles of garbage.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Two weeks, max.

Just long enough to discover some really bad bug or exploit the team overlooked, and that’s it.

Years of EA is not “early”; it’s premature.

Steam used to have “greenlight” games that were independent devs (usually 1 or 2 people), allowing them “early” access to the Steam platform to help them out. That morphed into EA for anyone. My experience with EA on Steam was two or three times of having Abandoned Ware in my library. Now, I never buy EA games, no matter how interesting. And it’s amazing how the “very positive” ratings can go down to “mixed” as games get closer to their supposed actual release. So, just no.

‘Early Access’ has been seriously abused by all the recent MMOs. When they open their cash shop and there’s no more wipes, the game has launched, regardless of what PR tag they put on it.

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Alex Malone

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to software development (I am also a software engineer myself). So, my stages of development are as follows:

Development – everything remains in house, all testing done by internal QA team.
Alpha Testing – A small group of people, typically family and friends, are invited to test the game. This is the first look at the game from outside so the focus is on qualitative feedback.
Closed Beta Testing – The general public are invited to test, but the developers select who is allowed in based on set criteria to ensure a wide variety of testers and hardware. Focus is part way between qualitative and quantitative. NDA still in operation at this point.
Open Beta Testing – The general public are allowed in, no restrictions and NDA removed. This is about stress testing and quantitative testing, you don’t care about individual feedback.
Early Access – The game is finished and about to launch, but you give some people early access to the game. Method of selection up to devs, so could be early access for pre-orders, or only for collectors editions, or whatever really.
Launch

So, as to the actual question, 1 month is my limit for early access but depends on the game. If there is persistent progression in any form then I would say 2 weeks maximum for early access, otherwise those getting early access can get too much of an advantage.

With monetisation, I’ll leave that up to the devs and the free market in general to sort out. If people are willing to pay for open beta testing (which is what most early access actually is) then fine, it’s a free world. We each have to make a judgement as to whether a game, whatever state it’s in, is worth paying for. Personally, I’m against monetising beta testing, but I have paid for 1 early access game (Prison Architect) because when reviewing the state it was in, it looked like pretty much a complete game and thus worth the money (it was worth it). I’m also considering paying to be part of the Camelot Unchained beta tests, but thats more out of desperation for a good MMO rather than because I think it’ll be worth the money, and also because I have confidence in the team and their vision.

Nathaniel Downes
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Nathaniel Downes

I rather like this organizational model.

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Utakata

While I most certainly agree with the first part, I would like to see far more consumer protection then leaving it up to the whims of the Randian…err, I mean “free” market. And if that means paying for access, then players should at least get something in return as well making their worth while.

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Alex Malone

Yup, more consumer protection for those paying for a game before it’s released would be good.

To be honest, my hope is that we’ll have a gaming renaissance at some point and all the top dogs with lots of money (EA, Activision, Ubi etc) will stop being so adverse to risk. I think the reason why early access has become so popular is because the top end of the games market has stagnated so much so we’re having to turn to underfunded devs to get some innovation.

If the top dogs start experimenting more, perhaps we can return to a more traditional funding method and publishers will start funding some of these indie studios directly, rather than them relying on kickstarters and stuff. I’m hoping that the current backlash against lootboxes and microtransactions is the start of this process, but I may be kidding myself…..

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zuldar

You can’t put a duration on early access since every game and company will be different, but once you start taking in any money you forfeit your right to use “early access” as an excuse. Once you start selling your product it can be reviewed.

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jay

2 weeks or longer is too long, period.

flyingltj
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flyingltj

WWII Online has been in early access since June 2001.

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Leiloni

I’m less concerned with the length of EA’s and more concerned with the fact that you’re paying to test a game. That should be free.

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Space Captain Zor

There are a lot of actual developers that read this site. I would expect to see some of them answering this question, as it’s my opinion that they are the only ones truly qualified to do so.