Studio Wildcard creative director cautions against using Early Access as a funding method

    
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The most something game.

Early access has become a bit part of the gaming landscape over the past few years, with many games launching into it. ARK: Survival Evolved is indisputably one of the big success stories of the past several years. In a recent interview, co-creative director and studio co-founder Jesse Rapczak cautioned against using early access as a funding model, specifically pointing out that doing so creates unpleasant and unhealthy expectations for a game.

Rapczak specifies that a game ready to launch in early access should be ready to launch in general, with the earlier access tailored toward ensuring that players can provide important feedback ahead of time. Thinking of early access as a way to generate more funds leads to a lack of consumer confidence, which in turn will eventually demolish the model as a whole. It’s certainly worth considering as an opinion coming from a creator who has found no small amount of success with early access.

Source: GamesIndustry.biz via Gamasutra; thanks to Crow for the tip!
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dragonherderx
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dragonherderx

I agree and disagree to an extent. I think it can be a good method to fund a game, but it does lead to unrealistic expectations from the player base all too often. They go in expecting a finished product all too often and it leads to many of these issues. This also has to do with how players react to some things. If a game is early access it is either trying to A – fund some further development or B – are testing feedback early on and want the player feedback while keeping up a pay wall for those actually interested in testing and giving feed back which also gives them a bit of money for some extra development.

People need to have more realistic expectation in general and we can’t blame developers trying to look into new avenues to gain further development dollars, particularly with the number of independent studios popping up (both large and small) and to actually cut down on some of their overall testing costs by releasing the game to the public earlier on at a cost. 

I think it’s both a mix of some games being too bare bones and some of todays gamers being a bit to up their own asses.

dragonherderx
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dragonherderx

Janio2 Serrenity Landmark’s framerate issues stem from the fact they use voxels which until they manage to render them using the gpu are a very cpu intensive rendering element to use. They allow for a lot of cool things bug dig into performance a bit.

MatthewWard
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MatthewWard

Serrenity No one will read that. I’m a software developer, and I get paid to do that shit, and even I couldn’t care less :D 

Most development methodologies are just a different way to skin the same cat but get a Director a bonus.

dorn2
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dorn2

Serrenity 
A lot of these companies are using iterative waterfall.  It’s an insane choice for Early Access.  Some of them make moronic decisions like rewriting huge portions of the game as well.

If they would use Agile, expose their bug trackers, post unstable weeklies, etc, etc then they’d get far better results.  Ultimately these companies don’t do anything like that though.  They try to get something playable then they cash in.  After getting the development funds they don’t have any plans to give an impression of actually working on the game.

Early Access isn’t about feedback.  It’s about funding. It’s about presenting a product in such a way that you continually generate interest from players to invest.  Most of these companies forget to think past the initial release.

Janio2
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Janio2

Serrenity Landmark has an  big framerate graphic engine problem, which was to this day not been totaly solve so far I know,  but its was bit early. The framerate issue  realy  dominated how many look at game development.

Serrenity
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Serrenity

So, I think this all goes back to the fundamental question of “How do you develop software,” and the expectations around that from gamers. I’m a huge Agile development proponent, and having worked in Waterfall development & Agile development, my experience has been that Agile development yields better results faster.  
So for those who don’t live this every day – Waterfall development methodology is 100% linear.  You gather all the requirements for the software, you write the specs, you develop everything, then you test everything you coded (and fix it) then deliver, push it live.  The takeaway is the big functional chunks – Imagine writing all the requirements for everything that Windows has to do in one big chunk.  You have to anticipate everything your customer wants, foresee every pitfall — you have to know everything about everything up-front.  
Contrast with Agile methodology — you write a small set features that add value for your customer, and that’s determined by talking to your customers and understanding what they want.  This is a minimum viable product.  You go through, and develop in smaller chunks (called user stories), and test after each development cycle (called Sprints – and are anywhere from 1 week, to 1 month), with the goal at the end of each cycle having code that is customer ready.  Then you deliver the code, get feedback, and that informs what you work on next , etc etc etc. 
So this is important because Early Access is trying to get customer involvement in the development process earlier and is at least somewhat of an attempt at agile development, which is awesome.  The not so awesome part is that they charge, sometimes obscene amounts of money, to participate where generally you invite a specific subset of your existing customer base to participate for free, not an open call.  
This is needed because Gamers are a pernicious bunch, and lately we, as a subculture, have become obsessed with instant-gratification.  Despite 100s of warnings to the contrary, some gamers will buy into a game, and then absolutely slam it for not being exactly what they want it to be the exact moment they want it to be that.  Sometimes the criticism is warranted, and most times it’s not.  The dollar figure (in EA done right …) is used primarily to show some interest in the game, and get better feedback.  Not all feedback is created equal, and as we know from every SC post ever, some people will try to make a game fail just to see it fail.  The more crappy feedback you have “This game suck!!? 0/10” the harder it is get the actionable feedback, “It felt really grinding between level 10-15.  I couldn’t find enough mobs to kill and ended up just sitting around waiting for respawns, even though I was the only one in the zone.” The dollar amount increases the likelihood of getting good feedback, but it is by no means a guarantee.  
Now, what I think we can do as a community, esp. MMO’rs is to stop expecting games to be discrete — with a hard start and end date.  We would get to play far more games, and get better games if we could accept a limited scope version of the game that will continue to evolve.  Landmark I think let people in about 2-3 months too early, but they had the right idea.  They released the core game and let people play, and continued to add features over time.  Not everyone will want to play in those initial stages, but there are a fair number.  I think if we as gamers would be more open to that kind of model, EA would be less problematic and we would get better games, faster. 

Tl;dr – It’s mostly our problem, and a little of their problem.

MatthewWard
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MatthewWard

MatthewYetter I totally agree. And this impacts MMO’s in a much more profound way than a single player game. 

In a 1p game, you lose 1 person from the released game.. maybe a couple more that this person related their experience of the alpha game to. 

For an MMO, who’s players are a ravenous crowd, they lose entire communities. 

Look at Crowfall. It has a paid alpha… My guild tried it, and thought it was ok. They have tempered expectations from previous hyped games. 
But there are other large communities that have already decided not to play it at launch, because of how it represented itself in an alpha state…. 

But then there is the other side of the coin. What if the alpha/beta is great?
Albion Online is actually shaping up to be a decent game, but my guild have already set up a large presence there, and will be looking for the next game to play before it even launches… 

There is no good outcome to opening the gates early to secure a payday… its the curse of the startup that gets paid by venture capitalists, then de-rails because they have already earned their cash.

dorn2
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dorn2

I disagree that the expectations are “unhealthy”.  Many companies can deliver just fine.  I think as MMO players we’re more aware of the real problem.  The reality that most game companies are fairly poor at actually building a product.

They routinely lack the ability to create by iterating.  They try to do huge things all at once and release it as one big chunk.  Even worse they get caught up worrying about upsetting people with updates.  They start holding everything back and trying to “manage expectations”.  They lose sight of the fact that people easily forgive bad updates when they know a new update is just around the corner.  They start getting hysterical over vocal minority tantrums.  
It all adds up to chronic inability to steadily add stuff to a game and improve it.  The most important aspects of productive creativity are simply out of their reach.  Early access simply exposes this to the public.

Rozyn
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Rozyn

Kenny A All excellent questions, EA brings out the grey areas of development and funding like nothing before.

Kenny A
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Kenny A

While the idea behind the comments is a positive one. I understand the core idea was that funding through Early access shouldn’t be your number one priority, yet I feel there’s something so close to verging on contradictory here.

To clarify:
– Wildcard states they wanted early access to get a larger pool of feedback, not as a means of funding….So….why did they sell early access, and not just have the early access as an open beta? (the only reason I can think of is because they need funding!) If you look on steam store page for Ark – on the answer for “Why Early access”, they explain nothing about why they chose to go early access. They only explain why they’re making a game involving dinosaurs.
– The term “Funding source” is unclear from the Creative Directors point-of-view. He states both “Early Access,[…] isn’t a funding source…” yet is commented stating this “…however, Rapczak explained that raising the money to bring the game to Xbox One and cover development costs for the foreseeable future…”. I get that it’s not supposed to be your priority, but outright saying it isn’t a funding source, while charging people, and using it to fund your game further sounds like it.

– “It should be considered a final release in the sense that you’re on a path to finishing the game and you’re going to get it out there”. I realise this is talking to developers, but how far along do you need to be from that path to justify Early Access? Even the Ark Steam Page is loose on this. “While we have the foundation of our game at Early Access launch, there are many currently-planned features and content additions we will be adding over the year from EA to full release.” So does the Foundation of the game being ready make it worthy of Early Access? Does all it’s main features need to be done before even getting to that stage? Does it need to be already completed 98% with little more features to implement?
Where is the line drawn?

Meh, just my thoughts really.