A video from the Extra credits team that i hadn’t seen until recently and seems rather apt at the moment. It’s an episode that looks at the issues with early access games and in times like this I found myself nodding to a lot of the points, having experienced and being worried about them.
As they mention there are benefits. That early influx of money can be very helpful for developers as can getting in a number of people that have no prior knowledge to actually test the product. This can help after the close work of development as many issues can be often overlooked. It’s also nice when these companies really do take community ideas and thoughts into practice, and incorporate these within the games. Games like project zomboid that I’ve been following have actively done this, even incorporated mods within the game and it makes it feel like that much more of an involved and inclusive process.
The problems are rather numerous too, the main of course being that you may never receive a completed game which has happened a few times. From small and larger studios. It’s also a disease that has seemingly spread amongst the bigger publishers now who ask for, basically, an extremely early preorder with a constant side order of “but it’s in beta”. However for smaller, mostly single player titles I see it as a good thing. It’s just when you enter the multiplayer, and especially the MMO scene that I feel the issues far outweigh any supposed benefits.
I think the greatest issue facing early acces style mmo’s right now is retention. Your spreading the hype and the active player base along a rather large time frame and it’s quite obvious that not everyone will continue to stick around until some supposed release. It ends up basically fracturing the playerbase into parts based on when you played which has an effect on the overall feeling of the world. Without the buzz and focused playerbase of a release it mostly feels rather barren at times, and of course loses out on the main draw of an mmo. What’s the point of playing if there isn’t many to play with.
MMO’s live and breath based on this retention. They need a constant influx of funds to continue development and cover overhead and investors and publishers want a lot extra for themselves. Players will often stick around when it is busy but with this fracture of groups it seems this no longer lasts as long. Some don’t want to pay and some no longer what an alpha, and so the initial playerbase is smaller. Then you get eventual release and by then large parts of the community have often stagnated. Burn out has hit a few, some just left from lack of development, others might periodically pop in without any real purpose, and of course you end up with less people on release and less enthusiastic early adopters as well.
I’ve seen some seemingly great multiplayer games like secret Ponchos suffer from this quite badly as you end up a smaller population and as people go in to check on a title they see a mostly empty game, the inability to pick up matches and then just log out rather quickly. This effect is exponential: people can’t play properly and don’t have fun, they log in less, other people then come in and see the same. The playerbase logs in less, and less until it’s a ghost town. It’s a sad ending really.
First impressions do last. This can be like the example above and the idea that no one plays the game or it can be like what is happening to H1Z1 right now. It is getting known for a game that is buggy and filled with hackers. This image will persist regardless of the “Early Access” tag well into the future to inform potential players.
Even in situations like Landmark when you have a lack of mechanics, features and gameplay this idea and image of the game will persist to inform new players. It then has the effect of making people leave rather early in the development cycle with a bad image of the game that they will and do spread. Or it might just end in another customer that leaves and never comes back.
Even the core group of players are subject to that. The hardcore ones that write guides, engage on the forums, are active in game, run guilds, or even write blogs can often burn out before release and this has an affect too. There will be less community buzz and less word of mouth about the game. Less guides and resources for many to fall back on an less engagement amongst the various media forms.
The Hype machine for these games can only do so much over so long a time before it just becomes little more than white noise amongst the rest of the gaming news. We just become numb to it. Who the hell cares about landmark now… really? Even the big recent update that fleshed out caves further, brought in monsters and gear and combat as well as a few more integral mechanics was mostly forgotten. These are the things I was expecting far earlier in the experience and then because they were missing, forgot about it and went off elsewhere… never to return.
This all hurts how long an mmo will last. You need that larger player base to begin with. You need a focused and active player base during a more narrow release schedule. It isn’t something you can abuse and expect no consequences. Getting some money early on is great but you also want it to be semi-constant throughout in order to pay overhead and continue development. You just want people all playing together, or beware.
My other quick question about this is, what kind of people are actually getting involved?
Do we really want the most hardcore, the ones that will pony up the money early on and be excited about posting theories, and ideas, and bug reports to be the ones controlling the direction of the conversation around the game? The have a certain set image that will always persist. They are buying into with an already positive view when it is times like this you want more criticism. I would think getting the a better cross section of the interested playerbase in ways like beta giveaways would far more beneficial. A great diversity in the ideas that are presented and the communal discussion is a very good thing and mostly helps to keep that echo chamber in check, that can and does ruin games.
I keep buying into this cycle as well so I’m not blaming anyone. Indie games and kickstarter is a little different in my mind. They’re usually products with a more manageable vision and one that mostly doesn’t rely on other players for the majority of your fun. MMO’s or multiplayer games on the other hand do and I’m trying to remedy that within my own play now. I haven’t played the Repopulation in a bit just because it is an Alpha, there will be wipes and improvement to the game and now I’m thinking of just saving my excitement for release.
I’ll probably still continue to support worthy projects though, even budding niche mmo’s but whether I actually play them in that state from now on is a harder question to answer.