The term “Development Hell” has plagued gaming history for decades. Many incredible game-projects have never seen the light of screen because matters of financing and dispute over intellectual properties have bogged them down to the point where it’s no longer an option to release them. The modern method of circumventing this issue is to release a game to the public while it is still incomplete, under the premise of releasing content for free to those who have already paid.
It’s yet another business model that Minecraft popularized, access to the flat-world alpha version started that popularity train and started money feeding into what would become the modern standard sandbox-survival master-crafter and of course genre-spawner. It extended the lifespan of a project that could have died very early in its’ development because of its’ sheer size and complexity.
It also allowed Minecraft to stay in development for many years, in fact it had a convention and a product range to its’ name before boxes even appeared on shelves. Mojang were doing so well before the official release of Minecraft that they had even begun work on their trading card game Scrolls.
A lot of people have justifiable concerns that the method could be exploited to make a great deal of money on a game that may never actually be completed. For example, Grim Dawn when I first purchased it was around £17.99 for a single act of narrative, a dozen or so enemy types and very little by way of original features. Since then two acts have been added, as have a great many aspects of gameplay that are building to a very complex and interesting hack-and-slash, but the game remains in development three full years after its successful Kickstarter Campaign.
Games like these are changing the nature of the industry, and how funding can be found, directly from those people who would be interested in playing them rather than publishers who only speculate on the market’s wants and desires. It’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing. Publishers have a certain resilience against the financial sink-holes that development hell creates, and often a studio will get another chance, or an idea will be remolded and repurposed into something new and possibly improved. Our money is somewhat less secure, and if a studio fails to deliver on an early access game or Kickstarter, we’ve invested money and have nothing to show for it, or something subpar and not worth what we put up for it.
Lego Worlds is also in early access, adding one of the worlds biggest manufacturers in entertainment to the list of mainstream publishers making use of the new format of funding. It’s a future that comes with incredible risks to the consumer, but also offers the opportunity of a future without Starcraft Ghost, the proeject we all wanted that never happened; or Duke Nukem Forever, which sadly happened.
A game staying eternally in development comes with its’ own challenges, no piece of art, or any other major project is ever truly finished, as anyone who has ever written a book to completion will tell… anyone who’ll listen. Even when a project successfully makes it from beginning to end it can always be tweaked somewhere in the middle, and again, and again, until it’s something unrecognizable. It’s a difficult skill to master, knowing when to stop, but when your art is your business, then you have a problem.
The short version of what I’m rambling my way around is that I don’ know what to make of the “Early Access” phenomenon and its’ inherent risks and complexities. The industry is changing, but is it for the better, or just for the different? Talk to me in the comments or on Facebook! You can also share your opinion on Twitter, where Tim will tell me what you think…