Angry Shouty Rant: Early Access (Part 1)

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned this week, it’s that British people hate Steam’s Early Access.

And just like the last Angry Shouty Rant, we go right to none other than Escapist darling Jim Sterling.

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Hating on something Jim Sterling writes is a lot easier than hating on one of his videos; the accent, the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous tone, and of course the patented British snark all come together to make something easily likable. Unfortunately, Jim’s vapid excuse for content has removed the wool from my eyes, and it’s gotten to the point where I groan in annoyance before he even begins. The target for his attempt at relevant dialogue this time was Steam’s Early Access.

Jim begins by ranting about how released games are becoming less and less complete at launch.

“The concept of releasing early and then offering DLC updates to plug in missing features is dismayingly growing in popularity (even if they are free most of the time) and seems to be becoming more acceptable.”

This would be a great segway into the apparent need for the Early Access model – why not just release an Alpha or Beta of your game for a reduced price, start generating revenue, and release updates for those early adopters? It’s effectively what’s happening already; putting the game on Early Access simply makes it more honest: you’re admitting that the game is unfinished, but if people want to support development and/or are impatient to get started with the game, go ahead and buy this early version and get free updates. What could anyone possibly see wrong with making incomplete releases more transparent?

“Early Access games are becoming alarmingly common on Steam, where Alpha build-quality can be spat up on the store and charged the price of a finished product.”

Only on Steam could $29.99 be considered the price of a full release. At the time of writing, there are 2 games with a $59.99 price tag on Early Access: Wasteland 2 Digital Deluxe Edition, and Planetary Annihilation – both of which (GO FUCKING FIGURE) are Kickstarter games that got millions of dollars. And I’d bet my left ass cheek that the reason that they’re so expensive, even at this early stage, is because their Kickstarter rewards for Beta access were $55 and $40, respectively, and if people could get access now for that same price, backers would lose their proverbial shit – and rightfully so.

Regardless, no other games on Early Access carry that hefty price tag, so complaining that you’re paying “the price of a finished product” is utter shit, unless you somehow know what the price will eventually be upon full release. But, much more importantly, you are paying to own a game at an early stage – a privilege for which many gamers would pay top fucking dollar. We live in a time when many people view being the first to comment on something on the internet as a badge of honor. If we don’t have to wait for something, we won’t. Sure, many gamers want (or worse, expect) a complete, bug-free experience from Alpha and Beta builds of games, but guess whose fucking problem that is. If you spray Lysol in your mouth as a breath freshener because you didn’t read the warning label that it was toxic, you get what you deserve. We should be holding consumers responsible for common fucking sense and reading comprehension, not yelling at developers and publishers because people can’t be bothered to understand what they’re buying when it’s written right in front of their fucking faces.

“…some of those games are inexcusably incomplete, like 7 Days to Die – a game with a ton of promise, don’t get me wrong, but it’s absolutely got no right to charge $34.99 in its current state.”

No, Jim, you have absolutely no right to try and objectively decide what something is worth. Even if the full release of the game ends up costing the same $34.99, those early adopters effectively got free beta access – a privilege for which many, many Kickstarter games charge extra. Having the game early balances out the incompleteness of the game for many people, or even makes it worth more, for a variety of reasons you don’t seem to comprehend, or at least refuse to acknowledge.

“If you bought a game on XBOX One of PS4 for $30 and it was this incomplete, you’d be furious, and rightly so.”

Yeah, which could not be more fucking different than going to Steam’s Early Access page and buying what is thrown in your face to be an incomplete game. You might as well be comparing buying a house to buying a plot of land because you didn’t understand that a house wasn’t built on it yet. If you view purchasing a console release with getting an Early Access game as being comparable situations, you’re already too stupid to be on the Early Access page to begin with. Instead of an age verification, I suppose the Early Access page should ask your for your IQ, and if you’re too stupid to lie about how low it is, you’re denied purchasing any Early Access titles.

There’s a reason that this movement is happening on PC and not a console: PC gamers as a whole have a much greater understanding of the technical aspects of their games, and a much greater percentage are very willing to put up with bugs and incompleteness for an otherwise great experience. And more often than not, someone has come up with a fix for your problem, and has released it for free – something impossible on consoles right now. A console game is sold as-is, and there’s almost nothing to be done about it in the vast majority of cases. PC games have solutions in nearly all cases. The only people without this understanding are console players who only touch a PC for their e-mail and Facebook, and they won’t be browsing Early Access titles any time soon. So get the fuck out of here with your bullshit false analogy.

“I would say, however, this is exactly why YouTube and other video mediums are becoming more and more crucial.”

Holy Santa Claus shit, something we agree on. So long as you have the ability to type the title of any game into YouTube and see what at least dozens of other people think of it, you have no excuse to jump into an Early Access game uneducated. And with the frequency with which YouTube videos are uploaded, you’ll constantly be up to date on looks into the latest builds of any game, and jump in when you feel it’s worth your money.

“It’s why I think if a game goes on Early Access, it should be reviewed by critics as if it were a finished title – not “when it’s ready”.”

God fucking damnit, Jim. You were so close to being reasonable for a second. Yes, Early Access games should absolutely be “reviewed” in some way, shape, or form. But you’re suggesting that just because some people want to pay for the privilege of playing an Alpha or Beta of a game (which until this point was unheard of for the common consumer) that it should be treated by critics as a full release. That’s fucking insane. Warning gamers of missing features is one thing, holding an Alpha-stage game to the standards of a finished product is plain idiotic.

Jim goes on to compare Early Access games to his “filler” episodes, which are just quick, thrown together videos released when he doesn’t have the time to put together a full episode. In what I can only imagine is an intentional misunderstanding of the Internet, Jim warns that if people complain about not getting a real episode of his show for free, then they should by no means be paying $30 for buggy, unfinished games.

Jimbo, people on the Internet complain. It’s what they do. It’s what you’re doing. Other people having Early Access games isn’t costing you money – in fact, quite the opposite, as you’re making money by bitching about them right now. But here you are complaining about the fact that developers and publishers are releasing incomplete games because gamers want to pay for them. And no, this isn’t happening because of the “patch it after release” mentality; publishers could have gone on claiming that their game is “finished” and charging $60 all they damn well pleased until they pushed it so far that people stopped buying into it. This model started because everyone realized that if games on Kickstarter can get money promising Alpha or Beta access several months from when they charge their customers (backers), they would obviously be willing to pay at least as much for instant early access to a game that exists right now.

It’s the simplest case of supply and demand. Publishers didn’t come up with this model, and push everyone into it. Consumers clearly voiced their desire for access to games as early as they can get it. Sure, some companies are going to take advantage of this system, and there will be missteps made in this brave new world of “a Beta for everyone”. But buggy, unfinished releases is what Early Access is all about. And if you feel the need to warn people who are too incompetent to read that they might not be getting what they think, then go right ahead. But don’t complain about Early Access because the games are incomplete, because that’s the whole point of the system, you fucking dolt.

For Jim Sterling, it’s as simple as “I put my money in, so I judge what immediately comes out”. But Early Access is a privilege for many gamers. Maybe it means you get to see features evolving throughout development – something most non-developers have never been able to witness. Maybe it means you see funny glitches that are only there for a short time, and you are among the few who got to see it for themselves. Maybe it even means that you have a say in what happens to a feature through the game’s forums. Or maybe it just means that you can get your grubby little paws on a game right away and have some fun, even if it comes with some caveats. There are a ton of reasons to get Alpha or Beta access to a game, and none of them are “I expect a complete product with everything the developers have promised for the full release”. But here’s a nearly eight-minute video complaining that most of the games are buggy and incomplete, and that consumers won’t understand what they’re getting into. Jim Sterling either is incredibly stupid, thinks you are, or both.

Keep in mind, this is the same asshole who claimed that Kickstarter backers were making donations and not preorders. Basically, with regards to Kickstarter, Jim Sterling’s point of view is that you are throwing away money with no guarantee that you’ll ever see anything for it. But when it comes to Early Access, where you’re guaranteed Alpha or Beta access right away, developers and publishers are conspiring against you to steal all your money and never finish their game. Of the two models, you’re much more likely to get your money’s worth from Early Access, but because the Beta of a game might not be everything you want in a full release, Jim has to go on a scare tactics rampage about the giant conspiracy that is Beta releases. I’m as baffled by the fact that anyone listens to Jim Sterling as I am that anyone takes Bill O’Reilly seriously. The bizarro worlds they live in leave no room for common sense or facts.

I was planning on going over TotalBiscuit’s rant as well, but this post is already way too fucking long, so this will just have to be a two-parter. Tune in wheneverthefuck for my rant against someone I actually otherwise have some respect for.

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4 thoughts on “Angry Shouty Rant: Early Access (Part 1)

  1. Eric says:

    I’ve never watched any of Jim’s stuff but this is pretty fucking spot on. I *have* seen some TotalBiscuit but don’t know his particular stance on this, would enjoy another rant breakdown.

    As a low-level backer of Wasteland 2 I can verify the high cost was due to not screwing over the beta backers and it looks like it will be going down for launch.

    It seems Early Access has been largely a success in developer-player relations and while I rolled my eyes when it launched I’ve since found it to be ‘a good thing’ regardless of a few bumps in the road (example being Might & Magic X giving no real early access beyond a glorified tutorial, but it’s Ubisoft so we should have known better.)

  2. […] Last time on Angry Shouty Rant, I had my disagreements with Jim Sterling’s video criticizing Steam’s Early Access. It’s not that I don’t believe that there are issues with Early Access, I just think that Jim’s specific issues with it were complete nonsense. […]

  3. I have worked with snide business managers for 25 years and these shits don’t care about anything but profit. With games now the largest media money maker the vultures are well and truly looking at games to make their money. If a company can maximize profit by “selling” a product they do not need to actual have to deliver they will.

    Your naive assumption is the honesty and integrity of game companies. You assume that they are all trying to make a game and that investors “know the risks”. Early access may well be what it says on the tin – but to a shareholder – why finish it if the money is already in?

    I think you are missing a very important point. This is not an issue of complaining about early access being unsatisfactory (as a game is a bit crap as it’s not finished)
    it’s about the very real likelihood that game companies are selling early release without any intention of ever completing the game. Many are owned by film/music companies who have being doing that for over half a century.

    Early access is for the independents a nice idea that is rapidly becoming a scam. And a legal one.

    • davidgaames says:

      Where was it that you got the impression that I was saying all Early Access publishers have the best intentions for their fans? I even specifically point out that some companies will take advantage of the system. I think the answer is in between your opinion that no one will have incentive to ever finish their game, and the naive assumption you assigned to me that all companies want to be your best friend and give you the best gaming experience of your life even if it won’t make them any more money.

      After all, by your logic, no Kickstarter game would ever be released. With money already in hand, why wouldn’t they just move on to their next scam? Two reasons: one, the greedy reason – the more press it gets, the more people know to never trust you. And forget scamming anyone again, even if you do make a game, people won’t buy it. Second, the benevolent reason – these people (for the most part) want to make great games. Yes, publishers look at nothing more than a bottom line. That’s why developers want them out of the picture, which is why things like Kickstarter and Greenlight have been popping up. Most indie devs want to make a living, sure, but they also want to be great at what they do. Most aren’t by a long shot, and that’s why, most of the time, Kickstarter games fail out of incompetence more than anything else.

      My point wasn’t that Early Access is great and will never do you wrong. It was that with a little bit of research, Early Access can be a great way to support developers and get alpha or beta access to a game. And to point out the hypocrisy in Jim’s argument with respect to his stance on Kickstarter, where you pay money assuming that nothing will come of it. Kickstarter isn’t the model video games should use; Early Access is. Because if a developer can’t even get enough of their game done for Early Access so people can try it out and give feedback (a claim developers use for why Kickstarter is so great), then they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing yet, and you shouldn’t be pouring your money into something before it even gets started. Early Access is better than Kickstarter in every way, and I’m sick of people praising the latter while damning the former.

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