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.
To sum up, Jim believes that Early Access is often used as an excuse to release an incomplete, buggy mess, and charge for a full release. As a game journalist, I expect him to know what to expect from an Alpha or Beta version of a game, and as a gamer, I’d expect him to understand the value of acquiring such a (until now) rare piece of software. Either not understanding these things or pretending not to, Jim snarks his way through nearly 8 minutes of hating the fact that these in-development games don’t give him a full gameplay experience.
This is fine, because I already didn’t like Jim Sterling. I think (at least lately) that he has a bunch of stupid opinions, and flaunts them as if they are revolutionary ideas. And though I’ve also had my disagreements with YouTube’s TotalBiscuit, I still have a hell of a lot of respect for him. And so it breaks my heart to tell you that TB’s problem with Early Access is even more facepalmingly stupid.
“A long time ago, I think that you could probably have just gone with the idea of ‘caveat emptor’ – let the buyer beware – when it comes to buying incomplete games.”
Yuuuuuuup. Pretty much. Video done, right? All anyone has to do is spend a few minutes on the Internet to learn all about a game prior to purchasing it. Problem solved!
“Now, to some degree, that’s correct.”
Oh boy. Some degree? Strap yourselves in for this one, ladies and gents, we’re about to find out why it’s not your fault for not Googling a game before you buy it!
“However, Early Access is now becoming so prevalent, and is becoming so common in the games industry that I don’t think that something like ‘caveat emptor’ really applies anymore.”
Okay, so far, your argument of how common this is becoming isn’t doing it for me. That should make this less of a problem. The more games that are sold incomplete, the more understanding that consumers will have about what to expect from Early Access games. On what planet does something becoming more common make it less understood?
“Prior to this, when a game went into an Alpha or a Beta and they asked for people to come test it, it was usually free.”
This is still the case for many games, and with good reason: some developers don’t want you to own their Beta game. Are we really comparing an hour-long playtest to a download of a game to your personal computer with free updates through full release? Are these situations that have anything in common other than the state of the game? I’ll drop $30 to own a game over playing it for an hour any day if it’s something I give a shit about.
“How can you criticize a company for releasing something unfinished when the game was marked as unfinished from the very start?”
What a fucking tragic conundrum game critics find themselves in with Early Access. This must be the root of the issue for game journalists: they can’t just apply a single metric of quality to differing degrees of completeness for games. It’s almost as if – and stop me if I’m being unreasonable here – you have to take into consideration that the game isn’t finished when you’re criticizing it.
Is this really a difficult concept for content providers on the fucking Internet to grasp? That things will change, probably quickly, and a game that you criticize might be updated, and your critiques no longer relevant? How ever are we to adapt in such a rapidly changing world? It’s like we’re seeing the next generational gap, and where people today will scoff at gramps for wasting paper reading yesterday’s news in the newspaper every day, new Internet personalities will laugh at how video game reviewers couldn’t handle the injustice of having to weight their criticisms against a rapidly developing game. Given that TotalBiscuit is slightly younger than myself, I have to worry for my own generation seeming so old.
Interestingly, TB criticizes sites that “review” Early Access titles, comparing it to reviewing only the first half of a movie:
“That’s not a review. It’s not a finished product, you didn’t beat the game. There is no game to beat, it’s not even done yet, so what value could there possibly be in that?”
This is the polar opposite of Jim Sterling’s suggestion that Early Access titles should be reviewed as a full release – thankfully. You see, this is why I have much more respect for TB overall. However, he assumes that the main reason for sites calling their Early Access critiques “reviews” is for search engine hits. While I’m sure there is a degree of truth to this, it’s also because there isn’t another word for giving your opinion on an incomplete product. I’m not really certain there needs to be.
Let’s take a look at a definition for the word “review”:
“a formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary.”
I really don’t see anything in there implying that the thing being reviewed must be in an absolute state of completion, or that the review must cover absolutely all of the aspects or content for that thing. So while I completely disagree with Jim Sterling’s idea that Early Access titles should be reviewed as if they were final releases, TB’s semantic argument over whether or not we should be calling them “reviews” is even more petty and absurd.
We expect reviews to include all of a movie because that’s almost always less than a two-hour commitment. And if your review of a movie is only the first half because you were so bored you just couldn’t take it anymore, then I don’t see any harm in writing that and calling it a “review” – your assessment of the movie was that it wasn’t even worth finishing. That’s a totally valid opinion, and one worth sharing. Naturally, you have to be honest about how much of the movie you saw, but so long as you’re giving your opinion, it’s a review.
As a final note on this stupid, semantic argument: so long as Early Access games are “Early Access”, every fucking person reading a “review” understands that they are reading a review of an incomplete product – doubly so when you label it something like “Alpha Review”. It’s not “muddying the waters” because it’s completely transparent what is being reviewed – an incomplete product.
“But, you might cry, they’re in Early Access, they’re allowed to have those kind of problems. Yes, but it’s very dangerous for the uninformed consumer to just go on, see what looks like a cool game, and then just flat out buy it.”
As I’ve said before, no one browsing Early Access games has any fucking reason to be uninformed other than their own incompetence and/or laziness. Sorry that Steam isn’t child-proof; this is the Internet, and the fucking training wheels are off, kids. Every Early Access game is labeled very clearly, and if you don’t know what it means and can’t take an educated guess, and don’t bother to find out, you could spend your money unwisely! You could also buy a pineapple and start biting into it before cutting it up because it had no warning label on it. If you go through life dropping cash on things before taking 10 seconds to find out what the fuck it is, you had no right to that money in the first place. There could not be a more obvious application of ‘caveat emptor’. Half of the fucking full releases on Steam only have pre-rendered cinematics for their videos, and no gameplay on their page. How ever are you to make an educated decision if you don’t look outside of the store page for ANY game? This problem is far from specific to Early Access, and it’s expected of you to know how Google works before buying games on Steam. That’s pretty fucking fair.
TB then goes on to talk about how any given gaming site can’t keep up with every patch that developers release for their game, and so anything in their “review” might have been changed by the time anyone sees it. Now, that’s quite true, but I really want him to understand one very important thing: calling it a “first impressions” or a “preview” doesn’t do a fucking thing to help that. Your “preview” can get outdated just as quickly as your “review”. And that’s why your semantic argument over the word is complete shit.
“These games are in a constant state of flux, and the only information you should be looking at is the most up-to-date information that you can possibly find when looking to purchase these titles. And unfortunately, that information is not found on the Steam page.”
Like most games, the main page for Early Access games is a quick look – a short overview. It’s not a detailed analysis of the entire fucking game. We don’t expect that from full releases, so get the fuck out of here with complaining that Early Access titles don’t have it. TB specifically calls out how vague the developers of Rust are with their Early Access disclaimer. Here is the disclaimer:
“We are in very early development. Some things work, some things don’t. We haven’t totally decided where the game is headed – so things will change. Things will change a lot. We might even make changes that you think are wrong. But we have a plan. It’s in our interest to make the game awesome – so please trust us.”
And here’s what TB had to say about it:
“This doesn’t tell me anything. This big blue box… is, more often than not, filled with flat promises and vague nonsense. This information is flat out useless to me. You haven’t told me anything.”
Really? Because I’m pretty sure they just perfectly described the state of the game. That mentally-challenged example consumer you were talking about – who is completely uneducated about their purchases? They have a paragraph right in front of their fucking face telling them that the game is incomplete and will change a lot. That is the exact “buyer beware” sticker you demanded be ever so present. And yet here you are bitching that now that’s not good enough.
There is, as TB points out, a “Recent updates” section on the page, with notes from the developer, as often as they feel the need to post them. So is that good enough?
OF COURSE NOT.
“A lot of this information is really only useful in the context of someone that already owns the game. I couldn’t tell you what the effects of these changes actually are for the most part.”
So now not only is a flat out disclaimer telling you that the game is incomplete not good enough, updates describing recent changes are also useless. You don’t want patch notes, you want the developer to post a full fucking review every time they patch the game. That’s not practical for anyone, as you yourself stated, but least of all for the developers, who are busy making the fucking game.
“What would be helpful is information as to how complete actually is, and major features that are missing.”
Spoken like a producer. How “complete” a game is would be horribly misleading, as most of development time is spent in the last 10% of “completion” for a game. And as for major features, well you don’t seem to be able to comprehend how updates affect the gameplay of a game, since you don’t own it, so how could you possibly know how important specific features are? What good would it do you to know that the stealth system isn’t in place in 7 Days to Die if you have no idea how important that feature is? You are told that the game is incomplete, and if you’re willing to spend a minute or two listening to some opinions on it, they are always right at your fingertips. But TB’s argument is based on the consumer who would sooner hit a “Purchase” button on Steam than type a title into Google, much less organize by date to get the latest information, and that’s why it’s so stupid.
“The problem with Early Access is that it brings in funding for an incomplete product, and that means that you do not actually have to finish the game in order to get paid for it.”
Technically true, but so fucking what? If you back a game on Kickstarter, you could get absolutely nothing for your money. Developers can get money on Kickstarter before they even begin development – let alone finish. But virtually all developers at least make a serious effort to complete their games. Why? Because they know that if they don’t, no one will ever trust them again, and they’ll never sell another game. How does the same principle not apply to Early Access, where you’re at least getting an Alpha build of the game right away?
And what constitutes “done”, anyway? A lot of these games are sandbox or multiplayer-focused titles, with no story or campaign to complete. Minecraft was in Alpha and Beta for years, it didn’t really matter that the game wasn’t “finished” as the developers eventually considered it. Mostly because when it comes to games like that, even the developers don’t know what they’ll eventually settle on when it comes to features, visuals, etc. Rust specifically says on their Early Access page “We haven’t totally decided where the game is headed”. And you want them to give you a breakdown of the percentages of completeness that features are at? How about they spend their time developing the game rather than updating every detail of their Steam page?
TB then goes on to claim that, unlike full releases, developers can claim that all of the problems with the game are due to the fact that it’s in Alpha or Beta. Well, first of all, that certainly doesn’t apply to design decisions, but other than that, so what? TB has covered Beta versions of games at shows, and specifically states that it may not be representative of the final product, which it totally fair. The only difference in this case is that people can buy that Beta. Considering TB himself doesn’t do “reviews”, he’s full of shit with this excuse – cover Early Access games the same way you would any other Beta. Of course it’s not representative of the final product, because there is no final product yet, but by watching a video, a viewer can get a pretty good idea as to whether or not the current state of the game is worth the price of admission for them. That’s the system working. And it’s really not that difficult to find the most recent of these videos by searching on YouTube. The problem that TB has with this idea, I would imagine, is that his video won’t be the most recent for long. Well too fucking bad. You know damn well that most of your search hits would come in the first few weeks anyway, and from there, you either make an updated video or move on to the next Early Access game that everyone wants to see. That’s how it works with full releases already. It’s not really that different. This is a fake problem.
“A game should not be able to languish in Early Access for 5 years, continuing to generate revenue, all the while excuses being made that ‘hey, it’ll be fixed eventually. You can’t criticize us because we’re not out yet, even though we’re charging money for it.'”
…where do you even come up with this shit? A) Who the fuck would ever say that they can’t be criticized for the product they are selling, regardless of how early in development it is, and B) who the fuck would accept that even if they did?
If a game were in Early Access for 5 years, and there was a problem that never got fixed, YouTubers would be blasting the shit out of it, and even if the company were stupid enough to whine about that, they can’t do a fucking thing about it. Critics will still complain, and anyone stupid enough to join the developers in claiming that your criticism wasn’t fair would be doing the same fucking thing if the game was fully released. It’s not as different as you persistently claim that it is, and you’re making a huge, fake problem out of it.
TB then poses a question to the audience, which I figure I might as well address:
“If you have limited funds, and you can only buy a certain number of games – which would be, you know, everyone on the planet – why on Earth would you invest money in games that aren’t done yet, versus buying one that is?”
I really don’t think I’m being unfair here by saying that this is an incredibly stupid question. I ask you back, TB: why would you buy a raw steak when you could buy a fully-cooked chicken dinner?
The completeness of a game is not remotely the sole metric by which I judge what is worth my money and what isn’t. If I buy Rust on Early Access (which I am almost sure to do in the near future), it’s because it appears to offer – even it its early state – something that no complete title does right now. I mean seriously, I get that there are plenty of games out there, but of all people, how can you just treat all games as the same, and act like there’s no reason to buy an Alpha of one game when there are other complete games that are, I suppose, vaguely similar? I would recommend the Alpha of Starbound well before Terraria, regardless of how similar they are. What the fuck difference does it make that one is “complete”? It’s even more comically absurd when you consider the size of the patches that Terraria has had, even pretty recently. Terraria might as well have been in Early Access, had something like that existed at the time, given how different it is than the initially released version. But who is complaining that their old Terraria videos are just so out of date and innaccurate, and the developers are jerks for making so many revisions to their game? Fucking. No. One.
TB makes the point that Early Access games are bogging down the front page of Steam, and that you should be able to filter them out, the same way that you’re able to with downloadable content.
I agree completely. Let’s petition for that as hard as we can. I’d give that point a lot more credit if it weren’t buried 23 minutes into a 27-minute rant of bullshit whining for no good reason. Talk about having good visibility; one of the best points you make in the entire fucking video is one few people will ever bother to hear because you’ve loaded so much nonsense in front of it.
“Getting involved in Alphas is a really cool thing. It’s great that we gain unprecedented levels of access to titles that aren’t out yet.”
NOW YOU GET ALL POSITIVE ABOUT GETTING TO PLAY ALPHA BUILDS?
I’m getting a bit of whiplash, even if your positivity does come with the caveat that it opens up a lot of avenues for exploitation. Which, sure, it does. So do many things. And the best you can do is try to inform people when those things happen. But that’s not what this video is doing. You’re not informing anyone of anything, other than the fact that you’re grumpy about the fact that some people want to pay for unfinished games. Yes, some of those people are going to complain about how broken the game is because they didn’t bother to inform themselves. Those same people would probably just buy something else without looking into it, and be disappointed in a full release just the same. You can’t stop stupidity, and you can’t idiot-proof everything on the internet.
And yes, some developers or publishers may exploit the system. They’ll be bashed on the internet, and everyone other than the imbeciles mentioned above will avoid it. Sorry, what was the problem again?
“…while I might have claimed at the start of this video that ‘caveat emptor’ no longer applies, right now, it’s actually the most important thing.”
And we have reached the end of the video, in which TB does a complete 180 on nearly every single thing he said for the past 27 minutes. No, seriously, go through every one of the quotes complaining about Early Access, and tell me that they aren’t all solved by having half a fucking brain and doing a few seconds of research on a game before dropping your hard earned cash on an Alpha or Beta. It’s not difficult, kids. You can jump into buying a full release of a game just like you can an Early Access title. The only difference is that you’ll have to add a few seconds into your search to find the most recent information.
It’s not as if the internet just forgets about your game, and everyone in the world will stop playing and writing about it – unless it’s fucking horrible, in which case the most up-to-date information you’ll get is that it’s horrible.
And that’s maybe the most important point about TB’s issue of information getting out of date. What’s the real harm? You read old information, and what? Most likely, the problems people had with the game are fixed, and so it’s better? What are the chances that the things you liked about the old state of the game were removed, and it’s worse? I know it’s theoretically possible, but what are the odds, really? You only get old information if you’re too lazy to find something recent, and despite TB’s insistence for having a complete breakdown of features and completeness, you don’t need to know absolutely everything about a game to decide whether or not it’s worth your purchase.
TL;DR: Go to http://www.youtube.com, search “Rust Early Access”, Filters->Sort by->Upload date
BAM! You are informed with the most up-to-date information on an Early Access title, and are able to make an educated decision about your purchase. Congratulations, you’re not the most completely hopeless fucktard in the entire world! Go forth, and godspeed.
And I’m sorry this was the longest thing ever. I’m hungry, so I’m also suffering as a result of my extensive rambling.