When is a release, not a release?

I am, what is known as a seasoned gamer, i.e. old, I come from a time when DLC didn’t exist and micro transaction hadn’t even been invented. Games had a release date, and apart from a few minor delays they generally came on on time, and they worked! I know a lot of you are reading this and nodding in agreement, but there are a bunch of people who can only imagine what it is like to buy a complete, working, game that requires no further investment.

 

This isnt a piece that criticises the free to play model, judges micro transactions, or looks at how DLC is affecting games. I actually think that in the right circumstances all these models work really well. Instead, I will be looking at the recent trend of games entering closed beta’s, paid beta’s, early access and everything in between.

Early Access

 

I remember going to pick up a copy of any gaming magazine to read about the latest upcoming release, pouring over every detail in anticipation. Looking at every screenshot with intense scrutiny, trying to guess what gameplay features would be included. Usually toward the end of the article would be a little box which set out the release date for the game. This date would be ingrained in my very conscious. Between now and then, you would get fed snippets of information that would keep you on the edge of your seat.

 

Perhaps its only right that with nearly every household having access to the internet that release dates become less important. The need to build anticipation is now secondary to shaping a game directly around its users feedback. Developers are no longer dependant on waiting for monthly magazine releases, instead they can push their content directly to the user. This means developers no longer need to provide gamers with a complete product, instead they can sell a development build often with the proviso of being able to help shape the development cycle. In some instances this is free, but in an alarmingly rising number of cases its often behind a paywall.

 LotroStore

The ‘open beta, early access, closed beta, alpha testing or not finished’ game has some real advantages to both players and developers alike. Players get to try a game they are interested in, often at a heavily discounted price or in some cases free, and iron out any bugs, help the developer with features or simply see if the game is for them or not. These ‘not finished’ games also get the added benefit of getting free publicity, where NDA’s don’t exist, as the community discusses the game on social media and other outlets. The developer gets a nice injection of cash which is particularly important to the smaller indie devs, it can in some circumstances be the difference between closing and continuing. I myself own many different early access games.


Now comes the hard part, I can’t quantify what i am going to say with facts and figures its just the way I feel about games and the gaming industry. It feels like by the time games actually come out nobody actually cares about them any more. Thats if they even come out at all, I have a  significant number of games on steam that have no updates in a long time, not to mention all the kick starter failures. Despite how many times the developer tells you, that it isn’t representative of the final product your ongoing impressions are going to shape how you view and play the game. A recent example is the Battlefield Hardline beta, which I recently participated in, despite only playing one map for a few hours it has made me cancel my pre-order of the game (yes people still pre-order). Maybe this says more about me a gamer, than the gaming industry itself, I would love to hear your thoughts?

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