Gaming Gossip: Episode 12 - Is Early Access good for gamers?

We tackle the age old debate of Early Access in this week's show, where we discuss if it's beneficial for consumers, how it should be used to be effective, and also touch on some of our personal gripes with the format.

Audio transcription

"Hello everyone and welcome back to what I think is actually our 12th episode of Gaming Gossip.
As you can tell, we're doing things a little bit differently.
We've upgraded our setup and, well, we're all going to be looking a little bit different, you know."

"Less room to play with, you can't see my arms as much because there's less room for me to fiddle around and stuff, but my face is bigger, as is Dav's, as is Alex's.
We're going vertical essentially.
Yeah, today the topic isn't going vertical though, believe it or not."

"The topic is actually, we're going to be talking about Early Access actually because it's a very volatile subject.
It's mainly the topic of conversation lately because No Rest for the Wicked has just debuted and that is obviously arriving as an Early Access first project.
But there's been a variety of Early Access games and it begs the question, you know, where do we draw the line?
Is Early Access good?
We're answering all these questions and more in the latest episodes."

"So, let's crack on. Alex, Dav, pleasure as always.
What do we think? Early Access, is it good for games or not?
Sorry, Dav, you go first.
I am here to talk about verticality, so go ahead, Alex."

"I don't know, I was going to start with my usual of like, as with many things in this very subjective industry, it really depends.
Like, you've had some of the best games of given years start out in Early Access, like Hades, Baldur's Gate 3.
They were in Early Access for years before they finally made their debut and they wouldn't have been as good as they are without player feedback."

"And yet, at the same time, should you use players as your test subjects for the foreseeable future until you manage to get a game fully polished?
I don't know, it's also a way that we get people to play games before they release because usually games take really long times nowadays."

"I'm using my hands a lot because, a little behind the curtain pull here, my vertical is not going to probably be as effective as Dav's and Dan's, but the point is, I usually veer towards, it's not great to see something come out in Early Access, but it depends if it's like a little taster, like Hades for example, and you would get bit by bit of the entire game to play and you would get to see it unlock and you'd get to see it unravel and then you get the 1.0 launch, which is obviously like really, really good."

"And then the people who've toiled through the rest of it, they get their little sort of thing of like, I was a part of that build or whatever.
Otherwise, I don't know, I don't think it's really like a great way to use your player base.
It feels like they're being used more than they're being treated."

"Yeah, I think it all depends on price personally and the sort of value out of what you're getting for that price as well because there are some Early Access games that come out and you're like, okay, this is quite a lot of content for what we're seeing at this stage of development and you feel quite comfortable with it."

"At the same time though, there are other ones that come out into Early Access where you think like it's an excuse to release the game really because it's not ready to even be in the hands of fans at the moment and yet you're asking people to pay to get access to the experience."

"So I think it all depends on the price bracket they're looking for and also the quality of said product as well.
Again, it's a topic that it's probably more beneficial to indie developers who use Early Access as a way to also get additional funding to be able to continue and produce the game that they want."

"But at the same time, we have seen sort of big developers do it.
I mean, Baldur's Gate is obviously the big one, right?
That was in Early Access for a long while and Larian used that process really well."

"The end product was remarkable.
But at the same time, if that became the trend going forward, the developers launched in Early Access, sort of fiddled with the game for years and then finally debuted it as a full product, I think that we'd see a lot more of a backlash with it."

"Yeah, I think it's very subjective.
I personally would prefer that Early Access didn't exist, especially from the standpoint of a critic where we have to sort of dance around this sort of thing."

"Do we review Early Access games or do we preview them?
Are they finished products that we give them a score with?
No, they're not finished products, we can't score them.
But at the same time, people are paying for these games, so surely we have to treat them as a full product."

"It's a whole can of worms that makes things difficult.
But it works.
It works sometimes and sometimes people really...
I mean, it's fun for them to spend time like..."

"In a way, yeah, they're not being treated, they're being used, as Alex said, but at the same time, they feel part of the process and they feel like they're adding to the final stage of development."

"Well, final. Well, sometimes it's for years, right?
But you brought up a bunch of interesting points.
I think there is also something to how limited it is in terms of platforms and genres."

"So this is mostly a PC thing.
Of course, we've seen Early Access games on consoles and perhaps they weren't called Early Access at first, but we had Sea of Thieves, for example, or Grounded."

"So mostly on Xbox and recently on PlayStation as well.
And then they are also limited in terms of genres.
We mostly see RPGs, survival games.
I think it's mostly about survival games, all the systems that have to work together, etc."

"And then roguelites and roguelites, right?
But mostly, yeah, as long as you have some multiplayer aspect to it as well, because it really depends on how players interact with all these systems and then you want to tweak them during the process."

"And we've talked a little bit about this with live service games in the past at Gaming Gossip.
But I think I expected this to be wider and broader when we all started talking about Early Access."

"I think it was 2014, 2015, something like that.
I expected this to be more used, and to be more used with consoles and console manufacturers and first-party games and different genres, for example, social sims or simulators or games where you can build your own stuff."

"I would appreciate that model to be part of the final stage of development of those games.
I think it would make sense.
Even fighting games where you have to balance all little tweaks to make the game fair and to make people enjoy more."

"So, yeah, as you said, some companies use it as a way to use users in a way.
But I think they could really apply this model to some interesting project.
And they are actually not because they want to be in control and they don't want any feedback, any backlash before release."

"So I think there is a lot of communication and marketing into that as well.
So I expected this to be something else, but it's pretty much the same, if you know what I mean.
I do think it's fascinating."

"Some people like being used.
Yeah, true.
Some people like it.
No, carry on, Alex.
I was just going to say, sometimes you'll even want to, you know, I'm a big Warhammer, Darktide, Vermintide guy."

"And even just being able to sit at Gamescom, for example, and I had a 10-minute spare.
So they were like, do you want to play a level with us and tell us about what you think about this whole new class system that they're doing?
And being able to sit there and chat one-to-one."

"It's something that you get even a fraction of that with just being able to send off a message to a forum or something like that.
It does feel like, okay, you're part of the process."

"They might not ever listen because they probably shouldn't because usually the criticism is good, but the ideas in place of it are bad in any media, really.
So someone being like, oh, yeah, you shouldn't have this much damage on this."

"Instead, you should make me invulnerable, for example.
But just doing that and even like later on in Vermintide, they've been testing out multiplayer, like Left 4 Dead style multiplayer, where some people get to be the rats, some people get to be the normal guys."

"And just testing that out, a lot of people have flocked to that.
I haven't given it a go yet because I want to wait for the full release, but a lot of people have flocked to that, thousands and thousands of people, considering the game is, what, eight years old, barely?
It's pretty impressive to see that."

"And there's still a lot of loyal people.
There's a lot of, Mark Hamill calls them UPFs, ultra passionate fans, the people that will stick by a product, stick by a developer, stick by whatever, until the hilt."

"And so I think that's why people even call for maybe, like as you were saying, Dav, in certain games, people call for early access, like Blizzard's PTR for Diablo, right?
They have these player tests where you get to test the content for other people."

"And so people rush to that because there's also that exclusivity of, I got it before you did.
Maybe they need more of that to really sell early access if they want to make money from it."

"Sorry, Ben, I've just trotted all over you.
Sweet dreams are made of these, so people like to be used.
I mean, it's on the lyrics, right?

"I think it is fascinating as well, though.
We see, where does the line, where do we draw the line between early access and then also like betas and alphas these days?
That's the thing that's also quite interesting."

"And demos.
And demos, yeah.
Especially for a game like Multiverses, right?
Because Multiverses came out, and it wasn't an early access game."

"It was a beta, right?
Or was it an alpha?
I can't remember.
It was an open beta, I believe, that they said was going to go into the full game if it went well."

"It got millions of players, and then they were like, didn't go well enough.
We're closing shop for like a year.
So I don't know what happened there."

"But now it's coming out again now, right?
It's coming out in late May.
And it's going to be the full version.
But again, Multiverses is a weird one, though, because it is a free to play game."

"So you kind of don't expect, you know, you wouldn't expect- Unless you get the mega edition or whatever for like 65.
Yeah, exactly, yeah."

"But the early access thing is one of those ones where we think of early access as this way to get access to a game significantly before it's ever going to reach its sort of, you know, complete 1.0 state, right?

"Verticality thing.
So complete 1.0 state.
But we're seeing some bigger publishers, some of the, you know, the less friendly faces in the game sector, should we say, treat it in a different way when they sell these games and they give you a, again, quote unquote, early access period of like three to four days before launch if you buy the really expensive big version, which I think is ridiculous."

"That's something that I really loathe.
I don't- Yeah, they should use a different term for that.
It's pay to win, isn't it?

"You get that with EA and some of them, right?
Like, I think Ubisoft as well.
But that's like, as you said, it's like a week of earlier should be called differently because I think we all call early access, I mean, Steam used that name."

"And the moment Steam used that name for those projects, we kind of relate early access to like the real thing, like months to years of final phase development together with the community, not early access, as in I can buy the game a week before."

"Of course, I'm not part of the development or the policy of the game at all, but I pay more and then I get the game early and I get the bragging rights."

"We should call that differently.
Oh, yeah, for sure.
Pre-purchase, I don't know.
Pre-launch party, you know.
Something like that."

"Get in on the pre-launch party.
Ubisoft is the biggest offender with it, though, because they did it with Skull & Bones and The Crew Motorfest, which is not like games."

"So it's like, you know, it's pay to win.
It's a day one patch anyway.
So you'll be playing like the early build for like four days."

"And we didn't mention Palworld.
You mentioned this game, but not Palworld, which was like one of the biggest cases.
This year."

"And then it's, as Alex said, with multiverses, but it's not a free-to-play game.
So it went nuts.
Tons of millions of people buying the game."

"And now what?
Where is it?
What happened with it?
It was early access.
Can you finish Palworld?
I never played it, but like I heard that people, when it was like the players were dropping off, they were like, yeah, I had my 50 hours with it and that was it."

"And so I'm like, does it have an end?
I don't know about that, but there was like a significant amount of content in that game though."

I thought they were just like endless.
Well, there's a very limited amount of area to play in Palworld.
It's not like a Minecraft that goes on forever, but there was a lot of content in that game compared to some of the early access games that we've seen in the past, ones that come out and you have to beg the question is like, literally why are they being sold?
But no, one of the other ones that comes to mind to me is one that's coming out next month."

"With that being the Rogue Prince of Persia, right?
Now this is another example of a Ubisoft one.
But as I said, it's one of those genres, right?

"Yes, exactly.
And it's going to go into early access and it's again, it's done by a small studio.
It's Evil Empire, which is basically best known as the Dead Cells."

So they're not even the main developers of Dead Cells either, the support studio behind the game.
So it's a small team and they're going to release the game and it's going to be a fraction of what the total game will be, but they're going to expand it over the years, obviously with, I don't know how long the early access will be, but they'll expand it over time with additional content."

"Now, I think that's fine.
Assuming that it's priced at the point of which how much content you're going to get.
Like if you get, let's say that there's two levels worth of content and it takes you like a couple of hours to go through it, it needs to be cheap because if this is coming out at the same sort of price point as let's say No Rest for the Wicked, which isn't a full price game, right?
When we call full price games, it's like, you know, I think about £35 in the UK, but that's still quite a significant investment for a game that is not finished, right?
So it's all about price point and how they use that."

"Again, though, to me, I prefer just having a game that's finished.
I understand why they do it, especially if you, let's say a developer can employ, they employ some testers."

"When you put it into the hands of players, you get like hundreds of times more players than the testers could ever be in the first place, right?
So you can understand why they do it."

"It gives you a much larger user base to fiddle around with.
You don't have to pay them either.
Like I've had friends who've gone in and tested."

"People pay you for the testing.
Yeah, yeah.
Which is weird.
I think the big test is going to be, like it's something that we've, correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not sure we've seen something, I mean like Sons of the Forest from The Forest, but like going from Hades to Hades 2 and both of them being early access launches, there's going to be a lot of expectation on that sequel that the early access is going to be a much shorter period this time around."

"Maybe that's just me because I think it'd be weird to spend another four years after, you know, we've seen, but Hades 1 drops in 2020, right?
The full version 1.0 launch."

"I think it had been in early access since 2018, maybe earlier.
I didn't play the early access.
I just got it for like a fiver on Epic because you could use a little coupon trick, you know, shout out to Epic Coupons there."

"But the issue is going to be the fact that that game, for most people who played it, most people who loved it, was very complete when they bought it."

"They didn't really even know that it was early access for most people, I would say.
A good 80% at least of the player base.
And then you jump to Hades 2, which has that entire fan base ready to play, ready to go through the entire thing."

"And then they might only get to go through one area.
There's going to be, I imagine, a bit of pushback unless the content is there.
But that's just a theory, you know?
I'm not sure I can say."

"Did you copyright that?
And the formula has been tried and tested before.
So it's not the first release, as you say.
They have way less to tweak."

They have the systems going, right?
So I don't...
I expect exactly as you say.
A smaller early access phase, and then they're ready to go."

"And then they use it as a marketing tool as well.
It looks really good.
I don't know if you guys watched the stream, but it looks like Hades again, which is all it needs to be."

"Like, just give us more of the same.
Change a few of the models.
Give us a different story.
Easy peasy.
Do we think there is a benefit to going with a Kickstarter over early access?
I, you know, spending the initial funding you have, building a working version of the build, getting that in the hands of players and then building from then on."

"Or alternatively, reaching out for funding before you even start production and going through a Kickstarter phase.
I bring it up because of the recently Skydance."

"I think it was a Skydance.
Might have been Skydance.
They put out a Kickstarter for a AAA Invincible game.
Oh, yes."

"Yeah, this is quite a big thing for them because they've done Invincible games before, but they've been small things.
But this was a AAA thing."

"So they're looking for funding.
Not like we're not talking hundreds of millions worth of pounds of funding here.
I think it was capped at about six million or something like that."

"But again, that's quite a lot of funding for a community to invest into a game.
So would you prefer games to follow that path?
Do Kickstarter and then allow people to be involved in the development?
Again, it's like involved, quote unquote, a little bit because they're involved, but it's more of like they're a spectator with it."

"Or would you prefer to have an early access thing where you can play the game, give actual feedback from what you're seeing and go from there?
I don't necessarily think one's better than the other, to be honest."

"Easier to scan with a Kickstarter, I guess.
There's been a fair few rug pulls from Kickstarter, but obviously in a perfect world, that wouldn't happen."

"Another good example of a Kickstarter path is Iodine Chronicle, right?
That's another one that did the Kickstarter thing.
So people love it."

"Kickstarter can, no pun intended, kick in in different phases.
So we've seen very different projects using Kickstarter.
Some of them from the scratch, like we have this concept, this bunch of artwork, and then we want to fund the whole development."

"Or as you say, Ben, there are playable already, right?
Then they go like, okay, for the final stretch or for us to be able to reach these platforms and to add several worlds and to blah, blah, blah, then we need your support."

"And then it's playable.
And then it's a hybrid between Kickstarter and early access, which I think happened at first.
If I recall correctly, when we were all talking about Kickstarter and early access, they were both hand in hand in many cases back 10 years ago, I think."

"So, but Kickstarter is something that we see applied way less often, I would say, but in many different stages or phases.
You see it a lot in board games."

Like now it's still very popular for like board games because with a board game, you can go, we've got this concept and it's easy to sell people on."

"Whereas I think early access has sort of kicked Kickstarter in the shit a bit.
Because early access you go, well, this is what you can play right now."

"Whereas Kickstarter, it's here's the theory of what we want you to be able to play, which is a lot less tangible for a lot of players."

"And when it involves physical production, of course, it makes sense because you can calculate, you can estimate how much you need to produce in order to produce, I don't know, limited editions or board games, as you say, or figurines or something like that."

What other games are coming out this year in early access format?
I didn't recall Prince of Persia was so...
Like next month, you said."

It really doesn't make sense.
I think we've discussed this before.
It really doesn't make any sense to me.
The previous Prince of Persia, I'm completing it right now and I'm about to face the final boss."

"And then it's getting some DLC and some story stuff and some content throughout the year.
So why would you do that?
Really, why?
You want this to be a trend?
Everybody talking about Prince of Persia in different ways or are you shooting yourself in the foot?
Like not saving that for later."

"It's definitely a good question because I've played both of the games and they are both...
Again, they are very similar to one another."

"Visually, they're very different and they play slightly differently and whatnot.
But when you boil it down to its most basic sort of premises, they are very similar to one another."

"So I think we are getting overwhelmed with a bit of Prince of Persia.
But that's a topic for another gaming gossip, I guess.
Yeah, at least we didn't get a movie this year."

"Yeah, exactly.
Yeah, just you wait.
Time to time remake.
November 2024 or something.
I like that movie."

"I know that's more film frenzy talk but I thought that movie was okay.
Haven't watched it myself.
No, not seen it?

"Definitely not one of J. Jalen Hall's best, I will say.
I think we can all agree with the early access, though.
It's like a final sort of thing.
Indie developers, there's reasons we can support it with indie developers who obviously are looking for funding."

"But when it comes to AAA, if this becomes like a thing, if Baldur's Gate has sort of set the precedent and AAA is going to become, here's a game, we'll build it with you over the years."

"I don't want to see that.
I don't want to see, if you've got the money to make the game, then don't sell me the game before it's ready."

And again, that's another question.
That's another thing because sometimes games are sold and they're not ready."

"Especially with like a performance thing.
But if it does start becoming a thing...
AAA titles, most of them, I would say, are in a way early access, especially on PC."

"The amount of games that have just claimed to be full launches and then you've got to wait six months for them to actually be playable unless you've got like the 40, 90."

"Like Dragon's Dogma 2, for example, came out a couple of months ago.
Still people on PC are like, can't run it.
Can't run it."

"Can't, for the life of me, get it working.
It's got like 40, 70s.
So it's a bit wacky.
It's a bit of a wacky time in general because everything is now technically early access."

"But it's the Master Race, isn't it?
PC Master Race.
The PC Master Race can't play anything."

"They get gifts for another episode.
We have to talk PC Master Race versus consoles versus consoles that behave like PC Master Race in a way."

"There's your teaser for episode...
I think 13 of Gaming Gossip.
So we'll be back next week to talk about the PC Master Race."

If I had to guess our stances against that, I would assume that not many of us here are going to back the PC Master Race."

"But to find out when that's the case, you'll have to tune in to next week's episode of Gaming Gossip.
As per usual, guys, it's been a pleasure catching up."

"Dav, Alex, as usual.
Thank you.
We'll all be reconvening in a week's time to talk about that highly controversial subject."

"So stay tuned for that.
Otherwise, thanks for watching episode 12 of the show.
We'll see you all in the next one.
Thank you."






Movie Trailers