My site for talking about the customization of Windows.

imageI’ve seen a lot of talk about early access and the pros and cons of it.  I wanted to share some experiences on this. 

The very first commercial retail PC game that allowed people to pre-order the game and get access to the beta was called Galactic Civilizations for OS/2 and the year was 1993. 

Every single Stardock game has had early access for over 20 years so this is a good opportunity to share some experiences about it.

 

#1 You can’t fund your game this way

I’ve seen many gamers (and even some game developers) believe that they can fund their game through early access.  It doesn’t work that way.  Most people (95%) won’t buy a game in beta.  The sales/revenue graph of a game is a straight line that turns into a cliff when a game is released.   So if you think you can pay for development this way, forget it.

imageThere are notable exceptions (Star Citizen) but the reason they get a lot of attention is because they are so unusual. 

 

#2 Early Access is good for compatibility testing

I’ve seen people online talk about “paying to beta test” which is, well, a crazy thing to say. That said, Early Access is wonderful for compatibility testing.  For example, mixing video drivers, sound drivers, network drivers, and the OS is largely impossible to do well for smaller studios and publishers.

The setup has gotten insanier (that’s now officially a word) even in the past few years.  Right now, as you read this, right click on your sound system tray options, select play back devices.  How many of you get a noticeable delay in getting that dialog up? The answer is about 10% of you.  This is caused by AMD high definition audio devices being added which can cause some games to get a lot of stuttering in their sound.  It can be worked around but without early access, it would be really hard to solve this (you can fix this on your end by disabling those devices). 

imageIt’s even worse on Windows 8 btw where people who don’t have Windows 8.1 UPDATE (not to be confused with Windows 8.1 normal) because there’s a bug in the OS that causes the sound driver to not get enough CPU which affects games using DirectX 11.  And these are sound issues. Video, well, that’s a whole different world. 

The point being compatibility is a good use of early access.

 

#3 Early Access is good for fan feedback

imageOne of the best elements of Early Access is that you get people who are committed to the concept of your game.  We took some blow back from people because Galactic Civilizations III: Founder’s Edition was $100.  It includes everything we will ever make for GalCiv III (all DLC and expansions).  The idea behind it was to find a way to not have casual players in the alpha program.   The feedback from these players has been amazing

This is why #1 is so key: Not only will you not get very many sales (relative to the final game) of your EA game but you don’t want too many.  If you get too many EA players, the feedback gets way too muddled. You want people who are already sold on the concept and not people who will try to push you to make a different game (like MOO fans who always seem to wish GalCiv would become a MOO style game, I love MOO but GalCiv isn’t MOO).

 

#4 PR is a limiting factor on Early Access

imageAs some of you know, Stardock sold Impulse to Gamestop some years ago. With that capital, we created an investment fund which has been used to help start-ups and get some amazing games off the ground.  Over the next 36 months or so, we’ll be releasing around 7 new games.  You know about Galactic Civilizations III. That’s one.

I would love to announce these games over the next year and get Early Access going for them because most them are brand new IP.  The limiting factor for us is PR. That is, how many games do we want in Early Access at once?  We don’t know that answer but we do know there’s a threshold before you create what marketing calls a “negative narrative” that becomes very hard to get away from once it has been created.

Galactic Civilizations III was an easy one because people already know what it is.   Right now, we have 3 other games that we play daily internally that aren’t even announced (one of which we play at lunch every day competitively multiplayer via the Internet between the teams).

The point being, many people don’t like the concept of Early Access and it does put the brakes on how many Early Access games are available at a given moment and keeps the bigger studios from doing it. 

 

#5 Fan interaction is a major motivator

imageMost people I know who make games do so because they enjoy making things to share with other people. No one becomes a game developer for the money.  If it weren’t for fan interaction, I wouldn’t be making games at all.  It’s my primary motivation.  I’m a creature of the Internet. I’m notorious for lurking and participating on forums outside our own because talking about our games or other games is very enjoyable.

Early Access is particularly fun because you can actually make meaningful changes to the game based on intelligent feedback.  Nothing sucks worse for a game developer than to get a great idea from a fan only to not be able to use it because it’s “too late”.


Comments (Page 1)
on May 08, 2014

Need to post this on the Steam(ing pile of whiners) even if most of them won't read or appreciate what it says.

on May 08, 2014

I read through this from a non-fanboy perspective, and these are some thoughts that went through my mind. Might want to re-word/clarify a few things before releasing it to Steam and elsewhere.

So, only people who are willing/able to pay $100 for a game are the only ones committed to the game's concept?

Casual gamers are not worthy?

Why is it crazy to say people are paying for the priviledge of beta testing?

on May 08, 2014

Borg999

So, only people who are willing/able to pay $100 for a game are the only ones committed to the game's concept?

No it doesn't mean that.  It means that anyone who does pay $100 for early access is likely to be committed.  It's a way to screen to get as many of those people as possible involved early on.  That doesn't mean it's exclusionary and only those who pay $100 are committed.   

You don't want casual players in the alpha presumably because they're casual.  It has nothing to do with their worth.  A casual player isn't going to spend hours in the ship creator. They're not going to spend hours understanding the minutia of how the systems work and looking for ways to break them.  They're not going to spend further hours discussing and debating those systems on the forums.  That's the definition of casual.  

And if your goal with alpha is to get ample high quality consistent feedback from a tiny portion of the player base, you don't want to include casuals in that group because by their very nature they're not the type of player to give you that amount of time. 

on May 08, 2014

Borg999
So, only people who are willing/able to pay $100 for a game are the only ones committed to the game's concept?

The use of price as a limiter is always controversial. There will always be those that love the game but can't pony up $100.

on May 08, 2014

Kantok



Quoting Borg999,
reply 2

So, only people who are willing/able to pay $100 for a game are the only ones committed to the game's concept?



No it doesn't mean that.  It means that anyone who does pay $100 for early access is likely to be committed.  It's a way to screen to get as many of those people as possible involved early on.  That doesn't mean it's exclusionary and only those who pay $100 are committed.   

You don't want casual players in the alpha presumably because they're casual.  It has nothing to do with their worth.  A casual player isn't going to spend hours in the ship creator. They're not going to spend hours understanding the minutia of how the systems work and looking for ways to break them.  They're not going to spend further hours discussing and debating those systems on the forums.  That's the definition of casual.  

And if your goal with alpha is to get ample high quality consistent feedback from a tiny portion of the player base, you don't want to include casuals in that group because by their very nature they're not the type of player to give you that amount of time. 

Right. Like I said, I tried to read this from a non-fanboy perspective, not from the perspective of someone who will scramble to the defense of SD and Brad at the slightest knee-jerk induced perceived offense.

on May 08, 2014

Double post

on May 08, 2014

Folks who are willing to pay $100 for a game, or a series of games are pretty damn hardcore.

 

To me, it's no different than the folks who pay $70-$100 for Japanese fighting games just to play them out, especially obscure ones when they can wait a few months and get it for $40 later.   With GCIII, you get the early access and influence on development.

 

That said, I haven't tried to influence GCIII much and I've tried to avoid playing the alpha too much- because I'm afraid of burnout before the good stuff gets put in, and because I know how I play is pretty casual compared to many folks on here.   (I'm not into min-maxing/twinking that much)

 

That said, the $100 is a good deal for me because I knew I'd day 1 this+ 90% chance of day 1'ing expansions because this game was going to be good in what I want. (plus I had minor job worries at the time, so I could afford it now, but maybe not later)

 

 

 

 

 

 

on May 08, 2014

Borg999
Casual gamers are not worthy?
Why is it crazy to say people are paying for the priviledge of beta testing?

I would say they are worthy, but a casual gamer is not usually going to give feedback on any game. But the $100 does not preclude the casual gamers, but in general if you identify yourself with a casual gamer, then you are likely not going to talk / discuss the game unless asked. You will not feel strongly about whether the game is the best thing since the invention of the USB, or say that you should kill the game with FIRE. These gamers tend to buy a game and play the game for 10 hours over a 1 - 3 months (that's if they enjoyed the game). (I consider myself a casual gamer on some games (FPS comes to mind, like Left 4 Dead), and serious gamer when it comes to puzzle / strategy games. Never would I consider myself a hardcore gamer... I still bath / sleep before I finish Mass Effect (again stereo-types, no offense intended by my ill considered jokes))

To your second point... beta testing does not equate to playing the game and saying you don't like something or do like something. At no point am I pressing the symmetry button on the ship designer so quickly that I crashed the game and then required to submit a report saying I pressed the symmetry switch soooo many times that the game decided to lag and then crash (FYI Stardock that happened to me... although i didn't send the crash report... See, failed my beta test if I was actually beta testing...). I was just having fun watching the thing come on and off the screen then watched the game explode... made me chuckle. Plus, it was perfect timing to watch the stream.

It comes down to what do you define as beta testing?

on May 08, 2014

Borg999

Right. Like I said, I tried to read this from a non-fanboy perspective, not from the perspective of someone who will scramble to the defense of SD and Brad at the slightest knee-jerk induced perceived offense.

So are you being purposefully insulting or is it accidental?

It has nothing to do with being a fanboy.  It's basic marketing.  They're using price to capture the hardcore fans (who can afford it) who are going to contribute what SD wants from fans in EA.  You're not going to pay premium price for a game you are casually interested in.  

Do you have an alternate method of capturing those hardcore fans while also keeping the overall alpha player base small?  

on May 08, 2014

Borg999

I read through this from a non-fanboy perspective, and these are some thoughts that went through my mind. Might want to re-word/clarify a few things before releasing it to Steam and elsewhere.

So, only people who are willing/able to pay $100 for a game are the only ones committed to the game's concept?

Total strawman.

There are people who can't afford to pay $100 who are hard core. But anyone paying $100 is probably hard core.

 

 

on May 08, 2014

I spent all day playing this game MP:

 

I don't want people who are going to sweat graphics on a game that won't be out for 2 years playing this. Most addictive game I've played since I was in college (final game won't even remotely resemble this so this isn't even giving anything away).

And this game is so addictive we've had to issue a "work hours" ban on playing it. 

on May 08, 2014

I felt exactly as Borg did when I read that about beta testing.  I beta tested Galciv2.  Stardock called it beta, we bought it while it was beta, we played it while it was beta, we posted our feedback on galciv2.com while it was beta.  Whatever you call it now, Stardock freely admitted it was paying to beta test at the time.  This is nothing new.  What is new, though, is moving it even further back in schedule to where you're trying to crowd-source your game architecture, too.  Hey, I'm all for it.  You don't know if you don't try.  

on May 08, 2014

Frogboy


Quoting Borg999, reply 2
I read through this from a non-fanboy perspective, and these are some thoughts that went through my mind. Might want to re-word/clarify a few things before releasing it to Steam and elsewhere.

So, only people who are willing/able to pay $100 for a game are the only ones committed to the game's concept?


Total strawman.

There are people who can't afford to pay $100 who are hard core. But anyone paying $100 is probably hard core.

 

Yea and I know plenty of people who drop $100 on stuff they forget about the next day without batting an eyelash.

But my point was to make you aware of how people outside the bubble of SD regulars may perceive what you wrote.

 

 


 

on May 08, 2014

I didn't see

6-Dedicated Fans secretly get access to private forums

Is this something you don't want to talk about?

eg: Most of these guys are modders or community leaders that have valuable insights and probably have exchanged private e-mails with the developer.

on May 08, 2014

I honestly don't get the complaints about the $100 thing. I know that when I buy a GalCiv game, I'm going to spend quite a bit more money to get the expansions later. With this, I'm just paying for those expansions up front. It's almost like they don't realize how much extra paid content will be included.

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