Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
Published on February 27, 2015 By Frogboy In PC Gaming

Little known fact: The first commercial game to be sold while it was in beta was called…Galactic Civilizations for OS/2 in 1993.

Since then, every single Stardock game has been made available for sale, as a beta to customers.   I found a link from 1995 for people to pre-order Avarice for OS/2.

Suffice to say, I think I can definitively say that Stardock was the first company in the industry to make use of “early access” for its games. 

 

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Galactic Civilizations for OS/2 early beta (1993)

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Avarice for OS/2 (1995) was available as a beta.

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Stardock’s Trials of Battle for OS/2 (1996) was available for sale while still a beta

 

Why Early Access?

The why is the key. 

The reason Stardock has always supported early access is because I needed your feedback. I want your ideas. I want your opinions. I don’t want to ship a 1.0 game. I want to ship the 1.1 game and skip the iffy 1.0 version if I can.  Galactic Civilizations got its starbases from early access users. Sins of a Solar Empire got unlimited resources (the asteroids never run out of resources – originally they did) because of early access.  And let’s be candid, if Stardock had done a better job listening to its early access players we would have pushed War of Magic to the following Winter to give it more time.

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Ah, Elemental: War of Magic. There is not enough therapy in the world to get over you.

The problem with early access is when developers try to use it to fund their game.  This is a gigantic mistake.  Early access games do not sell well. This is doubly true of games that aren’t part of a franchise.  You cannot reasonably expect to fund your game from early access.

Why charge so much?

One thing we do that results in lots of criticism is that we don’t give much of a discount (if any) for early access.  We do this to discourage sales. Remember, we aren’t funding our games in early access. We are looking for feedback from people who are genuinely interested in the game and are looking to help shape the game.  The worst thing that could happen is to get casual buyers in the beta process.

How many games are too many?

We have a lot of games in development right now.  The below chart isn’t even the full list.   This next week we’ll be unveiling Servo. It’s arguably ready for early access right now. We’re playing it. But the thing is, we have three games in early access (OTC, GalCiv III and Sorcerer King). We need at least one of those games to ship before we ask our community to get involved. 

Offworld Trading Company went through a similar experience.  We’ve been playing OTC for a year – and it shows. But we didn’t want OTC to be in early access until Sorcerer King and GalCiv III were nearing completion so that our community understood that we’re not just putting half-finished games out there. It was important to us that our customers trusted us that we would see these things through.

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Not a complete list of what we have in development

Temptation is tough

Servo is very hard to resist putting out at early access.  Once you play it…well, you’ll understand.  Very fun.  But if you think that’s going to be tough, wait till you see what we announce next week. It’s a game that we’ve been working on for years and when you see it in action (not mockups but actual gameplay) there will be outcry that it’s not in early access because it’ll be obvious how far along it is.  And the answer is: We won’t put it into early access until after GalCiv III and Sorcerer King are both released.

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Who Wins

When done right, the customer wins. If anyone reading this has Offworld Trading Company has a moment, please comment to let others know the validity of this statement: By holding back games to make sure we don’t have too many in EA we end up with games that go into EA that are very polished and very mature and yet still ready to take lots of feedback from players.

In other words: The traffic jam of Stardock games in development is allowing our partners and our teams extra time to polish and enhance the games which results in a better experience. 

This is why I think developers need to exercise a restraint with regards to early access.  It is better to wait until the game is far along before putting it out for early access but still early enough that meaningful changes can be made based on player feedback. 


Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 27, 2015

I would really like to apply for the 'mystery' game you are going to unveil next week as an Early Access player/tester....

on Feb 27, 2015

Are the unannounced games going to be RTS or TBS?

on Feb 27, 2015

But you're probably getting a LOT of "casual buyers" in the beta process with your current 50% off GalCiv 3....

on Feb 27, 2015

XWerewolfX

But you're probably getting a LOT of "casual buyers" in the beta process with your current 50% off GalCiv 3....

 

Yea that's right. I bet there are A Lot of impulse purchasers. - which is how a lot of developers probably make a good chunk of their sales. I imagine it's the driving force behind Steam.

 

Hmm, the word impulse sounds familiar, like an echo from the past.

on Feb 28, 2015

GC is around the corner so it's more of a pre order at this point.

Unannounced game - it's FFH isn't it? You fuckers!

on Feb 28, 2015

So what about the statement that it would never go below $45 so join the early access today statement being branded around a month or so ago.

Only reason i bought into early access was due to that confirmation....been a loyal fan for a long time, but the salt is very real with this recent sale. 

on Feb 28, 2015

So what about the statement that it would never go below $45 so join the early access today statement being branded around a month or so ago.

Only reason i bought into early access was due to that confirmation....been a loyal fan for a long time, but the salt is very real with this recent sale. 

 

Any chance of me buying into more early access programs is now out the window. 

on Feb 28, 2015

I haven't had a problem with Stardock's early access thus far.  When things went awry, as they did with Elemental: War of Magic, Stardock did make things right.  I have seen and heard of companies ripping off customers time and again though with early access or pre-order programs, so aside from small studios and Stardock -- and honestly I think I will conserve from here on out even with Stardock, despite having made things right for WoM, I think I'm going to restrain myself on buying into early access.  In point of fact, when I get excited over a game from a big studio, I find myself increasingly waiting not /just/ past EA, but past 'official' release, and at least until the game has been around long enough to get on sale.  I saved myself a world of hurt with Sword of the Stars II on this ... and am thankful I did restrain myself.  I actually regret buying into it even at a heavy discount on Steam; I did try to poke around to ask the stalwart-but-forced-to-admit-it-flubbed fans whether they thought the game had achieved playability and was told all the major bugs that earned the game poor ratings had been fixed, and the studio was continuing to work on updates ... and so I bought it, only to find there were still some rather significant bugs and the studio seemed to have largely stalled out on quashing many more bugs several years after release.

Gamers are getting hosed, and unfortunately they largely do it to themselves.  Yes, I play games probably too much so it is a bit hypocritical of me, but I fear my 'fellow' gamers are helping to ruin the market by continuing to "pre-order" into the same big-name-studios whom seem chronically careless about very buggy releases, obtrusive-to-paying-customers-but-failing-to-inhibit-piracy DRM schemes, and "Day-0 DLC" schemes that largely seem to be intended solely to get impulsive gamers to fork over even more money whilst intentionally preventing resales based on the faulty premise publishers don't benefit from gamers reselling their games (whereas I see it as much like a car -- if it keeps its value and can be resold, the original owner who resells their old game they have gotten bored with then has more money than they would to buy a newer game).

Gamers keep buying into this, and it feels like it has led to a serious decline in the quality of games at release in terms of whether you can actually play (how many times have 'always on DRM' schemes failed at launch, leaving large numbers of paying customers getting absolutely nothing playable?) or enjoy (the size, obstruction and frequency of bugs definitely has not declined).  Some big studios also seem to be engaging in some obscene scandals involving bribing "Let's Play" reviewers or crafting 'monetization' restrictions designed to inhibit game reviewers' ability to give their honest evaluations on a game whilst getting paid, seemingly because it costs less to run such schemes than to actually put out games with no major bugs at release.  Because so many gamers seem to not care about this and keeping forking over money for pre-orders, the big name studios seemingly have no incentive to stop.

Again, thus far, Stardock has stayed clear of this, and I hope as Stardock continues to grow, it won't stoop to this level no matter how profitable it seems given how impulsively so many gamers fund such trash.  Fortunately there seem to be an endless supply of upstart developers creating some really intriguing independent games like Banished and Rimworld.  I have to recognize my own impulsiveness, though, and aim to discipline myself to avoid buying into too much early access or pre-ordering in the future, though I certainly haven't achieved that yet.

on Feb 28, 2015

I think part of the problem is that developers have become dependent on Steam to the point where they have all effectively become Tools of Steam.

Not too long ago, I posted an issue I had with a Steam feature. One of the mods here piped in and repeatedly tried very hard to paint my complaint as completely unreasonable, even though a number of SD regulars agreed with my position.

So, it would seem that Steam has so much power in the industry, that even SD is afraid to say anything negative about them. Obviously, you don't want to bite the hand that feeds you but....

on Mar 01, 2015

If early access was a tiny portion of the market that's fine, but it has taken over (along with FTP) ....

Sins of a Dark Age is at update 32 ...32! ...you could go through multiple PC'S BEFORE THIS GAME COMES OUT....

on Mar 01, 2015

Borg999

So, it would seem that Steam has so much power in the industry, that even SD is afraid to say anything negative about them. Obviously, you don't want to bite the hand that feeds you but...

So sad, but true 

on Mar 01, 2015

There was a time when I bought up EA games like they were smarties, but now I am very careful with buying EA games, wanting assurance that the game will in fact reach it's conclusion.

on Mar 03, 2015

I'm not wildly enthyusiatic about early access on Steam. I mean sure, there's the obvious advantages like automatic update acquisition, but I think that honestly, I've had more fun playing non-Steam early access games. Well just a few, really.

It sort of splits your community in two, because you have people on the Steam forum, and then people in the developer's forum, and the two might never meet. If Valve figured out a way to embed the developer forums on the game's community hub, it would be a stroke of genius.

Why? Because a developer's forum typically is more organised than the Steam forums - there's more sub-forums to cater to the specific needs of the community, and there are moderators around to help keep the community feeling like a good place to hang out.

And, I don't know, maybe I'm old fashioned. I like unzipping a new update of Rimworld and moving all my mods over to the new folder and stuff like that. Steam might be able to do all that for me, but I irrationally want to do it myself and I like not having to go through Steam to launch it.

I think though that Brad has the right of it in saying that there needs to be a limit to how many early-access games you have, because inevitably players will gravitate towards one that they really like and neglect the others.

I'm not saying that I especially dislike GC3, for example, but I haven't tried it out in a while because based on my previous experience, it's going to be an uphill struggle with my current rig, which has an ancient hard disk, the bare minimum of RAM, and nothing to boast about in terms of CPU and GPU capabilities. Can't say I'm in good shape either!

I think it's wise to remember that there are many factors which affect how many early access players actually provide feedback and ideas, and how often. Real Life (for example) is one of those things which sadly leaves some with little energy or enthusiasm for two early access games, let alone four or five.

on Mar 04, 2015

I agree with Stardocks decision of pricing an Early Access title very high so you only get dedicated players who truly want the game.

Regarding pricecomplaints, I would have a sticky that explained it and any threads talking about it would be closed and pointed to the sticky. Maybe allow one complaintthread but that would be it.

 

 

Right now, Early Access is either that you're with a game from the very start or in some kind of beta. No problems with that. It's actually good, cause people have to decide for themselves what they want to support.

 

As for the future of Early Access, I think Valve will change some things but I don't think anything else will change.

on Mar 05, 2015

I don't know, maybe I'm old fashioned. I like unzipping a new update of Rimworld and moving all my mods over to the new folder and stuff like that. Steam might be able to do all that for me, but I irrationally want to do it myself and I like not having to go through Steam to launch it.

I think though that Brad has the right of it in saying that there needs to be a limit to how many early-access games you have, because inevitably players will gravitate towards one that they really like and neglect the others.

 

 

 

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Arslan1