The ability to garner sales and grow a fanbase early in development, all while gathering feedback from gamers, mitigates the risks of releasing a full version that may be negatively received. This privilege was formerly available only to triple-A titles via their ‘pre-order and play early’ scheme, but indie developers can now also take advantage of similar opportunities.
Admittedly, gamers tend to be an impatient bunch, preferring to get their hands on coveted releases sooner rather than later. Early Access provides exclusive access to games during their development stage, offering that sense of instant gratification many fast-paced gamers desire. They may also have a say in the game’s direction, providing crucial feedback to the developer(s) on hard-to-replicate bugs and gameplay tweaks, and so increasing the chance of obtaining desired features. pay in advance for ‘promised’ content, simply ‘pulling the plug’ may no longer be a sensible option. When reputation is at stake, abandoning a project becomes dangerous waters to tread for any developer, where even overpromising or under-delivering may in some cases prove fatal in the Early Access arena. The Early Access approach also reduces speculation and hype leading up to a game’s release, which could reduce newsworthiness and day-one sales come launch.
On the consumer side, unrealistic expectations can often lead to uninformed purchases. Many are prone to swallow hook, line, and sinker the pre-released trailers and screenshots without even a glance at any negative reviews – a recipe for buyer’s remorse.
When making purchases, gamers should note that certain ‘full releases’ may not have every feature implemented. For example, StarForge went gold after years of development without a bulk of its promised features – only to have thousands of customers later deeming it a beta at best. The developers moved on to Reign of Kings, also in the Early Access program, leading to disgruntled fans penning game reviews directed to the studio itself, warning prospective customers of its history of under-delivering on promises.