Early access

Nether

Friday, November 8, 2013 | 01:05 AM | by

It's funny how "early access" has become a thing. I feel like these days I play more games that are not even "officially released" than finished titles. This sort of thing was unheard of when I was growing up, but it's becoming more and more common.

In a lot of ways, I think it can be beneficial to the development of smaller, indie games. However I am developing the opinion that there is such a thing as "too early" access.

I don't want to unfairly or too harshly call out Nether here... it just happens to be the latest of the games I've picked up because "eh, it looks interesting, I'll grab it and check it our here and there as it develops." I do that a lot with these early access games. You can't try to sit down and really play them like they're complete, full-featured games; they aren't. Rather I'll dabble here in there, cycling in and out as they get patched and improved.

I snagged Nether because I wasn't in the mood to reinstall the DayZ mod, and the DayZ standalone game is still a little ways out. But make no mistake, Nether is simply a 'DayZ" type game. Not quite as blatant a ripoff as that 'War Z Infestation Survivor Stories Whatever The Fuck They Changed The Name To' was, but still... it's impossible not to draw the comparison. Nether is more visually attractive than the Day Z mod was, and hey, it eschews zombies for something a little more unique, so that's interesting.

It was six days between purchasing the game, and actually finally getting it to work (you buy it through Steam, but still have to use the developer's proprietary account system, for whatever fucking reason).

Anyway, it's not unplayable. It's got some promise, but it's rough right now. Real rough. You can excuse it because it's "early access", that's fine. I just need to say it for anyone who decides to check it out just because I talked about it here. Don't expect much more than the basics.

But that ties into the point... are we getting into these games way too early now? Are we getting in so early that not only are we forming lasting opinions about a game's quality (even though we know we shouldn't) from an alpha/beta, but that we're also fundamentally and forever altering the game's potential community?

What I mean is, if players get into a game where all of the rules and features are not yet implemented, they'll make up their own to keep themselves entertained. Rather than banding together in a post-apocalyptic world to survive, fuck it, open-world deathmatch. 'Cause everything's all buggy anyway, so what's the difference?

And that sandbox is great, and that autonomy was what made DayZ special, but at the same time it also starts to define what a game is, perhaps even before the developers have finished defining it themselves.

While DayZ's ruthless element of human nature and steep learning curve are what most people loved about the game, it also set a stigma around the game as vicious and cutthroat. Those are the stories people heard about the community of this game that wasn't even finished yet. The game was defined, not entirely by what the game's features, but rather by how the players had decided to play given what features did or did not exist.

And so it begs the question, are developers letting the public into their games too early? Is it doing more harm than good?

And as an extension of that... at what point here do we start getting plagued by people creating elaborate tech demos to rake in some quick cash and then slinking off into the night, leaving the barely functioning "alpha" to wither and die (I would have sworn that was what happened with Cube World up until the developer finally appeared on Twitter last month to confirm that he was still working on an update)?