We think it’s time for a rethink of how Early Access games are handled. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has sold more than 10 million copies, $300m in revenue, and yet a quick shuffle over to Metacritic reveals there isn’t a single review. Fortunately, PUBG is a fantastic game, so that $300m has been wisely spent, but this isn’t the case with every Early Access game. For every PUBG there seems to be a dozen broken messes, none of which have been held accountable from a critical perspective.
It just seems crazy to me that publishers and developers can put a price on a game, sell it to millions, and yet the status quo dictates that the game can’t be scored because it isn’t finished yet. Here’s the newsflash: most games that come out aren’t finished either, and yet we’re quite content to score them.
We’ve been mulling over changing our approach to Early Access games for a while now, but it was in part triggered when reading on a gaming news site that PUBG had managed to sell 10 million copies, the most impressive part being that “it’s not even out yet.” That’s an incredible misnomer that I think we’re all guilty of falling for, much like PlayStation Plus games being ‘free’. PUBG is categorically out. It’s right there on Steam for people to buy and play.
So the changes to how we look at Early Access games start with the potential to begin scoring them, or at least adopting some sort of badging system that can help identify what players are getting themselves into. Is it a broken mess? Is it largely content complete? Does it have a single-player campaign yet? Is it worth the money or should you want until the full launch? This still raises the specter of whether customers think it’s fair to review an unfinished game, or indeed if there’s any value in attaching a score to something which is going to drastically change over time. All valid points, but I believe the current norm of withholding a verdict on an Early Access product is anti-consumer. Publishers can’t have their cake and eat it. Sell any product and it becomes worthy of criticism. Early Access is a shield which too many hide behind.
This all only going to become a more prominent issue in the years to come, Early Access steadily becoming the norm rather than the exception. From a developer point of view, why hold back from releasing early if people are willing to pay to test your game? Interest can be constantly generated with updates for months or even years, keeping a game consistently in the limelight rather than launching complete, burning bright and then fading away completely. That’s not to say Early Access is bad for the end user. It lets us play games earlier, even help shape their development. But I don’t think being incomplete should make them immune from criticism.
In opening this up to the GD community I was hoping to hear your thoughts on whether, and indeed how, Early Access games should be scored. Could the traditional 10-point scale work? Or should there be some other system to gauge the quality of an unfinished game, whether that’s a predicted score at launch, a badge system, a bugginess rating or anything else you wise bunch can think of? Let us know your thoughts below!