Too Early to Access

Early Access games are such a double-edged sword, right?

Conceptually, they are pretty brilliant. Games are risky projects that typically only give you a chance at profits years after development. With Early Access, you can release whatever you have handy – “Minimum Viable Product” in the gaming parlance – and gain money while you finish building out the rest of the game. Plus, sometimes you might actually get a piece of actionable feedback from the customers that changes the direction of the game. Win-win for the developer.

For me personally, Early Access games are Lose-Win at best.

I do not typically replay games. Between Humble Bundles and Epic Store giveaways and being a periodic MMO player, I have accumulated a largely insurmountable stockpile of games that makes it difficult to “justify” playing even ones I like a second time. So when I do buckle down and play an Early Access title, whatever stage of development it is in is typically the only version I experience. Which can sometimes be fine – not every game makes it out of Early Access. But many times I recognize that things are not fine, as I end up experiencing a worse version of an incomplete game that would have been a lot more fun had I waited.

There are a few exceptions to the rule. Well, one and a half: roguelikes and survival titles. Roguelikes, by their very nature, are “replayed” many times. I started playing Slay the Spire back when there were just two characters, for example, and continue(d) to play it now that there are four. Oxygen Not Included, RimWorld, and 7 Days to Die are in similar boats… that encourage or at least don’t punish re-boating.

Some survival games land further away from the roguelike spectrum and otherwise do not necessarily lend themselves towards repeated play. I have zero desire to play Valheim again, for example, until it is much closer to final release. Is there much of a practical difference between Valheim and 7 Days to Die? It’s hard to articulate, but the latter is more viscerally entertaining and a more varied experience. Both have procedurally-generated maps and such, but how many different bases are you going to create in Valheim really?

I bring all this up because a really, really want to play My Time at Sandrock. Which, you guessed it, just hit Early Access last week. A sequel of sorts to the original My Time at Portia, it has everything I want: basically being a sequel to a game I already put 108 hours into. Everything except… not being done.

What is the current state of the Early Access version?

“Early Access will begin with the single-player story model: players will be able to play some of the first act of the game’s story and have access to romance and friendship missions as we implement them.”

I can’t do it. Even if I imagined that I would pick one of the townsfolk to romance that had already been implemented, the “risk” is too great. “Risk” being uncharitably defined as making a choice that could result in a less satisfy gaming experience in the likely-only opportunity to play the game. Which is neurotic, I know, considering developers add choices to games to allow the opportunity for more people to enjoy themselves. But this brain meat is what I’m working with, so… yeah.

Incidentally, the other reason I’m bringing up this topic is because I was clued into a pre-Early Access game called Life Not Supported that’s basically Raft in space. As in, floating around and picking up space trash to build a space boat. Which reminded me that I spent 8 hours in Raft and enjoyed it and got the itch to play some more only to find that it is still in Early Access itself. And there’s a dev blog from January saying that Chapter 3 is delayed and they’ll be retooling the whole game once it comes out and I’d be better off not playing it until that occurs. At least, that’s the implication. Sigh.

Posted on June 1, 2022, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I don’t really differentiate between Early Access and Release, except in as much as it goves me different angles to blog about. Other than that, I just play the game in front of me. It helps, of course, that I find things that don’t work properly in games to be as interesting, or sometimes more interesting, than things that do and also that I don’t really “finish” games. I just drift away from them and then drift back later.

    I wonder how common it is to see games as once and done? My feeds are always buzzing with people going back to old games for the second or umpteenth time. There are at least three bloggers I’m reading currently re-playing Valheim, for example, and I’m always on the verge of doing so myself. I guess if you really feel you have just one shot at any given game it makes some kind of sense to wait for the most complete version but I’m not sure you can ever predict when that’s going to arrive. I can name several games in my Steam library that I bought as released, finished titles, which have subsequently acquired “Director’s Cut” or “Final Cut” versions with extra content and numerous gameplay, audio or graphical tweaks.

    On the specific case of Sandrock, though, I would probably advise waiting at least a while. I’m playing the EA version and it is a little beta-ish. That suits me but I can definitely see the value of waiting at least until later in the development process, if not right until launch.


  2. I guess I’m mostly the same, the only notable exception was ‘Rise to Ruins’ which I saw and wanted to play right then and which I’ve revisited from time to time. But I guess I knew from the start that this was gonna be some “I’ll play a game or two and then leave t be for a while” which means I could ignore the actual features, as long as it was good enough for one game.


%d bloggers like this: