Early access releases: Should we buy video games before they're finished?

By Vikki Blake
Newsbeat reporter

Published
Valheim logoImage source, IRON GATE STUDIO
Image caption,
At one stage Valheim could boast 500,000 concurrent players, despite being released in an incomplete "early access" form

You wouldn't watch a film without an ending - so why do people buy unfinished video games?

An incomplete version of Indie title Valheim - a Norse survival game - released to rip-roaring success earlier this year.

Early access releases like Valheim are becoming increasingly common, particularly on PC shops like Steam.

By selling the unfinished games, developers can test them as well as bring in extra funding and building up an early fan base.

But what's in it for gamers?

"I have a love-and-hate relationship with them," admits streamer and BBC Sounds' Press X to Continue reviewer, Inel Tomlinson.

"I always find myself making excuses for them. I'll hit a bug or something that's not supposed to be there, and I'll think: oh, they'll add that in! And it's like - why am I making excuses for this game? I've paid for it!"

Image source, IRON GATE STUDIO

It's difficult for players to know when exactly they should take the plunge and buy an early access game.

Too early, and it may be so full of technical glitches it's too frustrating to play. Leave it too late, however, and you may miss out on all the hype.

"Do I delve into the early access, with potentially bugs and missing content [when the game's popular]?" asks Inel.

"Or do I want to wait and play when the game is finally finished but the buzz has already passed?"

To help us better understand the appeal, we asked Press X To Continue listeners and game developers to tell us why they like - or don't like - the early access model.

'Open to vitriol'

Stacey is a "big fan" of the "thrill" of playing something so new it's not even finished yet.

"I like the courage and openness of developers doing this, even though it often opens them up to extra vitriol," she says.

But Jay feels early access games should be free "or heavily discounted".

"I recognise the need to develop a game alongside an active player base, but that makes the player base a free workforce. They should be compensated somehow," he adds.

Image source, TENECENT
Image caption,
PubG helped early access releases to gain popularity

Some, like Josh, say supporting games in early development can be a "risky" investment of your time, because the final product might end up being completely different.

Game developers feel the risks can often pay off.

"Early access was a long and painful road, but thanks to it, we think we've made an even better game than we'd made without it," says indie outfit Awesome Games Studio.

"For us, the feedback from our players was invaluable in the shaping of the final product."

"We love [early access games]!" adds Abylight Studios. "It's a cool way to involve the community and unite them about what we're creating. And get their honest feedback."

That said, releasing an incomplete adventure that still requires work and testing may not be the right thing for all games makers .

Image source, IRON GATE STUDIO

ThingTrunk, which makes independent games in Warsaw, says releasing an early access game is "a crazy, tiresome but fun experience".

But the company adds a note of caution about player expectation and the difficulties creating a seemingly endless development cycle - where a game is never truly finished.

"As a player I enjoy them, as a developer I had a very turbulent time with them," admits narrative game designer, Matt V.

Press X to Continue podcast host, Steffan Powell, says buying an early access release comes down to knowing what you're getting yourself into - and understanding how long it takes both indie and AAA studios alike to develop an engaging experience.

"I think you've got to accept that the game in its state now is largely what it will be like for a long time," Steffan advises.

"Yes, little things will get tweaked and improved slightly, but broadly speaking, you're playing what the game is going to be."

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