Expectations, Early Access and ruining a game before it's finished

Astroneer last night was fun but hitting crash bugs over and over was so very annoying. Big R understandably "fatigue-quitted" over them. We decided to do less land-training and more deep-cave diving for research, and we found it was stable. We got battery research, EMW managed to make a Moon base using the ship as a starting point and I became a ferry pilot to move resources from Terran to the Moon. I got a crash report now and again but it was certainly more fun. [Big R - I found the land train and your stuff and returned it safely to base].

This was avoiding areas of the engine that are clearly not right. Big R and I (as clients to EMW's host) were both hitting bizarre physics engine bugs that would often kill us.

When a game becomes Early Access I think it should be in a Beta testing state, rather than an Alpha. I think Alpha is too early. My expectation is that the game is largely working but the general balance and feature set might change. I think that most others expect it to be playable for an evening without several crashes. Features (such as land trains or rovers) shouldn't be included if they are not stable.

Astroneer has a great big disclaimer up front saying that it's "Alpha and in a dodgy state, so don't complain" but that's not really good enough for me.

My worry is that a game that has so much promise and when working is lots of fun, will ruin itself by having frustrating bugs that keep you dropping out. You then become fed up with the game, regardless of the warning messages, before the game has had a chance to sort its life out.

Unless Astroneer has a big update, perhaps next week we elect to avoid land trains or play a spot of Unturned, which has been stable for some time.


I think a lot of Early Access titles are really just ways to get money before development in complete...possibly to see if it's worth continuing.

There have been some (a few) very successful "Early Access" games (Minecraft, ARK, PU Battlegrounds), but there have been a lot that basically have been money-grabs for half-completed code. Take Fortnite for example...why are a big company like Epic doing Early Access? They don't need funds to complete development, my guess would be that initial user testing came back with "it's not that much fun", so rather than polish it, they released it as-is, to try and squeeze as much money as possible before (as a rough prediction) abandoning the project, while turning on F2P along with an embarrassment of microtransctions for player upgrades (I've seen mention of stat cards, and loot crate/llamas).

If you want to see Early Access done well, Battlegrounds is probably the best example. It's currently the 3rd most played game on Steam (½ million concurrent players), and the developer has a pretty well defined release schedule, with a specific goal to get it Live. You don't see that in most Early Access...it seems considered acceptable to live in early access/beta for years with no real aim to complete the game. It's interesting comparing Batleground and Astroneers recent roadmap updates

Apology for pushing completion date out from 6 months to 7-8 months

No timescales anywhere, other that short/mid/long term vaguery...

I have to question why people invest in a projct where there are no timelines for completion...based on the 2 updates, which one do you think is more lightly to deliver a final game?

babychaos's picture

Fortnite seems to have been in development since 2011 maybe it's just reached the point epic won't spend any more money on it unless it starts to turn a profit.

One thing to note with your comparison it's not quite apples to apples.

PUBG has a fairly large team behind it they started with 35 devs and are now somewhere around 70 with plans to hire up to 90.

Where as Astroneer dev team just passed 10 developers (mostly ex 343 industry people by the looks of it)

You can't manage a project of 70+ devs without extensive planning roadmaps dates on features etc

Another difference is PUBG existed as a series of mods before it became a standalone game it's formula has been refined and tweaked over a long time before the standalone game was even thought of so a lot of the design pitfalls that a fully original idea would struggle with have been ironed out already the early access approach they publically stated was mostly just bash the thing out quickly to the existing design. If you have a complete blueprint of the game and what constitutes a finished product it's much easier to set up goals and dates since you've done it before you have a full design you have good metrics on how long it will take.

Anyway examples aside I'm not disagreeing that Early access is problematic and often seems to be abused as a sort of eternal beta where they can put some unfinished piece up keep generating money and brush off bugs and such as "it's still early access suck it" and there have been a few extremely unfinished or just broken things to come out of it. I think as a starting point steam should change it such that people can't just have indefinite early access they should have to set a goal a point at which they go to release and if they miss that it get's removed. That might mean people just release their unfinished things as finished products but people have much less tolerance for supposedly finished game being broken and since refunds came in there is that path to reject devs that are just putting out shoddy work.

Evilmatt's picture

I see it a little differently. PUBG is a 1-man band who has contracted a Korean dev team to build the game he's designed. He's had previous shots at it with mode (e.g. King of the Kill), so has a very good vision of the end goal.

Astroneer, by comparison (and many other early access games) don't really have a strong direction or plan... it's a handful of half-formed ideas (often variants of other games' features) which then seem to accumulate crowd-sourced ideas from the community, ending up with an over-complex mess that could well never get completed. They lack a defined vision, and so never define their own end goal. I've been in business projects like that, and they seldom end well.

I think this is the key difference between a kickstarter-type project and early access. A decent kickstarter will/should have "this is what we want to make" vision, then you sign up if that sounds like your sort. thing. It seems many early access games are build around a single conceit, and then spend too much time trying to get money by saying "of course we'll add crafting to our Retro 80's shooter clone", only to discover too late that entitled committees of gamers are not very good game designers.

babychaos's picture

Just checked myself there... didn't realise Bluehole employed PU/Brendan Greene, but the point regarding a single focused vision stands true...

babychaos's picture

I think it's interesting how these things are evolving when kickstarter and early access had their first successes things like minecraft etc a load of people thought "hey we can make money and get regular people rather than faceless goons from EA/Ubisoft and we regain control of the thing, how can we lose"

It attracted a load of people some known entities with proven track records the Double Fine's etc and a load of indie devs who had never done the management part of the thing plus a load of chancers who were out to make a quick buck.

The first group seemed to decide that because it was all new they could throw out the whole rule book of budgeting and planning and fell victim to feature creep by way of stretch goals. They got way more money than they expected they then added a load of extra content to justify this extra money without thinking things through properly and hence things went awry when those add ons consumed even more cash than they had. Double fine adventure was very interesting the game was OK but the documentary (for me maybe not everyone felt this way) felt worth the cash for the inside look at the studio as they went about the project the various disasters and triumphs made for a compelling experience.

It's ended up with some of these outfits have failed badly and so sworn off crowd funding for good others have come through it shaken but with a better grasp of how to do it (double fine and uber entertainment come to mind).

The second group have usually never had the discipline of managing the money. They were coders or artists and they are high on the idea and as you say don't plan correctly. They try too much they waste their time they blow through their cash and end up with an unfinished buggy mess. This is often similar to the other sorts of hardware or physical manufacturing project for people with no real world manufacturing experience they fuck up by not knowing how to make the thing or plan their resources correctly they end up churning out multiple manufacturing prototypes and never manage a full mass production run.

Having said that big commercial non crowd funding studios make these mistakes too. Look at the disaster that was Mass Effect Andromeda. Dig into the details and you find they spent years trying to do a no man sky style procedurally generated galaxy but couldn't make it work such that when they finally realised it wasn't going to happen they ended up with almost no time to botch together a game with what little assets they had created and a much smaller scope. It shows in the end product how very rushed and unfinished it was.

I guess it's not a new phenomenon both indie devs have been failing to produce their magnum opus and big game devs have canceled non producing products but now it's more in the light as before it would have been either funded by the indie dev themselves via savings or working a day job or big devs where it's a publishers money. These days it's you average joe/jane public forking over their cash but rather than having the level of control of either being the dev or being the publisher it's much more of a gamble.

Evilmatt's picture