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Early Access vs. Open Beta

In the second/third installment of Fixing Gaming, we take a look at the differences between open betas and early access. Also, why episode two was delayed.

Early Access vs. Open Beta

Fixing Gaming, Episode 2.5

WHAT’S EARLY ACCESS?

If, perhaps like the entirety of the US Congress, you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know what ‘Early Access’ is. On Steam (and now X-bone and PS4), you can purchase a game and play it while still being under development. It’s one of the most polarizing terms in gaming, and there’s good reasons for and against early access. On the pro side, people can support developers that need the money to continue development, and you get to watch the game improve. On the con list, we have that a majority of games tend to get stuck in ‘Early Access’ for quite some time, DayZ– I mean, random game… okay, I’m actually going to take a shit on this one.

DayZ is a mod for Arma that was so orgasmic to the gaming population that it spawned derivative after derivative. Now, it’s gotten a standalone release! Everyone ran to buy it, even though it’s in alpha, and much fun was had stuffing rotten fruit down people’s throats. Then, the rose-tinted glasses broke, and after three years of being in ‘Barely Playable Alpha’, we realize the problem of Early Access.

Another problem with Early Access that people fail to mention is the fact that sometimes is good to have a complete game that’s fully complete. Yes, like inviting a girl over, sometimes they’re happier when you don’t show up at the door half-cocked and covered in raw sewage. Sometimes Early Access means that the developer has put down a few graphics and mechanics and just released the writhing, buggy mass on the population faster than you can say Dr. Strangelove.

From the last two paragraphs, and perhaps my earlier review of early access (here you go), you may think I despise early access. But, hold onto you hypothetical horses, because you’re about to get a kick in the head: I love Early Access, or at least, the idea of it. But, we’ll get back to that. Onto…

OPEN BETA/BETAS/ALPHAS/WHATEVS

These are when a game developer want people to try a quick piece of the pie. Generally, these are limited-time events in which the general population can try out a game and, in turn, help the developers with certain diagnostics. In fact, half of my excuse for my lack of a post last week (other than the MASSIVE DUMP of homework) was the open beta for that game from 2013… what was it… “The Division”. 
Again, pros and cons are stacked up: on the plus side, games get a better chance of not shitting themselves at launch, but on the other hand, they’re almost used as an interactive advertisement or offered as incentive to pre-order. Again, I don’t dislike this practice in theory, but there’s definitely something that was lost in translation.

WHICH IS BETTER?

Neither of them, when used the way they’re used now. Name 5 Early Access games that got out of Early Access in a reasonable time AND is still what everyone thought it would be. You can’t, can you?

Now look at betas, name the last 5 betas that allowed you to play without either forcing you to pre-order or plastering it up on every sign and menu in the game.

The problem is that certain developers use these techniques not to create a better game, but a more profitable game.

I’ll give two examples of doing these right: Starbound and ‘The Division’

Starbound, though it’s been in Early Access for ages, it’s been regularly updated as well as adhering to the original goal of being a HUGE survival/exploration game.

‘The Division’, though it was expected for so long, and the beta was so short, it was open to everyone and helped Stress-Test.

Conclusion: I.E. How To Fix It

Use Early Access only if you NEED the money in order to finish the game or are able to update the game regularly.

Use Betas only as a way to Stress-Test your game or only as if it is going to be open to everyone.

Chris Crawford
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