Over the past few years, Video game companies have started a new approach to delivering their final product to their consumers, giving them an option to offer feedback towards the final product and playing early at the cost of a few dollars. While it might be fun to play the game early and feel like a part of the development process, there are risks involved in being in the Early Access phase of a game.
Before the introduction of the internet, video games were sold as a final product as either a cartridge or CD. Now with most consoles and PCs having access to the internet, companies can make changes quickly depending on consumer feedback.
What makes a product in beta any better than a fully finished product? Early Access / Betas for video games can be a win-win for both the developers as well as those purchasing the product: developers now have funds to further develop their game to their liking and those that purchased the game can play it earlier than others as well as giving their helpful advice or criticism early into the development cycle allowing the developers time to change some of the problems to make the community happy.
As small and large development teams alike might take advantage of this strategy and have those that the game give feedback as well as submitting bug reports and crash reports to make their game more stable for the final release. Ben Kurchera of Polygon says it the best:
“…the process often feels like listening to the demos of your favorite band as they’re in the studio recording”
Sure there are problems…While a successful beta can lead to quality word of mouth from reputable sources and peers alike, there are always a few bad apples in the bunch, and by a few, there are quite a few bad apples. According to Steam Early Access in 2014, there was an increase in Early Access games by 123% from the previous year. While that might seem like there is a good quality of games in the Steam store, only about 25% of these Early Access games actually see a full release. Games like Cube World blew up in 2013 generating millions of views on Youtube, but despite the overall well received game, Cube World creator Wollay has gone silent since July 2017.
Today, using Valve Steam’s Application Programming Interface, Steamspy.com [https://steamspy.com/genre/Early+Access], can track various data within the Steam Store. About 2,800 titles with the “Early Access” tag generate an average user score of 70.3% as well as maintaining an average playtime of five hours. Five hours to play a game and never pick it up again? While the company already has your cash, that is still an unfortunate side effect of an Early Access game.
What makes a good beta? With no clear formula to create a quality video game early access experience, there are a few ways that game companies can up their overall performance to help create a better game:
Communication between parties
- Every update should be accommodated with a short explanation on what and why items are changing for the most recent patch.
- All forms of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc) should be active, whether that be responding to comments, suggestions, or criticism.
- Keep the user base interested in the product. Release small updates every week or so to keep your user base around and talking about the game.
- FREE UPDATES. While yes, video game developers require cash to keep it coming, the game is in BETA. If your game company is looking to monetize, then push for a full release to sell at full price. Small micro transactions can be a tipping point for most people since they might have already paid for the beta/ early access of the game.
- Even though the game is not close to finishing, you still want new people to come and try out your product. Beta and Early Access is a crucial time for the game, for if the game is not successful while in the early stages, how well will it be two years from now?
- Attempt to use the user base as a form of marketing. Offer unique rewards for referring a friend or liking certain pages on social media. Any word for a starting game can be beneficial.