The gaming industry has enjoyed several decades of burgeoning success and growth. And despite being the oft-overlooked counterpart to music, films and television, gaming is one the world’s most lucrative media types, making over $57 billion in 2012 alone, according to Reuters.
However, the opportunity to make big money means that most feel the need to spend big money on their development budgets too, with the current state of games seeing developers boast things like ‘highly detailed open-worlds’ and ‘multiple, rich and emotional endings to the game’ in an effort to stand out amongst a sea of competitors offering the same.
This of course doesn’t come cheap especially when a small team is tasked with development or if they don’t have the benefit of a publisher’s deep pockets. That’s why Early Access was launched, to help fund games that haven’t quite got that sheen and polish yet. But as one publisher aims to take Early Access to physical retail copies many are asking; has it gone too far?
The general consensus is very much ‘yes’ as a copy of RTS (real-time strategy) game, Planetary Annihilation was found on the shelf of one brick and mortar store describing itself as an “Early Access Edition.” What does such an investment get you? A “free upgrade to the full game” according to the box’s label, which of course suggests that the game is a while away from a full release just yet.
In fact, we know it’s incomplete because Planetary Annihilation is also making a mad dash for Early Access investor money on Steam, selling on the digital PC platform for just £29.99, meanwhile the boxed version seen on the shelf sets you back by £39.99. That mark-up makes sense once the break down of the revenue from a boxed video game is taken into account, as according to Unreality, a cut of around 20% goes to the retailer who did the selling.
But that still doesn’t explain how and why it’s seemingly acceptable for an unfinished game to be sold in this way.
Planetary Annihilation director Jon Mavor chalks this down to business, explaining that the team has “been trying really hard to innovate on business models during the entire development,” going on to elaborate:
“We had planned to do a retail release all along and the early access box came about as part of our experimental attitude. Since early access works so well, our partners at Nordic [Games, the title’s publisher] thought that it would be worth trying an early access retail edition and we agreed it was a cool idea.”
A boxed copy might not necessarily be considered a “cool idea” for those in opposition to the move and when asked why they chose to release an unfinished game at physical retail, Mavor gave an answer that likely won’t silence skeptics:
“The real question is, why not? After all, they are getting the same game, just earlier. It’s a changing world and we hope to continue trying out new and innovative ways to make games.”
The key aspect to that statement is that consumers are not getting the same version of Planetary Annihilation that they would – should the game be released out of Early Access in the future. If Mavor himself is perpetuating this claim, then where is the clarity for consumers? For those who don’t understand the meaning of ‘Early Access,’ and respond only to the game’s box art, they’ unaware that they’re shelling out more money than they need to for a game that isn’t complete.
Furthermore, it’s also not immediately clear how the updates to the ‘full game’ will be administered and there is potentially the chance that some unwilling buyer could buy Planetary Annihilation without realizing that an Internet connection is required for just that.
For Mavor and those who would hope to defend the decision, however, there is a case to be made that this could ultimately lead to more sales which could give Uber Entertainment (the game’s developer) a bigger development budget and therefore a better game but it’s unfortunate that a service like Early Access and all of its deficiencies have to be brought, unexplained, into physical retail in order for them to do it.
The backlash does suggest that Early Access — at physical retail — won’t become the norm but in order for games development to be sustainable, a viable solution will absolutely have to be produced to save existing systems from being misused.