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A question about Early Access good practices.

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by TelescopingCat, Oct 8, 2018.

  1. TelescopingCat

    TelescopingCat

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    Hi all.

    So I have a game I've been working on for a while now, already released it on mobile some time ago but am working on a full 3D remake of it for the PC with some significant changes.

    The base of the game is done though, and so it goes like this. Originally on mobile, I released the game with five medium sized levels on the grounds that mobile games are typically short. People complained, I then extended the game to be more than double its original size with content that was of higher quality than the original five levels.

    Now, would it be a terrible idea to release the game early access with only those original five levels, explicitly stating that the game will be extended to be double its size a little later?

    As of now I'm leaning against the idea because:

    1. I was told that in early access, it's expected that you release the full game as playable, it's just that it might be a bit buggy.

    2. It may give people who did not read the description the idea that I'm releasing a short game, but in truth that's just half the game.

    3. I might get a bunch of suggestions to change major stuff that might be a bit difficult given how large and complex the programming on this project has become with time, so while I definitely want feedback, I might disappoint players and be dismayed that I can't fulfill everyone's wishes.

    4. The later levels are better than the original five, so it might give a false impression that my game is not as good as it actually is.

    But I'm for it because:

    1. I get to sell some copies of the game earlier and have some money to work with

    2. I get some good feedback.

    3. I get to give players a "surprise" when the game's size suddenly doubles.

    4. I get to keep people checking for updates.

    5. I make a splash in the market twice, first on EA then on the official release.

    Worth noting that even if I decide against EA on just the first five levels, I'll probably still put it on early access when done with the whole game and reap some of the above benefits anyway. It would just mean I have to work longer before making any release.

    If you read all that, thanks. I would appreciate any feedback.
     
  2. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    I am firmly against Early Access. Call it what it is: a paid beta. You are paying for the privilege to play an incomplete or potentially broken game.
     
  3. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    It's important to understand that Early Access is your release. You won't have an extra bunch of sales when you finally release it - at least not many.

    So the concept around EA is to interpret EA as being an evolving game as a service, starting with a rough thing, that's got a heavy bias toward listening to the community. These are all concepts shared by successful early access titles.


    Yeah, but really, people want a say in it. That's the kind of person who supports EA.
    Doesn't make much sense. EA games are eventually expected to be quite a good size.
    Managing community expectations is something successful people do. Unsuccessful people dodge it or make false promises. Never make a promise. Never be vague. Be very clear such as "That's an amazing suggestion but I am only one guy so I've added to the trello list of important future suggestions". Note: this example is making people happy because you took proper note of it under an "important" category - preferbly on trello. There is no date, so it may never be realised but it is important to you and people need that. They paid money to be part if the dev (that is what EA is!).
    You don't anger people this way.
    Not an issue but you should *really* start with your best level. Don't EA unless that first level is REALLY good. Start strong.
    Don't plan on it.
    Don't plan on it.
    People don't like this. It never, ever works. People are invested now, not later. Don't imagine things without a shred of proof that it works. You're assuming (wrongly) that EA gives you 2 shots at the market. It doesn't. EA is your release.
    If we're talking about steam then no. Steam does that...
    And here we have it: the reason everyone makes no money. Don't rely on that. And if it's steam - really don't rely on that nowadays.

    I appreciate I've been fairly hard in the replies, but you need the worst cases not the best cases. Don't ever design a business around the best case, only design business decisions around the worst case. If the worst case is still a good thing, do it. Otherwise, don't.
     
    pcg, Martin_H, K1kk0z90_Unity and 8 others like this.
  4. ShilohGames

    ShilohGames

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    I put a game on Early Access last year (June 2017) and then released the full version (December 2017). One issue with Early Access is that your game will be mostly judged by how it is on the day you release it on Early Access. Even YouTubers and Streamers who enjoyed your game will not come back and check it out again when you release the full version. Technically speaking, you sort of get two tries in the market, but the first one is really the main one.

    When a game is single player, Early Access can be tough. Multiplayer games sometimes thrive in Early Access, because those players will keep coming back with actual excitement towards updates/patches.

    Also, a lot of gamers have a sour opinion of Early Access because they have burned in the past or know somebody who has. Some gamers avoid Early Access games completely.
     
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  5. LurkingNinjaDev

    LurkingNinjaDev

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    There are no good practices around early access.
    As @hippocoder told, it's a paid beta and you release your game once when you release as early access, the other release is just a bigger update, nothing else.
    Unless you're developing a hardcore multiplayer, don't do early access, it's probably will be much worse than you would have been ride through the final stage of your development and release your game properly when it's done and polished.
     
    hippocoder and TelescopingCat like this.
  6. snacktime

    snacktime

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    Definitely easier to do with multiplayer games, but I think structuring the dev cycle differently can make incremental updates work even for single player.

    I would do more structured updates that give players very specific reasons to come back. And I would split my game into several parts and release those over time. So you are never releasing just more of the same (more levels) or improvements on existing. You always release complete significant new gameplay. You might roll the smaller improvements into your updates, or have a separate shorter 'quality improvement' cycle for that. But players should know the main updates add significant new gameplay.

    This works better for multiplayer IMO simply because they tend to be more complex so you have more to work with. In some cases part of it could make for a complete game in itself.
     
    TelescopingCat likes this.
  7. TelescopingCat

    TelescopingCat

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    Yeah see that's the thing, my game really does seem bad for it reading these replies (which are really good and greatly appreciated). It is not multiplayer and it is a single player experience not really big in terms of replay value. It is also kind of set in stone in that, the way progression is set up (mostly linear), it's hard to change the structure of the level order. Hence why I'm stuck with lesser levels being first (they're lesser levels in my opinion but I still put a lot of thought into them and intend to polish them a bit further).

    And that's another thing, if EA is seen as interactive development, that's also bad for me because this game is essentially a remake of an already existing game. There's not a huge deal that can be changed.

    Reading the replies I kinda feel like early access is a bullet I should ideally dodge in my particular situation, in consideration of the points made. And definitely if EA is my release, then I want my release to be as complete as possible. I've already suffered some consequences when I originally extended the game on mobile, older reviews said the game was short, etc.

    Once again really appreciate the responses.
     
    LurkingNinjaDev likes this.
  8. Joe-Censored

    Joe-Censored

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    The only thing Early Access does for you is gives you an excuse for a buggy and/or incomplete game experience. Pretty much everything else about it is a negative. Your game's official release is that EA release, and if you get any reviews it will be in that state. Your game won't get anymore fanfare when it exits EA than any old game does when a new build is pushed out, with the exception of possibly a small number of hardcore fans of the game showing some excitement.
     
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  9. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    disclaimer -- this is all from perspective of EA game customer, not developer.

    I've bought two EA games. I don't think I'll ever buy a third.

    Reason why : In both cases, I thought the games were of good quality, and something I would like to see completed, but in both cases I exhausted the gameplay content in a few hours. And this was me trying hard to squeeze gameplay from them. Months go by with eensy-weensy updates... little tweaks, some small thing that slightly changes the gameplay loop I'm already tired of... I just don't care about the games anymore.

    I understand the developers probably needed some money to get the thing going, but I don't think this is the way to do it. Now I have a poor image of the developers in my mind. I don't expect much from them. This is not a good first impression to make on your customers!

    Furthermore -- and this is pure speculation -- but I imagine the developers lose some steam after they make their EA publish. It seems that way, anyhow. I watch the discord channels of these games I puchased EA, and over time you see definite fatigue on the developers part. Maybe they're jsut tired of annoying consumers demanding dumb crap, but I could imagine getting a small surge of money and then suddenly becoming something akin to a parent of 5,000 slobbering booger eaters could definitely put a damper on the motivation. In the back of their mind, they must be thinking, "ehh, everybody whose gonna buy the game already did.... what's the benefit of continued development?" Keeping ones reputation in tact probably won't be a reliable motivator for the long run. Only real sustenance (money) can do that.


    So, if it was me, I'd only EA release if I had a full game but, for whatever reason, simply didn't have enough time to put a cherry on top. I would not EA release with any promises -- for the gamers or myself -- in tow.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2018
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  10. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    EA can work well. But its often a disaster. Here are some things I've seen work well.

    Price your EA release higher then the normal release. You don't want the general public playing your EA game. You only want the most hardcore fans. The ones who are interested in testing your game. The ones who will have strong opinions about your game, and won't be afraid to tell you.

    Remember EA is selling to your own internal community. If you don't have an existing community that is excited about your game, don't do EA.

    If your business plan relies on first week sales, don't do EA. You'll just be diluting the sales, which will harm your chance of building momentum and getting exposure. EA does better for games that are expected to peak well after release.

    Disclaimer: I'm just an observer. I have no practical experience with running EA games.
     
  11. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    @hippocoder pretty much covered what I'd have said.

    Importantly, while I've not used EA myself I've heard repeatedly that the whole "two releases" thing is a complete myth.

    Thinking about it practically, this makes intuitive sense. Ignoring whether or not we use the term "release", the important thing is the point where your game goes from "unavailable" to "available". At that point the majority of people waiting for your game are no longer waiting for it.

    Whether that's a good or a bad thing will be entirely up to the specifics of your project. If your plan relies on building anticipation I can't see how EA would fit into it. If anticipation isn't important then I can potentially see a bunch of benefits.
     
  12. Ryiah

    Ryiah

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    Just be prepared for the possibility that the community will "surprise" you by expecting you to do it again. Over the past few years that the concept of Early Access has been a thing people have come to develop certain expectations and one of the main concepts is frequent updates.

    Speaking of frequent releases if you don't release for months at a time because you're building up to that huge increase people may leave negative reviews stating that the developer has stopped supporting their product.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
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  13. Quingu

    Quingu

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    The whole point of EA is that you can release 20% complete game and get some cash flow to finish it. You slowly build a community of players and they give your cash, opinions and free testing. For many larger indie projects it's the ONLY way to go. Just look at what Notch did with Minecraft. The important factor is that EA is not suitable for many types of games. It's very good for sandbox style, multiplayer games, but not for story-driven, single player experiences.

    EA is not a "paid beta". If you can get your game to beta stage, you don't need EA at all. EA is a new, very promising, business model which is extremely valuable to ambitious indies who want tome make larger games, but don't have the funding. EA is best suited to games which are delivered as an online service. If you want to make an old-school single player game with a story and a bunch of levels it will not work well.

    If you want to see the full power of Early Access look no further than at Star Citizen. 200 million in funding for a crappy tech demo. That's a good business.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
  14. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    Er, you just also said "hey, get kickstarted for millions then EA will be successful for you"... because you're already successful from the kickstarter.

    EA isn't new. What the hell?

    I can't agree with a single thing you posted. I'm out.
     
  15. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    It's a matter of how you deal with risk. You can learn from high-risk professions like the airline industry, the military, or the medical professions.

    You don't deal with risk by taking any chances you don't have to. Throw optimism away. Looking where others succeeded is fine, but the important thing is to figure out what mistakes they succeeded in spite of. You do everything you can to mitigate all the risk.

    "You slowly build a community of players..." This isn't something you just magically do. It's a massive risk. One I doubt few people pull off. As stated by several people, and true to my own experience, what ends up happening most the time is you grab a few diehard fans and then burn them out on your slow development cycle, and by the time you "release" nobody knows or cares. Can it be done? Sure. It has. But is it likely to be done well? Probably not. There is lots of evidence to suggest against. Typically, people who pull of success in the face of risk have money and experience.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
    Ryiah likes this.
  16. frosted

    frosted

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    This is also what I've seen in the past with most successful EA indies.

    EA is also an ever changing battlefield, what was true a year ago isn't true today. Anyone who claims to know definitively how EA works is talking out of their ass. The market changes, sentiment changes, and different games work differently.

    I agree and disagree. Almost no single player games have "a community of players" at all. This is largely a multi-player thing. Single player games tend to have "community hype" which really revolves around the reviews that players leave. As long as the reviews are decent, then there is often a longer tail as more and more players buy the game over months or even years.

    I really believe that the long term success of something depends heavily on the review score more than anything else. That and the market conditions.
     
  17. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    How is eroding a marketplace "good business?"
     
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  18. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Good point. Both the games I've participated in EA with are MP focused games.
     
  19. LurkingNinjaDev

    LurkingNinjaDev

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    I would add the mod-community in single players, but that's only created way _after_ the release of the game, sometimes rather near the end of the life-cycle of the game. I'm mentioning only for the 'community'-part.
     
  20. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    I think @hippocoder already got to the heart of it. I just thought I would say having checked into Early Access last month they spell it out quite clear who it is for and the purpose of it. You can read it here.

    It has item headings that basically match your questions and address some of the things others here have suggested. Not intended for finished games. Not meant as a way to crowdfund development of your game. Whatever price you charge is for what you are offering right now and should reflect what the player is getting at this instant when they buy your game.... not what they might get in future, etc.
     
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  21. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    Strictly in the interests of answering your question - I don't see things this way myself! - from a profit only perspective the market is probably going to get eroded anyway, and making sure you get in early and maximise profit before that happens could be seen precisely as "good business".
     
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  22. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    Okay but there are plenty of ways to contribute that involve things other than Star Citizen pocket draining that ultimately treats consumer confidence (which, let's face it, has F***ing plummeted as far as the space sim market is concerned thanks to the NMS launch and the nightmare that is Star Citizen) like something ultimately disposable.
     
  23. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    I agree, and I despise the way we so many people treat pretty much everything as disposable these days.
     
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  24. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Getting paid is always good business. And it looks like they got paid.
     
  25. Murgilod

    Murgilod

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    That's incredibly debatable, even outside of my anarcho-commie leanings.
     
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  26. christoph_r

    christoph_r

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    We've recently gone public with a fairly early stage of our game, including 'selling' the game. So, essentialy early access. As such, I/we as a development team have put quite some thought into EA, looked at successful examples and tried to think about how the current market handles things. While I do agree that EA chances are certainly worse now than a few years ago, I think it's over the top to call it pointless these days.
    I definitely agree that probably the biggest factor is the type of game you're making. Multiplayer has been mentioned, but I think the bigger picture (which has also been dismissed by some already) is the part about building a community. IMO that should be the main goal when doing early access, and it's no doubt much harder these days. It's not only about people having been burned by games being stuck in development hell or overpromising and underdelivering; I think a major point that kept some people with a game was that they genuinely weren't interesting in many other games that were on the horizon or already available. This is of course very hard now with platforms being flooded. You need to be niche for that to work.
    Which brings me to my main point: In order to pull of early access, you need to have a highly engaging game. Not only the gameplay by itself, but also something around it that gets people together. It's great if players can sink dozens of hours into your EA game already, but if there's no incentive to communicate, it's probably going to be very hard to build a community. As mentioned before, multiplayer is a good thing because it encourages community building and engagement all by itself. Sandbox games are great, because if players can be creative in a game, they tend to feel more ownership and also often want to share their creations. Something that hasn't been mentioned before: I think that the topic of a game can be pretty important as well. Games in historical settings have fared pretty well in that regard. Replayability is a must, because if you're releasing new features, people should want to come back and play again.

    And on top of that, I think it can only work if done out of the right motivation. It shouldn't be done for the money (at least not mainly) and it's not something to plan with. Instead, the focus should be on community building - which needs to be honest and genuine. That also means putting effort into releases, to make sure at least the roughest edges have been smoothened out. It should be about valuing early supporters, not seeing/using them as QA guinea pigs. If both the game and the motive are right, though, I think chances aren't too bad. In the context of the OP however, it seems that neither was really fitting for EA, though.

    But then again, I might just be overly optimistic after deciding to go the EA route :rolleyes:
     
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  27. zenGarden

    zenGarden

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    There is good and bad early access.

    Bad ones with lot of bugs, unbalanced gameplay, graphics and content are missing.
    Those give a bad impression on the game, most disappointed buyers won't get back playing it.

    While there is some successfull ones with polished gameplay and content almost definitive, looking more like a release demo instead of work in progress early access.
     
  28. christoph_r

    christoph_r

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    That is also an interesting point. Some years ago, horizontal prototypes were the accepted norm for EA. These days, releasing vertical prototypes for EA may be a better bet - showing that you're capable as a team to pull of the quality you're promising. I suppose it's easier for people to imagine more content & systems being added rather than existing stuff getting polished and fixed up. It may also have something to do with the desire to be part of development: Planned/promised (but yet untouched) features can have that almost magical quality of getting people all dreamy about the game's future. That's likely much less so the case when there's already a functional but somewhat sobering first prototype of those features.
    However, it's often also more difficult to pull of such a vertical prototype and still have an enjoyable game, because often the interplay of various different systems is what makes games interesting & intriguing.
     
  29. zenGarden

    zenGarden

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    Mainly because some early access never got released , some other early access didn't reached their expectations or didn't improved and was released despite they was not great at all.
    It's hard to give credit and pay for a work in progress that is not good enough.
     
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  30. ChazBass

    ChazBass

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    I buy a lot a games on Steam (which is why I don't get as much work done on my game as I should). My perspective on EA is this: Avoid it unless your game is a niche game, possibly free, with an pre-existing community, or its a big game and you're a well known developer/studio. Cogmind, for example, went EA and did well to start, and then with later releases, but there was already a sizable community buying the game directly from the developer before it hit Steam. I bought it early on and then again on Steam (even though the dev gave me a Steam key--I wanted to support his efforts). Games from well established devs/studios which are good in concept in an established genre can do well in EA. People will forgive the defects because they know that they will get fixed as development progresses, that the development will, in fact, progress, and it will progress quickly.

    The thing that will really hurt you with EA is that if you're not in one of these two categories, you will get hammered hard by bad reviews right out of the gate. You'll end up with a mixed, or worst review summary, and people will dismiss your game on spec even as development progresses. I assume, and I think many others do as well, that a small game with bad initial reviews is not worth my time or money, and will likely be abandoned by the developer quickly. It very rare for a game with bad initial reviews to go anywhere even if the developer continues to work on for an extended period of time.
     
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