Early access might be coming to the console sector.
Steam’s Early Access initiative is a novel idea that centers on one thing: giving the gaming community the power to critically influence the development of a game. Adopters, who pay a one-time fee, have a direct impact on the shape and scope of the game while funding its development in in the process.
Notable early access hits like Rust, the post-apocalyptic DayZ and the eerie survival sim The Forest have benefited tremendously thus far, selling millions of copies across Steam’s marketplace. While early access has its cons–the games aren’t guaranteed to ever be finished, for one, and many titles are broken and virtually unplayable–the program is gaining momentum and is proving to be a driving force for early games development.
Could early access work on consoles for, say, indie games?
A bit ago Sony Computer Entertainment’s Adam Boyes toldGamasutra that the company has talked quite a bit about including early access on the PlayStation Store.
“That’s one of the massive conversations we have internally — that, at what point does [a game meet standards of release]?”
Thankfully Boyes is well aware of the negative aspects of early access, too.
“We still at some point ensure that we’re being mindful of the consumer. We don’t want somebody to stumble across that title and expect a full product, and have a negative experience. At the same time, I’m like you — I want to help bootstrap people, to bootstrap them, to help them out. Like supporting the underdog for a sports team.”
Sony isn’t the only one considering early access: Microsoft is mulling it over as well.
Chris Charla, the head of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox indie division, told Develop Online that early access is a common request from devs.
“Right now on Xbox One and Xbox 360, you can do betas. A lot of games do, and some games do private betas,” Charla iterated. When we talk about early access, it typically means a game that you buy and it evolves over time to become 1.0, so you’re buying it before it’s 1.0 – Minecraft on PC is a perfect example.
“It’s something developers have been asking for, and we are listening really closely to developers, but I don’t have anything to announce on that right now.”
The real worry in early access hitting Xbox and PlayStation lies in the program’s execution. Paying money for a game that may never be finished is a risk on Steam’s iteration, but a console-based initiative will need some guarantees for early adopters.
If implemented correctly, early access on consoles could be a big hit. Both Microsoft and Sony have huge investments in the indie sector and this could be a great chance to unearth new indie gems.
But we have to ask ourselves this: can this feedback inhibit development by pulling away from the original vision of a game? A dev might feel pressure to alter their game to match what the community wants, instead of the type of experience they want to create, effectively making it counter-intuitive.
Furthermore the price would have to be right. As it stands, the PS4’s PS Store is filled with many indies at $14.99, which push many gamers away. Including a selection of unfinished pre-alpha games with these kinds of price tags would probably deter most gamers.
In any case, Microsoft and Sony are interested in early access, and we may hear more on the subject when TGS 2014 rolls around in September.