Forget about demos, alpha tests, and beta trials; the pre-release hype train has a new driver, and its name is Early Access. Early Access lets players buy and play a game ahead of launch, while it’s still going through the development cycle. Fans get to feel involved in the process, while the developers get valuable feedback, metrics and, of course, funding, to support the final release. And as seen at Gamescom 2022, it is far from going away.
Investing in Full Release
One of the obvious perks of Early Access is players get a taste ahead of release. Unlike a demo, content is not limited to a thin vertical slice. Contrary to game alphas and betas, Early Access trades time-limited availability for a full release later. Dune: Spice Wars and V Rising offer up to a year of Early Access, and both promise planned content drops throughout to keep fans engaged.
Players who jump in early will also pay less than those who wait for the launch version. With V Rising, Stunlock Studios says the price is expected to increase after Early Access finishes. while Shiro Games also notes the official release of v1.0 will increase the price for Dune: Spice Wars. Getting ahead of the curve and supporting a game you’re passionate about can pay dividends.
Just by playing an Early Access game, players give devs invaluable telemetry – the numbers and figures that offer insights into player behavior. There is also the opportunity for written feedback, which can be a crucial companion for determining what works and what needs more work.
Bringing in larger volumes of players lets developers understand how the game and its servers will perform at release. For large-scale multiplayer games, it is a great way to test server stability, iron out connection issues, and ensure a smooth online gameplay experience.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Dune: Spice Wars offered a solo experience in April 2022 to a positive response, but the experience doesn’t end there. During its Early Access period, Shiro Games has been making smaller content updates, plus all-important balancing changes. Also on the cards are a new playable faction, multiplayer and a full story campaign.
As V Rising builds towards full release, it will add more biomes and dungeons, new weapons and spell kits, new enemies and more crafting recipes. There are also plans for additional castle cosmetics, boosted performance and more.
The quality of Early Access games will only improve as development pushes closer to the official launch. It also brings players – and development teams – closer together, providing an opportunity to build tight-knit communities well ahead of the game’s release. The hope here, of course, is that the community reaches a critical mass, with players bringing their friends into the loop. This is exactly what happened with V Rising which has seen explosive growth in its player base and has already reached two million players just one month after reaching Early Access.
Multiplayer titles such as V Rising, and Dune: Spice Wars are more likely to reach this tipping point, as they offer an immediately accessible shared experience. Plus, more players means a bigger pool of players to play with and a chance for them to offer feedback.
That said, even with all the benefits, Early Access development is not going to replace traditional development, especially not on the AAA side of things. What it does provide, however, is another option for creators to pursue their vision, while others who believe in said vision can contribute in meaningful ways.
Either way, players will always have an important part to play, and in the end, it is all about getting the best product into their hands and entertaining them, no matter how we got there.