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Should Developers Sell Early Access?

Christopher Coke Posted:
Columns Player Versus Player 0

Welcome back to Player Versus Player, the column where two MMORPG writers enter to debate the hottest issues of the day before handing it to you in the comments. Please note, Player Versus Player is a LIVE product but if you would like early access to PVP 2.0, alpha packs can be purchased for $19.99 at your local editor’s desk. Readers should be aware that alpha articles may be missing critical features such as paragraphs, capitalization, and proper grammar. What’s that -- that only works for video games, you say? And some players think it’s downright shady while others just plain love it? Well then, I think we’ve found our topic: Should developers sell early access?

The sides:

Selling Alphas and Betas is a Good Thing: Players are given all the information up front. If they want to pay for access to an alpha, they should be able to.

Selling Alphas and Betas is Underhanded: Players willing to test in-development games are providing a service and shouldn’t be charged. It is greedy, plain and simple.

The combatants:

Chris “Free for All” Coke: Chris is a columnist at MMORPG and tired of scouring his inbox for beta invites. There has got to be a better way!

Adam “I won’t buy that for a dollar” Tingle: Adam is a writer at MMORPG no longer willing to have his wallet squeezed by the ‘man with his finger on the button’.

Let’s get started:

Chris: Welcome to the podium, Adam! This is a topic that’s been on my mind for months -- years even! I’m all for developers being able to sell early access to their games. For too long, betas have been a velvet rope experience. Some players get in and others are left searching their inboxes for invites that will never come. I bet a lot of players can relate to the feeling of being left out or annoyed that they can only play a weekend stress test. Providing players with more options to get in on beta isn’t something to shun.

Adam: I feel it is only right that I get out my soapbox, stand loud and proud, and attach a metaphorical beret to my head. Hear me comrades! It is time to take a stand against the capitalist pig dogs and their attempts to extract the (virtual) gold from our teeth by monetizing every aspect of our beloved genre. Pay to help them stress test their own game? Poppycock I say! Nonsense! We’re helping them out, not the other way around. We pay through the nose for the box, slam down a subscription fee, and sometimes meddle with cash shops, where does the one way stream of green end?

Chris: Selling early access is kind of taboo. I get that. These were invites that were given away for free, right? But let’s look at the other side of this. Betas were always something that would cost developers money (server costs, etc.) -- cash that could otherwise be spent on new features and polishing what’s already there. Selling early access not only provides developers with more testers they don’t have to pay for but it also presents them a nice influx of cash to invest back into the game. Players that buy early access to games are doing a much greater service than simply filing bug reports. More importantly, that influx can help guarantee smaller games release at all.

Adam: Small companies aside admittedly, oh boo hoo for the developers. It’s almost as if they’ve set out in business. Somewhere along the line I think we’ve forgotten that a beta isn’t a sponsored free trial for players, it actually serves a development purpose. We’re not invited in to the party to take a look around, eat the free cake, and leave questionable stains in the restroom, we’re there to help prep the buffet, plump up the pillows, and set out the banners. Stretched metaphor aside, we shouldn’t pay to help an MMORPG out at this stage, surely our subscription fee over the next decade can provide such an influx of cash?

Chris: Sure, our subscriptions will do that, but how about the players who just want to take a peek a little early? Surely developers should be able to capitalize on that. Then again, one of the most common criticisms of early access is that it tricks players into thinking they’re buying a complete game. Bullocks! Each of Steam’s more than 100 early access games include a giant blue box above explaining just where the game is at. If we don't read the product description, that's not the developer's fault. Their job is to be honest. Ours is to research what we're buying. When a game says “UNFINISHED” it probably warrants some extra thought.

Adam: I disagree. By getting that first-look glimpse, like it or not, you’re cashing in your one-use ‘surprise’ ticket. Getting in early can sometimes tarnish an otherwise enjoyable game. Find it unseemly, slightly ungainly at that stage of development? Well guess what? It’s hard to go back. Just look at the countless false starting MMORPGs that failed to recoup any credibility after a shaky launch. Kickstarter, early access, green light, or not, you’re meddling with expectations and when they’re not met, it takes a hardier man than I to step back into the fray several months later to see what’s going down.

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Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight