This week players were offered to try the alpha-version of DayZ, a zombie survival game by Bohemia Interactive. This title received increased attention from both, the public and the press when it was still in development stage. Another game that as popular as DayZ at its beta-stage was Neverwinter by Perfect World. Xsolla stood behind the sales of the localized version of Neverwinter on the Russian market and now examines the pros and cons of early access to games.
"And that was id’s mantra for so long: 'It’ll be done when it’s done.' And I recant from that. I no longer think that is the appropriate way to build games. I mean, time matters, and as years go by-if it’s done when it’s done and you’re talking a month or two, fine. But if it’s a year or two, you need to be making a different game," said Carmack in his interview to Gamesindustry.
This is true for all game developers, big and small. Talking about Skyrim, Todd Howard of Bethesda Softworks said that his team has embraced a new strategy a while ago. Game designers, artists and programmers create the working prototype as soon as possible and then make it available to players. The more people try the «draft» version of the game, the more comments developers receive and the better is the final game.
In March 2013 Valve launched Early Access category in its Steam Store, where players can buy new games that are still under development. The number of titles in this category grows every day. At the moment, there are more than 100 games, including Fallout Wasteland 2, Godus and Forced.
BetaDwarf believes that the game should be done by at least 75% before it can be released into early access. Sales that developers will see will generate enough money to finish the game. It is not only Steam Early Access service that helps release the game at early stages. As it was the case with Xsolla and Neverwinter, pre-release sales can be driven by the sale of packages.
"Xsolla helps its partners prepare and start pre-sales. When beta version of Neverwinter was launched, we started selling Hero Packs that included mounts, pets and crystals necessary to perform better in the game," says Aiman Seksembaeva, director of business development at Xsolla.
Some projects are released in Steam Early Access without any prior PR. One of them was Double Fine’s Spacebase DF-9. The game that no one heard of got $400,000 in just 2 weeks, a 100% ROI. More than 85% of the money came from Steam sales.
Jasper of BetaDwarf, however, thinks that Steam Early Access is not a be-all and end-all solution.
"This tool is not something that can save game developers from failure, at least, most of them. However, Early Access is something that games in need of testing, should definitely consider."
Early access sales can also lead to unexpected and unpleasant consequences. Players might be disappointed in the game and request a refund. This is why it is extremely important to let players know in advance that they are playing a game that is still under development.