What’s wrong with Steam Early Access?

Yes, I know I’m hopelessly late with this update – but I’ve been busy ;)

I do wish you all a happy 2014, and I promise that once Divinity:Original Sin is out, I’ll update my blog more frequently. For now however, my entries will be pretty sparse, just because I’m so swamped.

A thread started on our forums that I thought might be of interest because it touches on the topic of Steam Early Access, something I guess pretty much every developer is thinking of nowadays.

A player named Kamatsu argued against Divinity:Original Sin going on Steam Early Access based on the bad treatment Wasteland 2 was getting. The reason for starting the thread was a Eurogamer preview about Divinity:Original Sin in which it slipped that Larian might be planning to release Divinity:Original Sin on Steam Early Access.

I didn’t actually check how Wasteland 2 was doing but from watching a couple of let’s plays and reading some previews, my impression was that it was actually doing well. And its position in the Steam charts indicated to me that they were making quite some revenue too which I assume will in turn allow InXile to make their game even better.

Somehow however Kamatsu didn’t share my opinion about everything being fine & dandy.

He or she said that basically every new thread in the Wasteland 2 forums for the past weeks has been a complaint about it being a beta, about it being a so expensive for a beta, about people being sure that it’ll never get finished, that it should be free & that Steam Early Access is an invention of the devil. The others in the thread seemed to agree and concluded that Larian was never going to be so crazy as to contemplate Early Access.

Right - Larian was of course contemplating that very thing at the very moment that thread went up ;) For a while there, I suspected somebody was using one of them NSA things on me.

Funnily enough, as I was going through that thread, a video from Jim Sterling went up in which the Jimquisition tackled Steam Early Access. The summary of it seemed to be that gamers should watch videos from youtubers and read previews to inform themselves before buying a game on Steam Early Access because clearly there were people in the games industry abusing the system. Which seems sensible to me (even if it came from someone making money with such videos & previews ;) ) but no earth shattering insight.

Of course there are people that try to abuse a system like Early Access, just like there are games out there on Kickstarter that will never see the light of day and pre-order campaigns that lie through their teeth about what’ll be in the final game. You can’t have good things without bad things and it seems obvious to me that if you want to have safe sex, you should wear a condom. If you don’t want any bad surprises when buying a game, wait until it’s released, unless you want to support the developer or you want to have an impact on a game by giving early feedback. or you just can’t wait.

I thought all of that was something that was really obvious with Steam Early Access, but apparently it’s not .So I delved in and wrote a post in reply to Kamatsu and asked the Larian community to explain to me why there was so much complaining going on. Clearly I was missing something.

I argued that it seemed to me that every gamer should be pro the system. Just like Kickstarter, it opens up sources of funding which I wished were available when we did Divinity II or Divine Divinity. Those games would’ve benefited from that. (Well ok, maybe not considering that the decision would’ve been in the hands of the publishers, but still, it would’ve opened up possibilities where otherwise there were no possibilities, and that could’ve drastically changed the initial success of the games .)

I received a pretty good reply from a friendly weresheep named Robcat who quoted a reddit thread from a developer who listed the pros and cons of going on Early Access. I’ll quote said post here for convenience:

Pros

  • More revenue now - In theory, launching on SEAG means an injection of cash right now.
  • More exposure - Word of mouth marketing seems like it would get a shot in the arm, just from the increased number of people playing the game.
  • Steam Front Page - Some SEAG games get front-page treatment, and that can be a huge marketing boost.
  • More feedback before launch - Assuming you’re interested, more players means more feedback. And more feedback could lead to a better game.

Cons

  • Bad First Impression - This is probably the biggest and most tangible risk I can think of. If your game isn’t ready, this is one way to let as many people know as possible. In many cases, first impressions stick, so this can be a rut that’s near impossible to get out of later.
  • Player Misunderstanding - A different shade of the above, some players don’t “get” that SEAG is unfinished games, and will castigate devs for selling a “faulty” product. This can burn bridges with customers and create bad press.
  • No Critical Mass - Many games become popular when enough people are talking about them simultaneously. Call it “going viral” or “10,000 fans” or whatever. Does SEAG diminish the “big spectacle” on launch day? Do we get two mediocre bangs instead of one big bang? Does that matter?
  • Delayed Gold Launch - Integrating Steam during development takes time away from the game development process. If you’re planning on launching via Steam anyway, this risk is moot. However, the timing of this delay could be non-optimal (e.g. latest build has a bad bug, and next patch is delayed by SEAG integration efforts).
  • Less revenue later(?) - Does the lifetime revenue get impacted by SEAG? Is there a chance that we’re choosing between 10 sales now with 10 sales later, versus 0 sales now and 100 later? This is just another implication of the “no critical mass” above, but is worth pointing out.

The author concluded that the pros were a known quantity, the cons an unknown quantity so it made sense to go ahead with launching his game on Steam Early Access. I concur, not only because of the pros, but also because I don’t think the cons are such a big deal.

The pros on this list are very big pros and speak for themselves. Feedback before release is worth gold, at least if you listen to it. Revenue in the final stages is worth gold because some horrible compromises don’t need to be made. Without it, the chances that you can actually listen to player feedback are lowered because making changes does cost money. And word of mouth, well that’s really what you’re after. That’s worth more than gold, which to be fair hasn’t been having such a good  track record of late ;)

So what about the cons?

Bad first impressions & player misunderstanding

The same risks of players having bad first impressions exist with any alpha/beta program and the benefits of actually having a lot of people participate in such programs far outweigh the negatives I think. Clear & honest communication about what to expect, like Day Z did, an early access game that’s been riding the top of the charts, seems to be the most important thing here.

Speaking for Larian, we’re releasing our game in alpha/beta state to all of our Kickstarter backers, and thus share our development process with them. That creates some confusion but in general it’s a gold mine of feedback. I don’t see why we should not extend that to the much larger community we have on Steam. The more feedback we can integrate, the higher the quality of the final game will be, and that will eventually shine through, just like I’m sure it will for Wasteland 2.

In reading through certain comments I noticed that a lot of people seem to be concerned that negative threads aimed against faults of an alpha/beta or against the fact that a game is on early access itself might influence future buyers. I’m an optimist so I don’t think that’ll necessarily be the case, first because I assume that our audience is smart enough to read through certain comments and second because you may not overestimate the impact of such threads. What matters at the end of the day is going to be the quality of the game – if it’s good, people will tell each other that it’s good.

It might also be worth pointing out here that as a developer at this stage we don’t really care about the form or tone in which we receive the feedback – what interests is how we can improve the gameplay experience. So if somebody writes something like “this is the worst game ever because you can’t change the turn-order. Larian designers are morons, XYZ did that so much better. ” we only remember – changing turn-order seem to be in demand.

In the same breath however I have to admit that I’m guilty of the same thing, criticising games that are on Steam Early Access. I have a few games that disappointed me in my Steam library, even if they shouldn’t have, and I’ve been vocal about it. As a developer I should know how fast  seemingly big things can change for the better (and vice versa), but as a player that somehow doesn’t register.

So yes, some misunderstanding about what’s in an alpha or a beta is inevitable, but I think that as people play more of these early access games, it’s something that’ll correct itself over time and they’ll learn how to judge things. The same will apply to those reporters who are thinking of reviewing Steam Early Access titles just as if they were finished products, something I think is a pretty bad idea, for the aforementioned reason – they cannot possibly know what’s still going to change. That they review Steam Early Access titles is fine, but as an alpha or as a beta – not as a finished product.

No Critical Mass

Judging from my own limited experience and watching the Steam charts, I don’t think that’s a really big issue. Take Wasteland 2 for instance – it was a hit on Kickstarter, it was a hit on Steam when Early Access went up, it’ll be a hit when it launches. I’m pretty sure the same will apply to Day Z or Starbound. Or comparing it to pre-orders, which is the only thing I have experience with: Dragon Commander did very well during its preorders, but that didn’t stop it from going to number 1 in the charts on the day of its release and spending some quality time in the higher regions of the Steam charts.

Delayed Gold Launch 

Everybody in this industry and beyond knows by now that it’s better to release it when it’s done, even if everybody keeps on sinning against the principle. Not really a con if it’s for a good reason.

Less revenue later

If you release it with feedback integrated, even at a later date, you will get more revenue, not less, because the game will be better for it and word of mouth will be better too.  Larian is still in business after all these years partially because we’ve tried to integrate feedback post-factum into our games. If it’d been up to my publishers, nothing would’ve changed in our games and they’d be long forgotten. Selling games nowadays is about lifecycle management, not day 1 sales only. 

That leaves me with little cons.

In our case you could add backer backlash because we’ve been on Kickstarter. But like I wrote in that forum thread, I can’t see an objective reason why there should be such backlash. Backers got Divinity:Original Sin at 25US$ + extras + plenty of exclusive extras at higher tiers. Our alpha is free to all backers. Given this, why would any backer feel upset if he sees the game on early access at a higher price point?

So I must be overlooking something given the amount of noise the internet is making about Early Access, but I don’t see it. If Kickstarter is ok, why isn’t Early Access ok? I would be grateful if somebody could point that out for me.

For the record: This does not necessarily mean that we will be releasing Divinity:Original Sin on Early Access. It’s fair to assume that we’re thinking very hard about it and even preparing for it, but honestly, no final irreversible decision on that has been made yet.

  • Fox

    I was under the impression that most of the backlash re: Wasteland 2 had to do with InXile selling early access for $60, when the planned retail price is closer to $20. Marking a title up 300% for early access isn’t exactly something that’s easy to defend.

    ….

    Anyway, I think the biggest problem with Early Access–from a developer’s standpoint–is simply communicating the status of the game to the consumer. I’ve seen this a lot with Wasteland 2′s beta, and even a little bit with DOS’ alpha–there are gamers who load up these early builds, see the warnings, and somehow think they’re playing the full finished retail release.

    And this is something that developers can work on by adding splash screens and/or pop-up windows upon saving/loading to remind players that it’s an early build of an unfinished game (and even using those screens to direct players to the proper venue(s) for feedback). A small line of text near the main menu (apparently) isn’t cutting it.

    Divinity: Original Sin makes a pretty big (in my estimation) mistake, and it’s a mistake that InXile has made with Wasteland 2, too.

    The DOS alpha is listed in Steam libraries as “Divinity Original Sin.”
    The WL2 beta is listed in Steam libraries as “Wasteland 2.”

    If the game is in alpha or beta stage, that should be apparent in its name. DOS should be listed as “Divinity Original Sin Alpha,” or something similar. Remember Dragon Commander a few months back? The DC beta was (and still is) listed in Steam as “Divinity: Dragon Commander Beta.”

    Most the the really bad, negative write-ups I see for early-access games come from consumers who are under the mistaken impression that they’re playing a finished game. Sure, they’ll often be corrected relatively quickly–but those negative opinions can spread fast.

    • nobody72

      I believe fox is correct; the issue was pricing (having to pay to be a beta tester). It is a funny thing that differentiate ‘store (steam in this case)’ from ‘kickstart’; at the store the beta tester expect to be paid (bonus for buying early access) while for kickstart they offer beta testing as a ‘perk’. I guess in the case of kickstart you aren’t really paying for ‘beta’ you are paying more because you are a ‘bigger’ fan and they let the ‘bigger’ fan access earlier or something like that.
      -
      I have no real comment on steam early access; it might work for you it might not the question is do you have time for a steam early access (not calendar time but hours in a day). I.e, if you do a steam early access the steam community expects timely responses to posts (i.e, daily) at least that is the pattern being set by other early access.

    • Danjal Veskandar

      Wasteland 2 beta going for $60 was a digital deluxe package though, the $25 pricepoint that it went for on their site was a base-game only.
      Release price will be higher than that. Most likely a $30~40 pricepoint as said on their forums.

      So yes, $60 is more. But it also gets you more.
      People would rather have seen a “game only” offer. So they went and complained…
      And complained… And complained…

      While I agree that clear communication is important, and labeling something as beta when it is beta (instead of labeling it under just the title) is something I’m in favor of.
      That doesn’t mean that idiots get a free-pass.
      When something clearly states what it is, and people did not read it.
      Its on them.

    • Fox

      I’m watching a Wasteland 2 stream right now. The Stream just calls it “Wasteland 2,” no mention of beta in title. The comment field is littered with people asking whether or not the game has been released yet.

      More evidence that developers NEED to clearly identify pre-release products.

      Another problem with early access: Steam lists the early-access launch date as the game’s launch date. So, on Steam, Divinity: Original Sin just launched today, January 17, 2014. Couple that with the fact that the early-access game is NOT labeled as an alpha, and you can see how consumer confusion isn’t simply possible, but inevitable.

  • JackDandy

    I don’t think you’re giving enough weight to the first impressions thing.
    First thoughts about the game is something that sticks with the player for a long, long while.

    Kickstarter is different from Early Access that way- The “Concept” of the game can’t really be tarnished by it.

    I still definitely recognize the benefits of Early Access.. But it’s a question of immediate benefits versus later ones, and which one will be better for the game in whole.

  • LC

    As an alternative:

    Why not opening up Divinity Original Sin for preorder on Steam and giving every person preordering the game access to the beta version?

    Usually people are more forgiving when playing a beta named beta than playing an early access game. It’s really just a wording thing but words can be important when it comes to expectations and treatment of games and stuff.

    And don’t forget that 3 of the 4 pros can even be achieved with a free beta and even more so because people are much more forgiving when playing something for free. A free beta is seen differently as a paid early access version. A free beta is seen as a community service and an effort to make the game better while paid early access is often seen as a cheap way of getting revenue for an unfinished product…..

    But of course that would probably cause some problems with the kickstarter userbase. Maybe you could give people paid access to the alpha and early beta and release a free and more polished beta later, just 2 or 3 weeks before release or so (maybe raffling 10k beta-keys or something).

    And when doing a Steam Early Access approach, the price point is extremly important: many people fail to understand that some ealry access games have a higher price than the final release product in order to bring the pricing on the same level as corresponding kickstarter tiers. You guys have the benefit that every backer gets the beta version so you could reasonably price your early access version which means that it could be on the same level as the release price or even below that. That’s a very big pro compared to Wasteland 2 which is priced 60$ in early access (or Planetary Annihilation which is priced 80$….)

    • Danjal Veskandar

      Naming is very important indeed. It can mean a world of difference in how something is perceived by the consumer.

      Regardless, some people will never bother to read and just assume.
      Their assumptions lead them to making bad decisions they then complain that they weren’t warned… (Which ofcourse they were… But they ignored the warnings)

      Wasteland 2 – $60 pricepoint was for a digital deluxe package that included beta – people turned this into “we’re paying $60 for beta”
      Planetary Annihilation decided to respect their lowest alpha tier from the kickstarter, again people didn’t read. They see steam and they assume they have rights to stuff…

      And people will do so regardless. Even when sold as a pre-order that includes beta, people will buy it not aware that its beta. Install. Play… Complain…
      Yes. They are that stupid.

      • Fox

        You’re missing a bit of the WL2 backlash.

        It very much was $60 for “just a beta,” because the digital goods don’t currently exist, and it was the ONLY option. It’s not a “deluxe package” if it’s the ONLY package–it’s the default.

        • Danjal Veskandar

          Its the only package they offer right now.
          They could’ve offered a game-only package without beta access, but what does that differ from waiting untill release?

          People have no right to demand beta access on their terms, this is the package that inXile decided to offer and anyone thats not interested can wait or get angry and not buy the game at all.

          In a way doing this is a smart move on their part. It somewhat assures that the people that DO get beta access are actually interested in the game instead of just interested in a discount.
          Many people seem to believe that Early Access is another word for Early Discount…

          Its clear that many people are not interested in the content on offer. Does that diminish its value?
          No it does not.

          2 Novella’s – they usually go for $3~9,99 a piece, so say $5 per novella.
          Soundtrack – tends to be priced at $5~10.
          Concept Art-book – estimated value $5
          Wasteland 1 – sold for $6
          Wasteland 2 – sold to backers for $15~25 depending on when you backed, likely to sell for $30~40 at launch

          Take this together and you’ll get an approximate value of ($5×2+$5~10+$5+$6+$30~40) $56~71.

          And the option to wait for the game to launch and buy it seperately for its launch price.
          Hey, you’ll even have the advantage of not getting it should it prove to be a bust!

          But no, people insist on demanding preferential treatment *now*….
          Sounds to me the problem isn’t with inXile or WL2, but with these people…

  • Felipe Pepe

    Wasteland 2 not only was released for $60, but IMO it was very dissapointing. The game is mediocre right now, and yet they promise to turn it into a classic, with no clear explanation on how they will do so.

    You guys, on the other hand, proved during the kickstarter that Larian have a amazing and open communication with its fans. I’m sure you guys can do a Steam Early Access release and be clear about what is going on, what are the plans and so on.

    The current D:OS alpha may be more unstable and less polished than W2, but it is clear that you guys have a great game that needs just a bit more work.

  • BBgmr

    I think gamers have to take a lot of personal responsibility here for their decision. We know the risks, yet we can decide to try early access anyway. A less-than-stellar “first time” doesn’t necessarily sour one to future…experiences. But some people may decide that.

  • Danjal Veskandar

    The whole backlash comes most often from people who are not planning to back any early development game.
    They perceive this new trend as a threat to their style of games – ones that get published finished and relatively bug-free.
    They think that because a lot of small developers are utilizing kickstarter and early access, its gonna replace the old model.

    Most importantly, the only reason they see for getting on early is “a discount” – they don’t plan on testing or playing or providing feedback. Since they are used to a system where their voice gets ignored anyway.

    So we see a lot of examples LIKE wasteland 2 where people felt cheated. “$60 for a beta?!”
    Completely ignoring the fact that $60 got you a digital deluxe package that also happened to include beta. They’d rather wanted just the game, so they completely ignored all reason and went shouting.

    Then there’s the examples of games that are so riddled with bugs that they are utterly unplayable, They should not yet have been opened to the public. It was a bad decision to do so. But it happened. And other games are being judged on the bad business sense of some companies and the bad customer sense of many a gamer.
    Don’t buy stuff without doing research. Just because its on steam front page doesn’t mean its gonna be a game for you.

    The only thing I can say towards Larian Studios is: Respect your early supporters.
    Whatever the rest of the world might say, these are the people that were there to back you first. If that means everyone else has to pay a bit extra, or gets less exclusive content so be it.
    Don’t sell out and offer the people who join in now a better game just because that looks better on steam. Cause the people that complain the most will complain regardless of what deal you offer them. They’ll never be satisfied.

  • John Parkinson

    Wasteland 2 was priced at $60 early access because it was $55 minimum to get into the Beta via Kickstarter. If they had priced it lower, it would have been insulting to those who backed at that level to sell Beta any cheaper.

    For anyone to then complain about that pricing simply hasn’t been bothering to find out all the facts before complaining. But similarly, why are they complaining? Are they being forced to pay $60 (which I’m sure is more than final release price will be) to get into a Beta of a game? I suspect not. Although there is always what they say about a fool and their money.,,,

    I think it’s incredibly clear what Early Access means. It’s a mid-point between Kickstarter and Release, it provides funds to a game you want to help to complete and in exchange you get to play a semi-finished version which you know is late Alpha/early Beta whatever you want to call it. I’ve got no time for anyone who complains about that situation because something is semi-finished, since it’s clear by the words ‘Early Access’! (I suspect they’ve not bothered to read either the Steam FAQ about it – http://store.steampowered.com/earlyaccessfaq/ – or the details on each developers page stating what state the game is in right now.)

    Arguably, Early Access is better than Kickstarter — you can see a game that’s in a (supposedly) playable state, you get something to play with immediately for your money. There’s no guarantee you get anything for your money with a Kickstarter.

    Should Divinity: Original Sin go on Early Access? Well, I would have thought it was a good source for some extra cash and extra testers. Since all backers have alpha there’s no need to price it relative to any of the Kickstarter tiers — I would suggest just pricing it at whatever release price you were planning and then letting it vary with the usual Steam sales and discounts that happen over time.

    You make sure to have a clear statement of what’s in the game/working and what’s not in the game/broken on the Early Access page. Make it clear what people are getting and that’s fine … but then, that’s what I thought all Early Access games were doing already and people still complain. On the other hand, I don’t think that any potential purchaser is going to actually care what someone moaned about on the Steam forums when the game is out of Beta and released properly. The sales spike is still going to come the first time you end up 50% off in a seasonal Steam sale!

  • Rob Dinsmore

    The backlash for Wasteland 2 is all about price. They priced early access at 60 to match the KS tier that had the beta as a perk. Solution: Give KS supporters earlier access to the beta then sell the beta on steam for the same price as retail. Also do not offer beta access as a KS reward.

  • Paragon Timeraider

    I think the problem with this is the price. At Wasteland and Planetary Annihilation, their Early Acces entrances got screwed up by 1 massive thing. The price .. and there is NO way they could have asked less as people specifically paid more during the Kickstarter to get those extra alpha/beta. Since at D:OS those costs already got removed now that everyone got free alpha/beta acces… it might be possible to ask a fair price while Kickstarters ofcourse still have a slight advantage for kickstarting it. I myself dont have anything against early acces, BUT usually i do feel like singleplayer games should only come in at a point further in development while multiplayer/co-op games can come earlier in development due to already having more repeatable content and a fun experience due to ofcourse.. playing with friends :P
    The good things are building up more hype by kinda giving them a “demo” which slowly gets more content added till release and then you have the full game.
    However .. the moment you release a game on Early Acces… that will be your release. Ive seen this at many projects and everytime the moment people spot it at Early Acces, thats your release. 99% of people will not feel anything special at release, mostly its more the feeling of “hmm, apparently it gets released now.. see what content they add for release”.

    Advantages:
    - Early money to continue/improve development
    - Bringing up some hype by letting people taste the game
    - Lots of feedback

    Disadvantages:
    - No real releasedate, full release will be simply treated as a big patch, nothing more
    - The avarage gamecommunity outside of Larian fans. Meaning.. retards :P so try to find normal feedback in the list of pricecomplaints,development stage complaints and general moronic biased comments about the game without any facts to prove anything
    - Lack of features can cause slightly less content when game is done. In my eyes, population of games always decrease over time, by lacking some things like a contentbuildertool when you bring it out on early acces, people might start playing.. dont like the amount of time the patches take and leave, giving the game a lessened chance to get content built by those people due to them leaving before those things get added.

    To conclude… no conclusion. Not an amazing fan of Early Acces but have seen some good stuff coming from it.
    The advantages kinda weigh up against the disadvantages in my eyes and thus i would simply do what Larian thinks is best.
    Do make sure there is enough stuff saying ALPHA and BETA though, just to make sure everyone gets it trown in his face every second. Even if yu have to put a massive watermark over de gamescreen for the first minute XD

  • Alexander

    Make Early Access with an normal/low price…
    for the people who can’t read (beta/alpha what?) or only want the game immediatel. If this price is to high the will flame and make bad press
    Also make a “supporter-access” / “pre-order special edition” or something with higher price and also beta/alpha access…
    for the people who know whats going on and want to support the last weeks of the development.

    From an egoistic point of view:
    Yes to Early Access on Steam, because more money and feedback in the development is great for the game and so for me. And thats the only thing I care ;)

  • AlexF

    The points you make for steam early access are valid and the way you weigh pros and cons you make a persuasive argument. Personally, though, I don’t like the idea of early access and I’ll try to explain why.

    In a sentence, I think early access leads to overexposure and overexposure leads to the cheapening of the experience. I’ll elaborate:

    First an example. Ubisoft as of late has been of the habit of releasing a lot, I’d say too much, promotional material when a big game release is close. They did it with Watch Dogs and they did it with Assassin’s Creed 4 (the amount of launch trailers was ridiculous). The first trailers and the first few pieces of promotional material were enticing. They promised something new and exciting. They wet the appetite. When you do it over and over and over though, it becomes tiring. In the end I associate this flood of information with the game itself and my excitement for it diminishes.

    Another example: I haven’t seen Game of Thrones. I remain adamant that I want to read the books of the Song of Ice and Fire saga first. However the more people talk about it, the more everyone tells me how great it is, the less my desire to start reading. It’s been a franchise so prevalent in the media and social circles that there is an over-saturation of stimuli.

    How does that translate to Divinity: Original Sin and early access? Original Sin is one of my most anticipated games for 2014. I can’t wait for the time when I purchase it on GoG and play it. However, while I wait in excitement there will be players who’ll start playing it much sooner. I won’t be able to because I don’t want to play an unfinished version, I believe it will lessen the experience for me. Of course I can just wait for the gold release. What do I care what other people are playing? Well, I’m not sure how to put it. The event of a new launch will not be as spectacular. It will be a known quantity. People will have played it and talked about it and reviewed it and I, who has been following every Original Sin piece of news I could find, will suddenly have tons of impressions that I’ll have to actively chose to ignore in order not to have the excitement, and more importantly the plot, spoiled.

    The kickstarter crowd is only a small number of people. Volume matters. For example I won’t mind if people see a new movie before me because it aired in Sundance festival or Cannes. I did mind however when Pacific Rim was released in my country 4 months after the worldwide premier. The excitement had all but vaporated.

    One could argue that Original Sin is a production of a much smaller scale than the movies and games I mention and it needs both the influx of cash and the publicity. It’s not like a ton of people know if it already. In fact most sites don’t even mention it in the games expected to get released in early 2014 (incidentally, I hope the release date is still around the end of February or at most early March). I agree and that could be a good argument towards going the early access route. It’s not that I’m adamantly against it. I’m only speaking for myself.

    There is another issue with early access. It makes me feel like a game is no longer a solid experience but a process of smaller building blocks come together. Of course that’s not far off the actual process if we generalize a bit but the difference is that with early access you lift the veil, you make the inner workings transparent and in the process it looses some of its magic.
    It works better with games like Day Z or Minecraft or Starbound that aren’t based on a unique story and world. Those are games that get incrementally better with a release version being an almost arbitrary choice between the several builds. A lot of people thought of that when Minecraft was officially released, although it could be purchased already before and patches continued to be applied regularly to it after.

    Anyway, these are my thoughts on the matter. I’m against Early Access but it’s not the end of the world either way.

  • Somewhat Swedish

    I think Steam Early access is a plague since if enough people buy it on early access there is no monetary motivation for the developers to actually make a finished product. Also, steam does not do a good enough job advertising that games are early access, and I feel that they mix early access-games up with finished ones far too seamlessly. Even some early access games goes on sale before they are even done, which to me is very surprising. And personally I dont want to play a game before it is done, especially not a game like Original Sin. For a roguelike or game like minecraft it might work, but for games with a story, a start and end I dont see any point in experiencing the game before it is at its best.

    That said, I dont have a problem with devs putting their kickstarted game on early access, as long as the kickstarters had a better deal than the late “backers” on access would get. The way Chivalry sold itself was to me very surprising, it cost the same new as it did when kickstarting. And then went on sale pretty soon after, so backing it was a complete waste of money in the end. Since backing is a risk it should also be rewarded, even if its just slightly.

  • Richard Bellew

    I’ve bought into several SEAG games and had zero regrets about it, because I did my research first. I’ve also played the Divinity: Original Sin Kickstarter alpha and I think that you have nothing to worry about with misunderstandings or bad first impressions.

  • Fifix

    To me kickstarter and early access should be exclusive one to another.

    A kickstarter campaign, if successful is supposed to give the dev team the full resources to build final quality product.
    To me the whole point is to be totally independent, and thus not having to deliver a partially finished game on Steam with the fear of having bad press on it. It also means you’re not going to be tempted by a Steam sales while your game is still not finished and you therefore make sure your early backers have the best overall experience (from backing the project to playing the actual game).

    On the other hand, early access (to me) allows a dev team that hasn’t had the chance to do a kickstarter campaign to get early income and more feedback to ensure their product will have the right visibility and quality once it’s ready.

    For me, as you have the kickstarter money and the backers willing to play beta, you already have both these things.

    Then again, as a producer I don’t see how you can feel you could get too much money, too much time or too much QA to deliver a better game so I don’t see what arguments would go against that. :)

  • Bargeral

    If you log in to Kickstarter the first thing you see is a “how kickstarter works” splash page and link.The entire site is dedicated to unfinished or unstarted projects. Risk and rough spots are assumed.

    Steam, on the other hand, has been around since 2002 and has a huge customer base that is accustomed to getting finished products. It’s understandable how someone might click on an Early Access link and buy the game not fully understanding. Nothing in their prior experience with Steam has led them to think they will buying a Beta.

    That’s why “it’s a sin” on EA, it’s a different audience. On KS I’m taking a risk with no guarantee of success. ON EA I’m buying a game in Alpha/Beta state with assurance of completion and improvement complicated by my potential to misunderstand what I’m getting.

  • Korron

    As someone that wants to play this game I care about you making the best finished product. I’ve only participated in one early access for a few hours with WL2, and my intention with any early access RPG is to limit my exposure to the story while exploring the mechanics. I may not participate in an early access if you do one, but if revenue and more feedback mean a better end product I’m all for it. That being said, I don’t want a game designed by committee. I want a Larian game. While I wish Larian success, I don’t necessarily care if putting it on early access creates bad publicity, loses you revenue, or generates any other negative consequence as long as it results in a better game. Why should I? I’m getting this game regardless of those concerns. As a backer I don’t care about exclusivity for an unfinished product as long as the price is fair relative to what I contributed. I think this is a rational way to think about kickstarted games being put on early access from the backer perspective, and I think a lot of backer complaints ring hollow. My feeling is go for it if you really think it will help the game.

    • Vendril

      This is my biggest fear with the current flooding of community feedback. I do not want a game by committee either, and I also don’t believe that most players really put forth ideas that are best for the overall vision and consistency of the game. Trying to listen to everyone tell you different ways to make your vision better has the very real chance of diluting it.

  • Badhat

    One thing that needs consideration, though I doubt we’d see it with Original Sin, is the risk that some developers give players what they think they want, based on player expectation, past expectations and instinctive feedback, not games that do something different and that take a greater amount of time and effort to get into but pay off far more in the long run.

    It’s right to consider that though gamers are key to selling games, developers are professionals and to use an analogy, though anyone can ‘write a book’ that doesn’t make them an author, even if they might think themselves to be. Perhaps developers should trust themselves more?

  • katreyn

    I think overall most gamers that buy into the Early Access system realize that it is a foundation on trust. Personally I’ve only bought one game through Early Access and it was mostly because I never had the money to throw at their Kickstarter/funding when it was available (Grim Dawn). But there are many others that are on Early Access that I am interested in, but will not buy in its state because I am uncomfortable with how the finish product will come out. With Grim Dawn, I for some reason have faith in Crate Entertainment to deliver the type of game I want.

    The vitrol that you normally see on the Steam forums is really just the Steam forums and not an overall insight of the community I think. And I will agree that it might turn off some people. If people curious if the game is worth the money come to the Steam forum and ask, and the “haters” try to turn them away. But for every person that dislikes a game there is probably one that likes it. Just the problem that always occurs is the people that dislike something are always more willing to waste their time talking trash on a forum.

    Interestingly on the topic of feedback though. It is quite common for Kickstarter backers to feel quite insecure that the feedback following a Early Access release will greatly change the game for the worse. But I think any capable Developer has their insight and won’t change that regardless. They should know where to draw the line.

    In short, I think Early Access is a fine idea if you think that you need the extra input. I agree that it can be incredibly beneficial to a small company to go for it. And either way, I’m looking forward to D:OS whenever the time comes. :)

  • Howard Abraham

    I won’t play it until it’s done anyway. I want to maximize the experience with minimal bugs/downtime.

  • Charles Brandon Adkins

    personally will NEVER play early access games,
    prefer a polished game with all content ;)

    Steam Early Access is truly all about developers needing money:
    if you don’t need the money… wait… please!
    however, if money IS an issue, at least make sure the game is in good state before release…. please!

    Larian IS my favorite studio… would hate to see image flushed down the drain by greed :s

  • Katrien Cornelis

    It’s
    all about money, if you need the revenue from EA (uergh i will refrain
    from using that abbreviation again) to fix the game or implement
    promised/needed stuff essential to the good of the game I would say go
    for it.But if not for that why not do the pre-purchase + alpha/beta
    thing.You get feedback ,people can clearly see it’s still in dev and you get
    revenue..

    And
    for people saying RPG is not an appropriate game type for Early Access
    –> I kind of agree BUT you don’t need to play story..I have several
    hours in D:OS alpha just learning mechanics,gui,how the world works,
    skills and what have you not. So when it comes out I will be lord of the
    Divinity universe
    (shamelessly copied from my FB post :) I am lazy like that :)
    edit:
    Only EA(shudder) game I ever played is SNOW because a decent
    sportslike game from a developer not affiliated to E.A. should get all
    the support it can get:)

  • arne

    It’s been a while since my last post as well. I was sceptical about Kickstarter at first, but clearly that was a mistake. So, irregardless of your final decision on Early Access, you’re clearly keeping up with modern age trends & tech, just by considering all of this! Great job! And yes, that’s all I’m gonna say now, lest I recommend the worst option a second time. We’ll be watching!

  • Brandon

    All I can say is that if you release it on Steam Early Access, I will buy it. I will also pay the price you deem reasonable to not upset the backers. Because in a sense, the game only exists because of the backers. And not only will I pay the price you deem reasonable, I will also promote the game through a “Let’s Play” series.

    I was late to the party with kickstarter, so I never got a chance to support the game that way. So for me, Early Access allows me to support you guys. As for Wasteland 2, I was very happy that they did an Early Access and I got it right away. I fully understood the pricing inXile chose. And what people seem to not understand (Steam users that is) is that the version we got for the Early Access was the digital deluxe version. Overall it seems pretty reasonable.

    The bottom line, do what’s best for the game. Is the early revenue going to help you make a better game? If the answer is yes, then it’s a no-brainer. Also, more people beta testing cannot hurt you (and us) at all.

  • ian clarke

    I was a.backer anx have no gripe with letting non backers play it in the alpha/beta phase. The game is a bit unstable on my system. I got it passed the class selection screen once withoit it freezing. I am not worried though. I expect this will get fixed during testing. Regardless, if more people want to help find bugs let em. I wouldikely include a disclaimer about the game being incomplete to avoid misleading any potential fans if you havent already.

  • cmoyano

    god, people LOVE to bitch and whine about early access. got assetto corsa and day z and they are just amazing games. if you dont like it, dont buy it, if you dont like the practice, dont support it,its as simple as that stop trying to tell other people what to do with THEIR money, its not yours, so why do you care so much? its getting abnoxious, the gaming community needs to start growing up and start taking things less personal.

    its one thing to put out incomplete games full of bugs like battlefield 4 and pay 60 bucks, its another thing to want to support a game development. its not like you dont know what you are getting into, they are called early access for a reason.

    day z has 5 notes, FIVE!!! notes on it store page WARNING you about the games state, yet people who buy it, whine and bitch about it like they got ripped off.

  • Jonathan Williams

    Having been part of a few ‘bootstrap beta’s’ (self funding/selling the unfinished game, ie f2p open beta, early access etc,) over the last year or two, I think the real question lies in when is it ok to accept money from the player?

    I would argue that at least some of the problem comes from the difference between backing a project and buying a game. For me, the change between the two comes at the point when all the major design decisions have been finalised. Sure there will be changes after that point, but nothing that will significantly alter the nature of the game.

    Kickstarter is fine for backing a project because everyone who uses Kickstarter expects the game to be little more than a concept/trailer and if you are lucky, maybe a tech demo. If its further along then that then thats great!

    The problem with Steam Early Access for players, is that too many projects have gone up before this point, and too many players have bought them thinking that they were further along than they were. Some of these games also have fairly lengthy periods between updates and not a lot of communication from the developer to explain the silence, (understandable if there is no obvious progress to report,) leading to money grab accusations.

    For developers I think Steam Early Access offers a different problem, (Im not a developer so I could be wrong,) but i believe that Early Access can take up too much of a devs time, slowing down the development. Its not just a case of integrating with Steam, or getting really good feedback that causes you to change your plans, ( I suspect that this is a bigger problem the earlier in development the game is,) but also that you need to handle bug reports, (possibly a large number of them if the game sold well,) develop fixes, release patches, monitor the forums, post replies, status updates and so on. All stuff that you would be doing after launch anyway, but now needing to be done at the same time as finishing the game. A problem I suspect that hits first time devs/small indies much harder than more established devs like Larian.

    It seems to me that the key, as always, is to manage the process well, communicate what you are doing to the backers/player base, have the appropriate number of testers for the stage of the game, and dont go to Early Access too early.

    When is too early? I suspect that it might be different for each project, but about 6 months before release would probably be ok for the majority of players.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Early Access is a bad idea per se, its just been implemented poorly and allowed too many people to buy into something they werent ready for.

  • Crest

    The bigger problem here is that you’re using Steam in the first place. That’s an awesome way to say “We don’t care about our fans, give us more money pls”. I used to be a dire-hard fan of your games, especially the Monkey Tale games, but you’ve simply fallen too low in terms of how ethical you act.

    Seriously, Steam is a disgusting walled-garden DRM fest that puts the user experience in the control of corporations rather than in the control of the end users themselves. No refunds even if your game doesn’t work, horrible customer service (you’re lucky if you get an automated email within 2 weeks), online authentication & tracking/monitoring DRM in a lot of titles, and an infuriatingly arrogant attitude from Valve themselves…

    I would have much more respect (and many more within the gaming community) if you published on GOG instead of steam. GOG is DRM-free, lets users play their games without ever having to launch a third party client or home-in to an account-based authentication server, has good customer service, actually communicate with customers, has a 30-day refund guarantee if your game doesn’t work, and actually treat the customer with respect (as opposed to Steam which treats the customer as just another statistic that can be shoved into a walled-garden if you dangle a few carrots), and GOG doesn’t blatantly lie as a matter of policy (i.e. Gabe saying they don’t care about piracy, then spending more time, money, and resources on anti-piracy measures than any other digital gaming distributor in existence, going as far as to develop an anti-piracy system for certain newer games that sends out a locked-down custom .exe file to each and every user matched only to his/her specific PC configuration… oh but they don’t concern themselves with piracy issues, what a laugh).

    If you respect your customers, you won’t treat them like a criminal that has to prove themselves and ask for permission to play what they paid for, and you won’t allow another company to data-mine your fans. Ditch steam and hop in bed with CD Projekt/GOG and you be proving that you still treat your customers with trust and respect.

    • Raze

      The game will be released on GOG, but they have no support at all for betas. Larian couldn’t go through GOG to do an early access type program, and to do it on their own website would require a lot of extra work to duplicate features Steam already provides, and it would get much, much less exposure.

      GOG also does not support Linux, so couldn’t be used for any kind of beta for the eventual Linux versions of D:OS and Dragon Commander, even if they did support betas.

      Larian’s released games are DRM free on Steam. If people (who presumably are fine with Steam’s policies and practices) want to buy games on Steam, why should Larian refuse, because Steam has the option to include DRM?

      Steam makes up a significant share of the digital sales. As long as Larian doesn’t abandon other distribution methods (which they haven’t and are not planning to), I’m fine with Larian getting more money from Steam. Personally, I’d love to see what they could do with the budget some other games have had, given how well their previous games have done in comparison.

      • AlienMind
        • AlienMind

          Also, pretty antisocial to do release the Alpha for Kickstarter Backers Steamonly, Larian.

          • Raze

            The game will be DRM free. It was stated during the kickstarter that the alpha and beta would be done through Steam, since they have a system in place to handle alphas and betas, which means Larian doesn’t have to devote time and resources to duplicating that functionality.

          • AlienMind

            Fair enough. Maybe Larian should ask Uber Entertainment how to not “devote time and resources to duplicating that functionality”, because they are in Alpha stage right now, and you only need PALauncher.exe downloaded from their site, and it will handle the patching/login/etc. without any 3rd party.

          • AlienMInd

            Also, I’m pretty sure that must be done for the final game anyways and thus I believe you are bullshitting me.

          • Raze

            Of course Larian will have the final game on the Larian Vault, and it should have an auto-patcher, as well.

            Steam is easier to update than creating patches. Dragon Commander got updates through Steam first because that could be done directly. DRM free versions needed a patch created first, which was not a huge delay, but it was an extra step that required more time and resources. An alpha has larger and more frequent updates than a released game, in general, so that adds up, as well.

            Steam gets much, much more exposure than the Larian Vault. You pretty much have to already be following the game or Larian to even know about the Larian Vault.

            Larian could put in more effort for less benefit to do a non-Steam alpha. Apparently they decided the extra resources needed to do so would be better spent on the game itself.

          • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

            Raze is right. The main reason for us right now is that we don’t want to go through the hassle of supporting more than one platform with the alpha. We’re a small crew with a lot to do but also a lot of experience. We know first hand how much work it is to support multiple channels so we’d like to avoid that as long as possible so we can focus on our primary job. That’s also the reason we’re only going to do Steam Early Access in English and not in the other languages. You may or may not agree with that, but that’s the route we’ve decided on and we won’t change it because it would unnecessarily dilute our energy.

          • AlienMind

            OK, so your patching process is dependent on a platform? You proved with the latest patch for Dragon Commander that you are capable to do it yourselves. So you have already a code which works and does fullfill all patching of non restrictive stores like Desura/Gog/Larianvault. And yet at least for the Alpha go the “steam or bust” approach. I understand it though, It’s about reaching as many people as possible and I should thank you that you’re releasing the game on other platforms too.. I guess.

            Oh, and Raze. You don’t know anything about “distribution deals” of Uber (up to and after they said “when it’s done”), so spare me the the lecture.

          • Raze

            I never said a third party was *required* to do an alpha. The fact that a different developer with a different game in a different genre and a different budget and release schedule decided to handle their alpha/beta in a particular manner does not mean every other developer in any other situation must do the same.

            Planetary Annihilation, which just dropped in price to $50 (not counting the $200/250 versions), started its alpha last June and the beta in September, with a release of “When It’s Done”, though expected to be “feature complete in early 2014″. Original Sin (with a lower price and smaller market) started its alpha mid December and though the exact release date has not been set (just ‘spring’), Larian certainly doesn’t have the freedom to say “When It’s Done” (they had distribution deals in place before the kickstarter, and the release has been pushed back twice since then).

  • Fox

    The more I hear about early access and think on it, the harder it is to really justify or accept as a “good” thing. TotalBiscuit did a pretty good video on it a few days ago, and right now on Steam, of the top-10 best-selling games, 5 are early access.

    And while I have faith in Larian, I do -not- have faith in many other developers, and I am starting to see early access as an overall negative for the industry.

  • Charles Geringer

    I think the games that best benefit from steam early access are those with a high replay value.

    games like Blade Sinphony and Mount and Blade where you play the same game many times due to emergence and different playtroughs/matches being fairly different from one another(e.g.:procedural and multiplayer components)

    a Story Driven Game gives me a lot less motivation to play again and again(though I did play fallout 2 a fair numbe rof times, I had a lot more free time back then).

    If on my playtrough of a story-driven game I see something I don´t like, and it is corrected, the chance i will see the correction is a lot less, than in the games with higher replayability.

    i don´t think, for example that the Bioshock games would really benefit from early access(though I realize this is a very different situation from Larian´s)

    More ot the point, i think dragon commander would have benefited more from early access than original sin will, especially as it would give more attention to the multiplayer component

    This is just my personal impression without any data to back it up, and so far I haven´t published any game, but I have gotten early access to game sin the first category, while holding for the final product on games I want a lot MORE(e.g.:Wasteland 2 and project eternity).

    There are games where i would try for early access if I were on the developers shoes, and some where i wouldn´t(unless short on money or something like that)