This morning I am going to tackle the second talkback topic for the Newbie Blogger Initiative because it is actually one that has been on the hearts and minds of the AggroChat folks for the last few weeks. For the April AggroChat Game Club game I chose Darkest Dungeon, and since then the topic of playing “unfinished” games has been somewhat of a recent discussion among us in private. The fact that the game was unfinished caused numerous problems, not the least of which was the simple fact that we were never quite sure if this or that functionality was intended… or just unfinished. So I feel like I was not able to give it a really solid testing, because I don’t know what might change between now and when the studio deems the game “finished”. The prompt however for this talkback is pretty straight forward but my answer is going to be a bit more nuanced.
Early Access and Kickstarter – Do you support unfinished games?
So for the first part… yes I wholeheartedly support the backing of unfinished games. I’ve backed more than I can count at this point through either Kickstarter or company specific initiatives. I think Kickstarter is a pretty awesome thing, and it has caused a lot of things that I care about to see the light of day. I’ve backed both software and physical merchandise projects through it, and have been relatively happy with pretty much every project I have ended up chipping in on. Kickstarter does a lot of things, but the biggest one to me is that it allows me to vote with my dollar on what I think is going to be an idea worth making. I rarely back very far into a given product tree, and the end result is me usually getting a cut price copy of the game at launch. While many of these games offer a double platinum early access alpha program… that is not so much what I am interested at least not any more.
Tired of Alphas
Once upon a time I wanted to be playing every single game I could get my hands on. I reveled in the fact that I had alpha and beta tested most of the MMOs out there. For a period of time this was something that was achievable because at any given moment there were a very limited number of Alpha and Beta test programs available. Somewhere along the line I noticed that playing an Alpha seriously adversely effected my chances of staying with a game for very long after release. In essence I would burn myself out playing the Alpha, so that when launch happened the game felt very old and tired to me. The pinnacle of this problem happened for me with Elder Scrolls Online. I seriously cared about the release of this game, and I took my Alpha testing duties seriously. I was told at one point that I was in the top 1% of all bug reporters in the game, and every single time we played I spent most of my time reporting and re-reporting issues I saw.
The problem here is that I had been alpha and beta testing builds of this game for a good year before the game actually launched. So while I only managed to play about three months after the launch of the title, in truth that was around 17 months of me actually playing the game. Huge chunks of the content I had literally seen hundreds of times, and remembered each of the different incarnations. The additional problem is I had trouble letting go of the past. There were some changes made in that game that I considered “for the worse” and myself and many of the other early testers rather vehemently pined for the imagined “good ole days” of early alpha. Memory is always an incomplete state, and what we remembered was this or that feature that stood out in an ocean of an otherwise broken game. The final product was so much better than the one we were requesting they return to, but we got hung up on the minutiae of this or that feature that we missed. Basically I learned that Alpha testing ultimately ruined my enjoyment of the final product… and it only took me twenty some years to wake up to this fact.
Back But Don’t Play
Ultimately I have a very nuanced stance on Kickstarter. I am more than happy to donate money towards a cause that I believe in like the creation of a brand new Wasteland experience on the PC, or any of the other games I have backed that let me wallow in the nostalgia of my youth. Generally speaking I now back just far enough into it to give myself a cut rate copy of the game at launch. Then when I get said copy and any bonus trappings… it seats neatly in my Steam account until I am ready to play it. I might boot it up periodically to check on its progress, but ultimately I am not going to start the game for real until I see that note from the developer talking about how the game has launched. The problem is this also means I am phenomenally bad at tracking the progress of games on Kickstarter. I almost always have a message that needs to be responded to about this or that game but this is what works for me. It lets me feel like I am backing things that I believe in, but also gives me the piece of mind of not actually starting a game play session until the game is “finished”.
As far as other games that are in a permanent state of development like Minecraft… once again my feelings are a bit more nuanced. Paying to play an alpha does not really bother me, if the experience and the enjoyment itself is worth paying to play said alpha. I got into Minecraft for example during its pre-beta days when you could pick up a copy for well under $10. I have gotten easily $1000 worth of enjoyment out of that game. Similarly while I don’t play them nearly as often I have gotten more than enough happiness out of both Trove and Landmark to recuperate any costs I might have put into them. Ultimately backing an unfinished game, and playing said unfinished game is not an entirely bad idea… so long as you go into it with the thought process that you are playing something that isn’t quite done yet. Early Access games are in essence paid betas, and if you can live with that… awesome… if not wait for the release of the game. I personally have found that the games I played heavily in Alpha and Beta get more enjoyable over time, and going back a year after launch I end up really enjoying myself. So that is to say that the games I ruined through Alpha testing… are not in a permanent state of ruined as evidenced by my recent travels into Guild Wars 2, Wildstar, and Star Wars the Old Republic. Ultimately you have to figure out what works for you, and the amount or risk you are willing to take. If I feel like I am going to care about a game, I try my best not to burn out before launch.