In a world of opinionated gamers, many of whom have been burned by over-promised features and outright lies from even big names in the industry, there’s a certain knee-jerk reaction when it comes to “early access” games that promote a “pre-alpha” that is theoretically without an end in sight.
And we get it. We really do. We’re gamers first and foremost. But that being said, we believe that early access serves a purpose in a very specific, very niche way: providing independent developers such as ourselves a steady stream of game testers who can help us build the game into something bigger and better.
“But you’re charging them money to test a game. That’s wrong. They should be allowed to test for free. Paying to test a game is ridiculous/evil/scammy/etc.”
Sure. It can be ANY one of those things, and more. But we have another point of view we’d like to bring to the table.
We’re a small team. There’s 12 of us. Even if we expand a bit more to 15 – 20 people, that’s still a very small, very tight ship. With everyone focused on building the game, that leaves little time to actually test features. And while we do internal testing and we make multiple passes on everything we do, more sets of eyes = more bugs that can be uncovered.
At some point, no matter how good we are at our jobs, we’ll miss things. It’s the nature of becoming comfortable with something, and intimately familiar. Your eyes/mind skim over the small defects because you have looked over the project hundreds, if not thousands, of times. You simply don’t see the little things. But a fresh pair of eyes can.
So from the standpoint of helping us polish the game, having early access members helping us test the earliest stages of the game = a win scenario. It’s also a win scenario for the players who are passionate enough to WANT to be here helping us test the game even from such an early stage.
So why require a pre-order purchase in order to have early access? If warm bodies/testers are so important to our development process, why not just do a traditional “invite only” alpha test, and then move into a closed beta, and eventually open beta.
For us, it’s all about the level of commitment. Someone who is willing to put 40 dollars on the line to pre-order our game is someone we feel has a much higher level of commitment than someone who is going to bitch about having to pay a few dollars to access something. If they are going to bitch about a few dollars, imagine how much they’ll bitch over features in the game that don’t fit into their “vision” of what our game should be.
We have zero desire to work with the bottom-feeders of the gaming world: the free-to-play crowd of 99%, instant gratification, I-deserve-a-first-place-medal-because-I-exist type of players. And if we open up the doors to the masses, that’s exactly what we’ll get: players who have absolutely no emotional or financial investment in our game who will log in and rather than test, will bitch about features and cry and whine about it’s not like WoW or like Wildstar or Skyrim or <insert other massively popular fantasy game here>.
We feel that by having a barrier of entry, it will keep our testing base far more focused. Sure, we’ll still have a few bad apples, but the point of having a financial barrier for entry means that the players who DO put down money are ACTUALLY interested in what we are doing.
And because they are interested, their feedback is far more relevant, their testing sessions far more focused, and their opinions far more valuable, in comparison to some F2P mucky-muck who switches games every few weeks because they get bored easily and can’t ever find something to settle down into.
We aren’t the only ones who have this point of view: Shroud of the Avatar has been very successful with their pre-orders-for-early-access program, among others, and its proven to create a model of testing that is incredibly productive. When you have people who are investing money alongside the development team, you wind up with a community of like-minded people who are all working towards the same thing.
We just finished up our community-requested Indiegogo campaign. As long-term followers know, none of our development team are drawing salaries. Instead, 100% of what we earn via pre-orders is going towards ACTUAL development costs, things like assets, software and hardware, subscriptions, and other ongoing expenses. In 2016 and 2017, it will also be going towards game convention attendance for specific team members: entry fees, flights, hotels, food, and etc.
Since we’re not relying on government grants, loans, or outside investors, we’re paying for everything out of pocket…and mitigating those costs with pre-orders.
If you’re signed up to the newsletter, we’ve been giving our readers an accounting of every penny that comes in and how it’s spent. And now that I’m back in Mexico, we’re getting our game studio founded, our Terms of Service drafted up, and we’ll be opening up our official pre-order stores here at the site later this summer.
We’ve got tiers from $40 all the way up to $10,000, and we’ve got a unique subscription-based service coming as well as a whole slew of extra features related to early access of the game. Just want to test? That’s the simplest way you can be involved. But if you want to attend team meetings, have access to special newsletters, and 24/7 access to the alpha servers as opposed to only on test weekends, there will be options available depending on how invested you want to become in the building process of our game.
Not everyone will agree with our decision to sell pre-orders. There’s a fairly vocal anti-pre-order community out there, people who don’t think game companies should make a penny until they release a finished product. And while we partially agree with you (that’s one of the reasons none of us are drawing salaries until 100% of development costs are met, and why we aren’t crowdfunding our game, but rather selling pre-orders as we build it in our spare time), that’s just not the way the world works anymore.
Game studios aren’t being funded by 150-200 million dollars of funding anymore. Instead, it’s a whole bunch of indie studios just like ours who are out there bootstrapping things into existence. And pre-orders, whether you like them or not, provide a lifeline of funding that can be used for software, hardware, and other development costs that would otherwise be coming from a bank or an angel investor.
Since we want to retain 100% creative control, it just makes sense for us to charge money for early access via pre-orders. While we respect that not everyone will agree with our decision, at the end of the day we aren’t interested in catering to or even talking with the players who aren’t willing to put their money where their mouths are.
We openly accept constructive criticism and feedback that aligns with our current vision of what we are building…but only from those who are willing to pony up and prove that they are actually invested in the long-term future of our game and our company.
Anyone else is just a bystander.