6 Early Access Games That Completely Screwed Customers
Early Access in gaming is just like the rest of the Internet: technology that started off as a great idea but is now full of dicks and scams. The theory is that players can buy a game before it's finished to support small studios and to generate priceless community feedback. In practice, it's assholes shouting, "Wow, now we don't even have to finish this bullshit!" Game development is more complicated than it's ever been, with 10 new stages after Alpha and Beta testing, and Early Access is how assholes use it all to take your money.
Peter Molyneux made fantastic games 18 years ago and spent the money reinventing overhype as a performance art. If Molyneux had made your genitals you'd be disappointed even when playing with yourself, because he'd have promised that orgasms would summon free pizza that leaves you smelling like a fresh summer rain.
Instead, you smell like anchovies.
His game Godus raised over three-quarters of a million dollars by promising a modern Populous with a shared persistent world, multiple-platform support, multiplayer co-operative modes, and a "regenesis of the god game." This was promised by a man who once had to beg for donations to fix Curiosity, a smartphone game where you spend money to tap on blocks and nothing else.
A few years of sequels and they might work their way up to Arkanoid.
Thirty months and $800,000 later, Godus' status is "almost none of that stuff and almost nobody working on it." Most of the staff have been reassigned to a completely different game or switched to the freemium mobile version. That's "freemium" as in "this game charges you money to get things, but thanks for the free half-million quid anyway."
Kickstarter: Where old developers pawn their own legacies.
How did Molyneux apologize? By blaming Kickstarter (and therefore all his funders) for giving him money in the first place while admitting that he'd been lying all along. He bemoaned:
"It's everyone else's fault for believing a single word from my scamhole."
No, you asshole! The point is to say what you can actually do, and if you make enough money you actually do it. That's it! Dozens of small studios do it! They depend on Kickstarter to do it, to develop their dreams, because they're not gaming superstars who made Populous and Syndicate and Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper and they haven't sold enough games to build a Death Star out of the discs before telling players to pay microtransactions before you'll alter the bullshit you sold them any further.
Molyneux pissed in the beginner's begging bowl after stealing all the money. I'd swear the whole thing was a scheme to cripple funding for the next generation of developers because he hasn't finished a good game in over decade. He's now working on mobile game The Trial. I'm not sure how stupid you'd have to be to spend a single cent on that, but that's exactly how stupid Molyneux thinks you are.
The War Z
The War Z was a post-apocalyptic open-world multiplayer zombie survival game. Those words will soon be spelled Z0 MBie and S_urviv@L to get past spam filters, because they're the gaming equivalent of online Cialis adverts: easy ways to get money out of people who aren't using their brains anymore.
If shambling persists for over four hours please contact a doctor. Or any other uninfected.
There are now enough zombie games that we could wire them all directly to each other to distract all the virtual undead by letting them play each other. Except even their rotting skulls will quickly bore with most of these bullshit cash-ins. A zombie crying, "Brains!" shows more originality than 90 percent of modern indie zombie games, because at least it knows where a new idea might come from. The War Z went Early Access before that was officially a thing by selling a "Foundation Release." Which meant the players were paying to be buried in the ground and have whatever the developers decided to build dumped on them. Which would still have been more fun than the game. The game was missing more features than a bowling ball impersonating a sex worker and was even more painful to interact with.
"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
That's when things got really stupid. The developers started banning anyone who posted negative reviews of the game. It's a game based on a viral outbreak, and they tried to prevent news from spreading online. Forget not understanding how video games work; they didn't even understand how the Internet works.
"I'll just smash the Wikipedia page on the Streisand Effect!"
They were trying to con people into buying a game so astoundingly incomplete Steam would be forced to step in and refund everyone. Oh, and they're still trying to get away with all this shit by renaming it Infestation: Survivor Stories so that it isn't connected to search results for The War Z. So don't buy Infestation: Survivor Stories, because it's The War Z. Infestation: War Survivor Stories Z.
Towns is a city-building game claiming influences from Diablo, Dungeon Fortress, and Dwarf Fortress, because it turns out you don't even need to be connected to past good games to use them as keywords for free money. (Sorry, Molyneux, now you got nothing.) The makers of Towns decided to sell the unfinished Beta at the full final price. Which would seem to indicate that they didn't know what "Beta" means. But 200,000 people buying it for $15 proved they knew exactly what they were doing.
This might be because they only announced the Beta status in a whisper by an unmarked grave on the night of the blood moon, because it sure as hell doesn't show up on the Steam page or official site where they're still hoping you'll throw them some money. You'd be better off throwing it in the trash. At least then there's a chance someone who actually does their job will find it.
"I do this as an enjoyable break from playing Curiosity."
The only hint is a vague reference to some features being "fleshed out," written to seem like they meant leveling up in the game. Of course they weren't fleshed out. Of course they took the money, got bored working on the game, and then there were some shenanigans about who was even going to bother continuing development before they decided it was nobody.
The people in real pyramids did more work after it was finished.
The bullshit gets even better! Note: This is the only way in which Towns will ever get any better. They excitedly announced that they'd like to start work on a sequel that would include all the features they'd promised for the first game. This is where they discovered that even when you take $3 million for an unfinished hobby and a verbal agreement saying "IOU ONE GAME," human stupidity isn't quite infinite.
Earth: Year 2066
Earth: Year 2066 promised post-apocalyptic multiplayer with a day-and-night cycle, inspirations from Half-Life and Fallout, and at this point the developer might as well have promised a genie voiced by Robin Williams performing a duet with Jimi Hendrix, because everything after and including the word "game" was complete bullshit. Earth: Year 2066 makes the screensavers from a police procedural's "gamer" episode look well developed.
"My god, those sick leets are stealing electricity through the cybercables!"
A for-profit game-design college would actually fail a student for homework like this. Many of the assets are either defaults of the developing software or outright stolen. Microsoft Excel would provide better enemy AI, because at least it reacts to user input, and when one of the enemies decides to notice you even the graphics stagger in surprise. All this despite a smaller playing area than a microscope tutorial. You would genuinely be entertained for longer by rolling up your $20 and burning it.
There isn't even the pretense of creating a real game. This is the gaming equivalent of a rock in a camcorder bag being sold beside a white van marked "Steam Greenlight." Steam removed it from sale and refunded all buyers, but refunding someone because they were served a pail of dog shit instead of breadsticks doesn't save the rest of the meal. This is to Early Access what hantavirus is to natural living: an awful plague inflicted on those with pretty ideas that need a shitload more thought.
The Stomping Land
Alex "Jig" Fundora raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter for The Stomping Land by promising huge open-world multiplayer survival with DINOSAURS. The game's last Kickstarter post was the announcement that people could give him even more money by buying the Early Access unfinished files for $25. Then he disappeared, and some people still claim he didn't finish what he set out to do. He achieved exactly what he meant to do and disappeared with every penny of it.
"Next time I'll make six figures by shouting NINJAS!"
Apparently, video games really have been rotting our brains all this time, because all a developer has to do is promise a cool concept and they're set. If the Nigerian royal family of hot online teens ever discovers Kickstarter and Early Access, there won't be a cent left outside their country. Harry Potter couldn't summon that much money with only one word. King Midas couldn't create that much wealth with so little effort. There's a small chance this wasn't a deliberate mercenary scam, but that just makes things sadder. If it's a con at least one person involved knew what they were doing.
Double Fine is a beloved game developer with a decade of experience and multiple professionally polished releases. So when they promised that Early Access Spacebase DF-9 would enjoy continued development, hundreds of thousands of dollars of customers believed them. But after the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" Double Fine stopped reading.
"This is much more interesting."
They redefined "finishing" instead of actually doing it. With the game's promised feature list still somewhere between "incomplete" and "player dialysis," they suddenly declared that the latest early access build was "v1.0," released the source code, and told fans, "It's missing a lot of things, but since you were so cool paying for them, would you mind developing them for us as well?"
In-game simulation of the game.
They didn't just drop the game; they dropped all the staff who'd worked on it, too. Then they told fans there wouldn't even be any technical support. This wasn't a big announcement. This was posted as a response to a forum complaint that fan-based mods -- one of Double Fine's own excuses for just dumping the open-source code on the street from an upstairs window -- were utterly broken and unfixable from the players' side. And the official company response, a fortnight later, wasn't even, "Good luck with that"; it was more, "We fired anyone who might even pretend to care."
If a company like Double Fine is screwing people out of Early Access, that's it. It's over. They've reversed the polarity of Early Access: Instead of supporting new studios, we're paying for old ones to destroy their own legacy. Don't listen to one speck of bullshit about things being more complicated. They sold a game with the promise of certain features, and once they had the money the features stopped mattering. That's the exact structure of a scam.
At least on launch day AAA developers pretend the game's finished. Early Access developers aren't selling anything; they're claiming video game development as charity work. Finishing things is hard. That's why we pay other people to do it. And that's why we pay them only after they do it, and when we know they've done a good job. Pay a stranger halfway through fixing your toilet and you'll soon see why we don't normally do that. And you still won't be dealing with as much shit as you do with the Early Access market.
To enjoy some proper games, learn how Bethesda buried Terminators in the history of Skyrim, or find 5 Ways To Make Halo 5 Interesting.
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