We are in the midst of a technological revolution. It’s an age in which we can buy damn near anything we want without ever leaving the couch, an age where content is delivered to us instantaneously at the touch of a button. Gamers have embraced a culture of instant gratification, and I worry that this culture in turn is making us impatient.
It wasn’t so long ago that we’d read about a game in a magazine and then months or years would go by before the publisher said another word about it. Anticipation and excitement used to build to a fever pitch when you walked into a store and saw a new release you had been waiting for, or you realized that fall was coming and another round of amazing games would be coming by Christmas. If you were really lucky, one of those magazines would come out with a demo disc, and you could play a small piece of your most wanted game; a piece that was fully tested and ready to show off.
Fast forward to today. Now, we’re angry if we aren’t given 24/7 access to even a brand new IP a week after hearing about it. Case in point: Bioware’s new teaser trailer for what we believe to be Shadow Realms. We know that more information will be coming at Gamescom, yet right this moment forums across the web are littered with internet detectives dying to get to the bottom of the mystery before the official announcement. We constantly troll through social media to find people in the industry – A games artist on twitter, a QA tester on Reddit, a programmer on LinkedIn – and we harass them and beg for scraps. All so we can get a screenshot, a new video, a description of a new feature – anything really, so long as we’re the first to know.
There is also a growing trend of offering access to games well before they’re playable, selling alpha and beta builds that no one outside QA should have to sit through. This year alone we’ve been privy to the Destiny Alpha and Beta in short succession, and the game’s 2 months away. Bungie has clearly delivered, but other games have not been so successful releasing early builds. The question is, does giving early access come at a cost?
Steam has become a landfill for half-finished, bug-infested garbage sold on the promise that it might be good someday. Some developers exploit the hell out of this with never-ending development cycles and games destined to be YouTube’s gripe of the week. Others, however are not so “evil,” and merely need income in order to finish a game that didn’t catch any publishers’ eyes. Because in this day and age major publishers aren’t willing to take risks on things they don’t believe won’t come with an 85+ metacritic rating, or millions of dollars in profit.
With early access we get everything this on-demand culture has taught us to want, and we’re seeing a lot of downsides to go with the perks. We get to see games now instead of when they’re ready, and we’re often disappointed. When they’re good, we praise our entertainment providers, but when it’s clear a game wasn’t ready, we complain ’til we’re blue in the face about how the developers are money-grubbing skinflints who “made” us pay for early access to it. We need to realize that sometimes, a good game might be terrible until it’s completed. The public seems largely ignorant to this reality, and it could lead to dire consequences for studios.
Who’s to blame for this trend, though? We as consumers are just looking to satiate our passion. Developers and publishers are businesses at their cores, and it’s hard to blame them for trying to turn a profit while getting testing done – though as entertainment companies, products that fail to entertain serve as marks against them. Maybe no one is to blame, but if things don’t change, we could be headed down a dangerous path. It’s hard not to be excited about getting games faster than ever before, but maybe we should cut developers a little slack. Sometimes, it’s worth it to cool our heels a little and wait for the best possible version of a game.