PC games being released in an “early access alpha” state is becoming an increasingly popular practice, and there are some misconceptions / miscommunications that I think need some clearing up. Sometimes it’s a good idea, and sometimes it’s not a good idea to buy into an early access alpha.
Games like Rust, ARK: Survival Evolved, Space Engineers, H1Z1, DayZ, and 7 Days to Die are just a few examples of some of the more popular early access alphas, and all over their associated forums you’ll see complaints about things ranging from bugs to poor performance – not just complaints, though, but people completely flipping their lids due to alpha-related issues, or things they should have expected prior to buying an early access game. Then again, some games should never have been released in the first place.
With that all said, let’s take a look at some of the more common areas that you’ll run into issues while playing almost any early access alpha.
Performance & Optimization
If there is one thing that pretty much any early access alpha will suffer from, it’s a lack of optimization. This isn’t because game devs are lazy (usually), but because major optimization patches are generally done after the bulk of a game’s core features have been built and implemented, which also tends to be when games go from “alpha” to “beta”.
This doesn’t mean that no optimization is done during the alpha phase, but that it’s usually not a huge priority. Honestly, if you’re complaining about poor performance in an early access alpha then I’m glad you’re reading this.
Bugs & Glitches
Think of it this way, you’ve paid money to be a game tester, which is something that people usually get paid somewhere around minimum wage to do. You’re going to encounter bugs, and reporting them is a good thing, but complaining about bugs “breaking a game you spent money on” completely defeats the purpose of buying an “early access alpha”.
Releasing a game as an early access alpha is an extremely cost-effective (aka: they make money) way for dev studios to test their games on a whole bunch of different systems and configurations while receiving feedback on the game itself.
If encountering bugs and/or glitches is something that you absolutely can’t stand, then maybe early access alphas aren’t for you.
This is a huge reason why buying an early access game could be a bad idea – it may never even get finished. Steam’s Early Access FAQ was updated last year to include a warning stating that “You should be aware that some teams will be unable to ‘finish’ their game. So you should only buy an Early Access game if you are excited about playing it in its current state.” So yeah, that’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Games like Earth 2066 have plagued the Steam store under the guise of an early access alpha, when in fact they were actually just big piles of crap that should have never seen the light of day. Although, if you do end up getting trapped by a completely failed early access game, then you’ll usually get a full refund and it wouldn’t be the first time Steam has done it.
Full Release? Anyone?
Lastly, one of the biggest problems that I have with the whole “early access” model, is the simple fact that it does not have a good record of producing results. How many early access titles can you name that have gone through beta and into a full release? Probably not as many as the ones you can name that are still in early access alpha.
Did you know that in 2014 there were 250+ early access games put up on Steam, which was almost a 150% increase from the year before? And that 3/4 of those games likely won’t see a full release? To me, these numbers are astounding, and the amount of money that the 3/4 studios have received is likely astronomical, and all for something that they probably finish while it’s still relevant!
At the end of the day, whenever you’re planning to buy an early access alpha you should always keep these few things in mind, and then read the reviews! Considering whether or not you’ll be able to run a game on your setup is definitely the first thing to do, and then from there you can get a good sense of how the development is going based on other people’s experiences. Knowing a little bit about the dev studio behind the early access game you’re planning to buy is also a solid idea, stay away from studios with a bad reputation!
Let’s break it down to a list of things to expect from an early access alpha:
- Less than desirable performance
- Placeholder textures
- Losing progress after major updates
- Might never be finished
There’s no denying that early access games are currently dominating the market, but as always, buyer beware! If you find that you’ve bought into a really cruddy early access trap, don’t forget that it’s really easy to refund games through Steam if you’ve owned it for less than 2 weeks, and you’ve played it for less than 2 hours. Same goes for any game that you’ve bought and find you don’t like.