Shank’s Spiel: Early Access On Consoles

The industry has never been more divided. I’m not talking about the players – hardware manufacturers, consumer, and mind-numbingly braindead media – rather, I’m talking about the moral and ethical state of the industry. Now, yes, while I do realize the rather presumptuous tone this may suggest – after all, I do run a weekly video blog which borders on self indulgent nihilism – but this industry is sick.

Never have I seen the games industry so decidedly morally bankrupt. That’s not to say there aren’t a few players who are actually doing the right thing. There are, but they are so few and so grossly outnumbered by everyone else who just don’t care about doing the right thing anymore.

Now, I get it. I understand that this industry is a business and that profits have to be made. But…come on. I mean, come on! You can still make a profit and do the right thing. This isn’t a zero sum game here. Just because we win does not mean you have to lose. It just doesn’t work that way. Companies like CD Projekt Red prove this.

What is all this preamble for, exactly?

I’m talking, of course, about Early Access on consoles. This idea isn’t new. In fact, it’s another one of those things that these new consoles are borrowing from PCs (along with, you know, the whole x86 architecture thing, the digital downloads thing, the digital preloading thing…yeah).

In theory, it was meant to be tool by which developers could get their admittedly unfinished game out to the public while receiving feedback, as well as funding, in order to continue development on said game. On paper, this sounds like a good-natured program. No doubt, it started out as one. But, Steam being Steam and terrible people being terrible people, it all went wrong.

Early Access on Steam is a cesspool for the morally corrupt and the ethically vacuous. Developers are charging real people actual money for games that are absolutely broken. When players take displeasure with this and voice feedback and concern on forums, the developer then literally berates the people who paid him actual money and then proceeds to delete any and all negative comments.

Don’t believe me? Simply check out Jim Sterling’s experience with Earth 2066 and Air Control. It’s absolutely disgusting.

Early Access is a system so thoroughly abused, so corrupted and twisted beyond all recognition that it is nigh impossible to wade through all the corrosive flotsam in order to discover good, honest to goodness games worth funding and supporting. It’s simply doing far more bad than good. It’s a failed system that needs to go.

So naturally, then, it’s an environment where industry sadomasochists EA and Ubisoft would thrive. More on this later.

In an interview with Gamasutra, Sony’s Adam Boyes discussed bringing Early Access to consoles. When asked about bringing such a program to the PS4, Boyes replied,

“That’s one of the massive conversations we have internally — that, at what point does [a game meet standards of release]? We still at some point ensure that we’re being mindful of the consumer. We don’t want somebody to stumble across that title and expect a full product, and have a negative experience.”

Let’s stop right here. Pardon me while I pick this apart in a mist of barely contained rage.

Boyes says, “at what point does [a game meet standards of release]?”.

Excuse me? There is a crystal clear difference between releasing an unfinished title with the intent of receiving feedback as a beta, and releasing an unfinished title with the intent of receiving feedback for actual money. The former is at no cost to the consumer, while simultaneously allowing that consumer to help improve the game. If the game fails to materialize, the consumer loses nothing except for his time. No money is lost.

The latter is at a very literal cost to the consumer, while simultaneously allowing that consumer to help improve the game. However, there is no guarantee to the consumer that this game will ever be released. More so, as Early Access on Steam has proven time and time again, there is a very real chance of the developer dismissing any and all criticism and simply taking your money and vanishing.

Neither system is perfect. However, one system enables game development. The other encourages consumer abuse.

So when Adam Boyes says something like, “at what point does [a game meet standards of release]?”, I become enraged. This is a classic example of the industry assuming that you, the paying consumer, are stupid. They assume you’re too dimwitted to understand game development, and that to even question the state of a game is ludicrous.

You’re not.

To answer Mr. Boyes, allow me to respond with this. A game “meets the standards of release” when every feature intended for launch is complete, in working order, with core systems and mechanics in place and fully functional, technical aspects are fully functional, and you feel confident enough to charge real people real money for it.

In other words, Mr. Boyes, a game “meets the standards of release” when it’s actually done. What an insane concept.

To do less, to charge real people actual money for a product that is anything but complete is morally bankrupt and ethically toxic.

The second portion of his statement reads, “we don’t want somebody to stumble across that title and expect a full product, and have a negative experience.”

God forbid that me, a consumer who paid you actual money, should be upset when I received an incomplete product. That would be truly ludicrous. The gall, the sheer faced arrogance with which Mr. Boyes says this is truly incredulous. How dare we expect a complete product? How dare we voice our negative opinions on an incomplete product? How dare we question why we are charged actual money for something that should be done through a beta, and not a system wherein actual money is traded for broken and incomplete products?

This doesn’t happen in other industries. Why in the actual hell does it happen here? Would you, Mr. Boyes, permit me to sell you a car on Early Access? It’s ok. I’ll sell you the car, but two of its wheels are missing and the brakes are missing. But hey, you can still drive it! Sort of…right?

How about I sell you this Early Access car and in exchange, you give me your money. And then, I’ll finish the car for you…if I feel like it. If I do decide to complete the car, don’t worry. You can have it, after you give me some more money.

How the hell does this make any sense?! You’re right. It doesn’t. It’s ludicrous and would never happen in a million years. Yet somehow, in our industry, this sort of toxicity is allowed to persist. It’s allowed to perpetuate. It’s allowed to corrupt every remaining fiber of consumers until we are nothing more than burnt out husks, our hands thrust into the air holding wads of unspent cash.

All of this, all of this raping of our dignity and respect will be all the more compounded when they get a hold of the system. Yes, I’m talking about the sadomasachists that are EA and Ubisoft. The damage they’ve already done – ransoming portions of the game for that poisonous preorder DLC, deliberately crippling the visuals of PC games, shoving DRM down our throats – will rise up to join the swell that is Early Access on consoles.

Imagine the toxicity of the industry then. Just think about it for a second. Do you really want this system to exist, because if it does, it is a matter of when, not if, EA and Ubisoft sink their venomous talons into it. Say goodbye to consumer respect. Say goodbye to that tiny shred of morality barely clinging onto the industry.

Early Access on consoles will be toxic. It will be a cesspool of corrosive parties, all congregating and colluding into squeezing every last drop of dignity, respect, and money out of you, the paying consumer. It will completely and utterly rape any last remnant of fun and integrity the industry has left.

It needs to never happen.

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