I have already taken a dive into the world of early access gaming once – arguing that the Xbox One is maybe not the right platform to promote early access games on. However, when I started looking at early access, I did not release the sheer scale of games that are available to players and unwritten rules that surround that genre of early access. Steam Greenlight really has been the catalyst which has put early access games into the spotlight, bringing along great triumphs, successes, failures and scams. However, a big question still remains: should you be allowed to release DLC in early access?
If you look at a game and it has the title of being an early access game you should really know what you are getting into before purchasing the game; there are no guarantees that the game is going to stay the same way, look good or even be a complete product. A lot of us accept this when we buy a game from early access, it is not just waiting for the end product, it is a feeling of being part of the process and watching the game grow and get better- I know I felt a sense of pride watching Prison Architect grow into a magnificent game.
However, early access (especially Steam Greenlight) has come under heavily criticism, often accused of being not monitored well enough, allowing in games which will never be completed and not doing thorough enough checks to see if the game is legitimate or not. Yet, recently a bigger issue has caught my attention, and it all centers around one game in particular: ARK: Survival Evolved.
After first coming to everyone’s attention for being a game which allowed you to ride on dinosaurs, was slightly bugged and you could be butt naked if you wanted to be, ARK: Survival Evolved slowly came the game that everyone wanted to play, with a low price point of $30 (£23). With over 3 million owners of the game, it seems like it should be the prime example of a game which could deliver high game play, have it’s early access but eventually come out of it’s cocoon and be a beautiful butterfly!
Instead, ARK: Survival Evolved is still in early access, and despite being in it for over a year and having a release date for December this year, it has done something slightly odd. The developers, Studio Wildcard, decided that they would release an expansion ($13.39) and additional DLC for the game. Usually more content for a game would be celebrated, as it gives new life and allows more content for players. However, it felt quite wrong that ARK: Survival Evolved should be in early access and yet you are able to buy DLC and a expansion pack for the game- more to the point, did that mean the DLC and expansion were in early access as well?
It still feels shady that despite Wildcard moving back their release window and still claiming that there is going to be more patches for the game, they felt like they still had enough time to make additional content and charge for it. If the game was out of early access, and then you were able to buy DLC for it, then this would have been okay. It feels like Wildcard knew that they might not get as many players once the game is released, they have claimed on their Steam page that once the game is out of early access then they will put the game at full retail price. With already over 3 million players owning the game, it’s questionable how many more players they can gain with a full retail price product. It feels like Wildcard knew this, and so has released more content to get money out of the players they already have.
The problem is that you already have an incomplete game, ARK: Survival Evolved clearly is not ready to be launched yet, so it feels like the developers should be focusing on getting a complete game finished. Instead, it felt like it was just trying to take more money from players who had paid into the game to begin with, but there is nothing stopping them from doing this. Steam does not have a policy regarding if early access games are allowed to release additional content to their games whilst they are still in early access. If Wildcard have released DLC, it does not stop other developers from doing the same thing.
So this raises the question of how long a game can stay in the safety of early access before it needs to be taken out. With games of different sizes and genres it difficult to make a ‘one year’ policy, as some games will take longer (or shorter) than a year to be developed. It equally seems unfair to put new rules on developers who are not releasing DLC packs for their games, as it is only a minority who have done this to begin with. It equally stains the trust between players and developers, as it feels like developers are just using players to get more money- would it be a step too far for Steam to get involved when this happens?
It does feel like the right way forward is for there to be a policy that DLC does not get released for a game in early access. When DLC is made for a game that is in early access it is like the developer has held back on content which you have already paid for, you do not feel like you are getting your full money investment. We are aware that games are very likely to release DLC, which means we spend more than retail price on games, however, most games have been in development and have been playable from the beginning. For early access games to start releasing DLC, it feels a bit like being cheated out of content and being forced to pay more.
ARK: Survival Evolve could have started to pave the way for other games to release their own DLC content whilst still in early access. However, with the backlash that came with this move and their approval rating going down, it is not a big surprise that other developers have not followed them. If there is DLC for an early access game, it should be released after the game is released fully. Or, possibly even better, put into the original game as extra content for the player- but that’s a very ideal world!