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Why is Early Access Such an Effective Marketing Tactic?

Last Updated on August 20, 2021 by Michael Brockbank

Remember when game developers use to hire people to beta test games before they were released? I do. In fact, beta testers were often paid fairly well for their efforts to break a game. Nowadays, we have Early Access.

And even though it feels like a dirty trade-off, it’s still a brilliant tactic by developers. That’s because people will easily throw money at something they think is special.

But how special is it really?

What is Early Access?

Early Access is the label game developers give when a project is unfinished but they want you to play it anyway. And from a marketing perspective, it has great potential.

Unfortunately, a lot of developers have helped give Early Access a bad rep. But let’s take a look at some of the elements that go into the process.

The Benefits to a Developer

The bottom line is that Early Access is very beneficial for a game developer from a financial perspective. This is where the brilliance really shines for this type of game.

Getting Your Money without Finishing

If a game is a complete mess but still somewhat playable, you can slap it up as Early Access and promote it to the consumer. In most cases, players will gladly hand over money to experience the game, even if it’s buggy as hell.

This means game developers can start reaping the financial gain of a project well before it’s even done.

In the past, a game would have to be finished and available on the market before publishers began seeing a profit. Today, it doesn’t really matter as long as you have a good marketing team.

No Need for Employees

Like I said, game developers in the past hired beta testers to break a game. This was to fix any bugs they could find before actually pushing it out to the public.

Today, Early Access buyers play the game to report bugs without the game developer spending a single dime on staffing. Just the opposite, really.

This also means no need for office space, electricity, computers, and other overhead expenses you’d have from hiring a beta tester.

In other words, game developers make out like bandits when pushing an unfinished title as Early Access.

Explaining Away Glitches and Problems

Any glitches, problems, and broken segments of the game are easily explained away in Early Access. Of course, developers will often take these comments and reports into account when fixing the issues.

Unfortunately, not all game developers put in the same amount of effort. Hell, I’ve been waiting for a playable version of DayZ for about four or five years!

Anyway, there is less emphasis to fix something in Early Access as opposed to an active title a customer bought off the shelves. This gives the developer as much time as he or she needs, especially if the game can maintain popularity in alpha and beta stages.

Has an Earlier Release Date

Few developers will publish their game in Early Access to give players a chance to experience the game earlier. In the past, it could take years for a developer to produce a working title. Now, publishers can open the doors sooner for gamers.

If pushed correctly, Early Access can offer a great deal in terms of marketing. After all, word-of-mouth works exceptionally well in today’s market. Hell, most of the games I’ve bought in the past five years were from watching people play them on YouTube and Twitch.

The Benefits to a Player

So, there are plenty of incredible benefits to a publisher for pushing Early Access. But what about a player? I suppose that really depends on what you get out of the experience.

Helping Shape a Game

Some gamers will buy a game early for the sake of helping developers shape the outcome. As many will listen to players, the game can take on a whole new look and feel by the time it’s released.

Being Able to Play Sooner

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why people buy Early Access games is so they can play them sooner. Instead of waiting several years for a finished product, they can jump in a play right now.

Glitches, bugs, and all.

What Are Some Drawbacks to Early Access?

Sounds like buying a game early is a win-win for everyone, right? Not really.

Early Access games are slanted in favor of the developer. I’m talking an angle of nearly 90 degrees. And the only one who really suffers, in the end, is the player.

Unfinished Projects

I was recently burned by Daybreak Games thanks to the company giving up on H1Z1: Just Survive. It was an Early Access game they decided to cancel because of a lack of player base and a drain on resources.

Instead, they’ll keep up the battle royale H1Z1 title…sigh.

The point is that Early Access developers often drop a project for a variety of reasons, or perhaps no reason at all. And there’s nothing you can do about it because of the agreement for buying this type of publishing.

Do you get your money back for an abandoned game? Nope. That’s the caveat to Early Access.

It gives developers a way to put in a half-assed effort, take your money, and then decide the project just “isn’t worth the time.” They still have your money, so what do they care?

Time Wasted

I don’t mind wasting time playing a game. In fact, most of it is wasted depending on the game anyway. But when it’s wasted on a title that will never finish, it gets quite a bit more aggravating.

And this says nothing about the frustration of wanting a developer to deliver on promises only to spend more time counting the dollars coming in than fixing an Early Access title.

Can you tell I’m a little jaded on this topic?

ColoradoPlays Extra Life

Is Early Access a Joke?

Now, not all developers are out to screw customers. In reality, I have quite a few that went from Early Access to live games in my Steam library right now. For example, Subnautica is one of my all-time favorite games.

However, don’t be surprised when a publisher you thought of as legit turns out to take your money and run. The Internet is full of scammers, and you need to keep your head on a swivel.

Michael Brockbank
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Michael Brockbank

Michael developed ColoradoPlays to help various charities through his favorite pastime. Since then, the blog and Twitch channels have donated several hundred dollars to Extra Life, Geeks of Grandeur and Operation Supply Drop to name a few.