Some thoughts on early access, release dates, the big 1.0
Some of this post will be lifted from a reddit comment I made earlier today. But I felt it was important enough that I should give it a bit more visibility.
I wanted to talk a little bit about early access and how arbitrary both the term ‘finished game’ and the version number 1.0 are when talking about a game like Starbound.
We receive a lot of criticism about pushing back the date of the ‘finished’ version of the game and often people claim we’ve broken a promise by not delivering that finished version already. But what does finished mean here?
The context that’s missing here is that unlike many early access games, the game is already fully playable, and although it doesn’t have everything we want to put in it yet (which is what’s holding it back from a 1.0 release) I feel we could have released what we currently have AS 1.0, outside of early access.
The average amount of play time a Starbound player has built up is around 26 hours, with many players playing for well over 500 hours. (this does not include the launcher being open).
We’re all still trying to figure out just what early access is, at what stage games should go in and out of early access and what the expectations are. As Starbound stands, our sharing of our future plans aside, it could leave early access and be an entirely reasonable stand alone game. The huge number of hours people have poured into it is a testament to that, given that the games purpose is to provide entertainment. Early access for us is a means of showing people that this is a game we’re still working on, that their feedback is important to us and that there are going to be big changes. It absolutely doesn’t devalue what’s there. In fact many publications have chosen to review the game in it’s current state and given it great reviews.
And whilst I’m sorry that we haven’t yet put everything in the game that we’ve mentioned wanting to put into the game, I feel as a developer we’ve chosen to be really open and communicative and that means just talking without overly vetting what we say. Sometimes that means getting excited about a feature we want to put in but it takes a lot longer than we’d planned. Our having plans that haven’t been implemented yet also doesn’t take away from or devalue what is already there.
We’ve been criticised for not updating the game enough, especially as we said that we’d be putting out updates thick and fast. Along side that, we also warned that these updates would be buggy and broken because of the speed at which we were pushing them. We started updating the main game in this way but people quickly lost patience with small / constant / buggy updates and we took the time to move those updates to a new opt-in branch in steam. So the nightly updates *are* the thick and fast, buggy and broken updates we promised. They appear every single day. And the game on the main branch exists as a perfectly playable stand alone whilst we continue to work.
The way games are developed and sold has changed dramatically in recent years and the language we use to describe the state of a game is changing too. What does 1.0 or finished mean now?
1.0 used to be the version at which the game was released and sold. Finished was the point at which a game went on sale. By this old definition Starbound is technically finished. However we’ve obviously decided not to label the game 1.0 or finished. Yet the game is available to buy. So what does 1.0 mean now?
I feel 1.0 is an arbitrary release number and it’s down to us to decide what 1.0 means in the context of our game. If anything, 1.0 exists as a guide for the people that want to wait and play the game when it’s in a state that we are entirely happy with it.
We’ve chosen to keep upping the ante for 1.0, but that absolutely doesn’t mean that what’s available and playable right now is any less a game, any less enjoyable or any less worth the £9 we ask for it.