Tag Archives: Early Accesss

Project Gorgon on Steam

The day arrived earlier this week as Project: Gorgon, long in an alpha that you could play for free, finally moved to Steam.  It is early access, to be sure, but it has arrived.

A New Logo for Steam

For a very small project that took three tries to get a Kickstarter funded, this is a pretty big deal.

Yes, I expected it would get there sooner.  I’m pretty sure Eric Heimberg expected it to get there much sooner as well.  After all, the post-Kickstarter plan was to get to Steam some time in October.

October of 2015.

Welcome to the problem with Kickstarting a beast as complicated as an MMORPG.

At least the promise was only to get onto Steam.  Other ventures in which I have a minor stake, Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, and Star Citizen, have all blown past their promised ship dates.  Shroud of the Avatar might hit something that looks like a finished project by the end of this year, but Star Citizen continues to recede from the horizon while Camelot Unchained is shooting for a beta at some point this summer.

So the two people pretty much baking an MMO on their own project looks pretty good by comparison.  Sure, it still doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet (Project Gorgon there references an US Navy missile program) but there it is on Steam at least.

Of course, there are something like 35 games arriving on Steam every single day, threatening to bury us all in a bottomless pit of derivative crap that should never see the light of day, so getting there isn’t exactly the leap over the high bar it was once upon a time.  But, woo hoo, go indie dreamers all the same I guess.  (Just don’t quit your day jobs.)

I am in a mood to bitch, aren’t I?  Well, I shall complain no more… or not as much… for this should be a happy thing, something to celebrate.  You can actually find Project: Gorgon on Steam and read all about it.   And, honestly, it sounds better than I remember.  The bullet points are all good.

  • Each non-player (NPC) you meet has their own goals and interest, and reward players that choose to be their friend.
  • You can drop items on the ground, and other players can pick them up. What’s so great about that? Imagine laying down a trail of literal (virtual) breadcrumbs to guide your friends (or lure your enemies) into the woods.
  • Shopkeepers keep inventory, so you can buy items that other players have sold to them. Want to help out new players? Sell your cast-off items to the shopkeeper in the new player zone and watch the new players go to town.
  • If you are on fire, you can jump into a lake to put it out. This type of mechanic can have a subtle effect on your strategies, especially when you are fighting a fire mage!
  • You can inscribe messages onto items, write books, and even leave notes for other players. Make your name as an in-game poet, or pronounce your greatness to the world!

Some of that sounds like classic MUD stuff that has gone missing in the more modern revisions of the genre.  Likewise this batch sounds interesting.

  • Battle Chemistry: Create huge explosions, inject yourself with mysterious mutagens or program a pet golem!
  • Unarmed Combat: Grapple and control enemies using a situational-aware combo system that varies based on where you are and what day it is.
  • Animal Handling: Tame animals and train them to become ferocious fighters. Then breed your best and sell their offspring to other players.
  • Necromancy: Seek out corpses and graveyards to raise an undead army. No graveyard around? Well, there are always the corpses of your friends.
  • Cow: Got turned into a cow by that boss? That sucks. But learn some kicks and how to stampede, and you’ll be right back out there kicking grass in no time!
  • That’s just a few! There’s also Sword Fighting, Combat Psychology, Staff Fighting, Sigil Scripting, Mentalism, and more.

In addition, there is a reasonable list of goals to achieve before the game moves from Early Access to Live, like fleshing out the content, which currently runs up to level 70, to level 100.

All in all I am impressed.  And if you act now, you can buy it on Steam for 25% off the normal $40 price.  Or if you are like me and paid back in 2015, there is a Steam key waiting in your in your email.  I got mine.

Project: Gorgon moving to Steam has long been my stated trigger point to start playing, and I am going to get right on that… once I am done with Rift Prime.

Okay, I’ll probably get Project: Gorgon loaded up on Steam and take a peek but, in my dotage, I have become mostly single threaded when it comes to fantasy MMORPGs.  I kind of just want to play one at a time, enjoy myself as the world washes over me, then change up when I am starting to tire.  And for the moment that world is Telara.

Quote of the Day – What Should Early Access Be?

For us, Early Access is not something that should be taken lightly. It should be considered a final release in the sense that you’re on a path to finishing the game and you’re going to get it out there.

Studio Wildcard co-founder Jesse Rapczak over at gameindustry.biz

We are in the age of early access for video games, and Steam has been a huge enabler on this front.  When going through my queues during the winter sale I saw this plastered on many a page.

Warning: Not a finished product

Warning: Not a finished product

Steam has a statement about Early Access (that “Learn more” link), but it is really up to the developer as to when they go for early access and what it means.

The interview with Rapczak linked above represents the world from which I came… more than 25 years ago at this point… where you don’t give half finished items to customers, that you let them in only when you think you’re ready to ship but want feedback before the official launch.

And this seems to have worked out pretty well so far for Studio Wildcard’s game Ark: Survival Evolved.  They wanted/needed feedback as opposed to funding to finish the project and, judging from what I have heard about the game, things have worked out very well for them.

Of course, not every developer has the luxury of delaying funding until the game is nearly ready to go.  There are some indie projects out there that need the dollars to just keep going.

But there are established companies out there that ought to be able to get further along without the cash infusion.  Derek Smart said he was charging $99 to be in the Line of Defense early access program because he didn’t want any freeloaders using his resources.  A $99 barrier to beta so that only the truly motivated would join in.

Then there is Daybreak (née SOE) and its two Early Access children, Landmark and H1Z1.

Landmark is two years in with no release in sight, while H1Z1 will be a year in Early Access next week.  Certainly Landmark seems to be the poster child for how to build some excitement quickly and then let it dissipate slowly as development grinds on for years.  I am actually much happier about the state of EverQuest Next.  Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for more than five years now, but at least nobody has paid for it only to lose interest in a less than half done product.

Meanwhile, I don’t think it is unreasonable to be concerned about the future Landmark.  What happens if too many Early Access customers lose interest before it launches?  Do you ship a product that can’t keep enough of your truly dedicated fans?

And then there is H1Z1, which at least seems to have some excitement around it now and again… there is at least enough activity to keep its subreddit aboil.  Then again, according to the official statement on Steam, it was supposed to go “live” last year.  Of course, Daybreak apparently told their lords and masters at Columbus Nova Prime that they had shipped the product already… like 11 months ago.  There were probably some revenue recognition issues which lead to that, but at least somebody there thinks the game is live already despite the soon to be year old Early Access banner on its Steam page.

We live in interesting times when it comes to game development funding, with crowd funding and Early Access, and variations on the theme all looking to get money up front for project to be delivered down the road… often much further down the road that originally estimated.

Sometimes it works… and even works well.  As noted, Ark: Survival Evolved seems to be doing well, and of course Minecraft started out that way and is now so ubiquitous that I see references to it or related products everywhere I go. (Your favorite game may be popular, but it likely isn’t on the shelves at Target, doesn’t have a series of LEGO kits devoted to it, or its own market segment devoted to hosting servers.  Minecraft has quietly taken over my daughter’s generation.)

But sometimes Early Access just seems like a good way to make a quick buck as your product peaks too soon.  Community involvement and growth is one thing, but too long in that pre-launch state can take the bang out of the eventual go-live.  And if you’re charging money, you reap the press response you sow with your state of readiness, which may set the tone for your product.

Is Paid Early Access a Good Thing for MMOs?

We just had the launch of early access for H1Z1 this past Thursday and it was not an unqualified success.

H1Z1DisasterIt started with delays as bringing servers up and getting out last minute patches ran through the 11 am PST kick off target and well into the afternoon.  Then when things were finally up there were G29 errors and G99 errors and “you do not own this game” errors and “no servers visible” problems and the overwhelming of the login servers, which actually affected other SOE games.  And, of course, this being based on PlanetSide 2, the hacking seems likely to commence.

That was all exacerbated by the fact that SOE was clearly trying to make this a big deal, an event, and was hyping the whole thing up, making sure people who wanted to stream the game had access, and that there were hundreds of servers online, so the whole thing was rather a public spectacle.  I tried watching LazTel stream the game over at the TMC feed and every time I checked in there was an error on his screen.

And that leaves aside Smed riling up the carebears earlier in the week and the whole controversy over “pay to win” air drops that was brewing as well where, despite early statements on how H1Z1 would be financed through cosmetic items, things changed. Smed was taking a tough line in defending the air drop scheme.  (Plus air drops seemed to be having their own issues.)

anyone that wants to “complain” about H1Z1 being P2W shouldn’t buy it. In fact I encourage you not to. Let’s not let facts get in the way.

John Smedley, Twitter

Scathing quotation marks around the word “complain” there from Smed.  Feel the burn.

(Also, in looking at some older posts this past weekend, I see that I need to quote Smed rather than simply embedding his tweets.  He appears to go back and clean up his feed, deleting quotable items later on.)

Cooler heads were apologizing about the change in views on buying things like guns and ammo in the game on the H1Z1 Reddit, SOE’s favorite forum of the moment.

And then, I gather, at some point over the weekend, the game started working more reliably… or people gave up on it.   Either way, I pretty much stopped hearing about it, except for Smed on Twitter assuring people that things would be fixed and posting links to posts on Reddit detailing what the latest patch would include.  Maybe the Massively post More Boredom than Terror rings true?

Either way, I was happy I was only reading about it.  The whole thing seemed not ready for prime time.

Of course, it was “early access,” so that much is to be expected I suppose.  Certainly that is the line that Smed, and SOE, and their more ardent defenders will stick to.  SOE had to offer up refunds again, as they did with Landmark, for people who were expecting a bit more.

So SOE has themselves covered by that “early access” label.  But it does feel like SOE was trying to be on both sides of the fence.  The whole thing was built up like a game launch.  But is it reasonable to set those sorts of expectations, with that many people piling in and all those servers being put online, along with charging money for the box and running your cash shop from day one, for something a company is running under “early access?”

My own view is that if you are charging money and have worked to get a cash shop in the game, your ability to hide behind words like “early access” and “beta” is somewhat diminished, an opinion I have held since the FarmVille days, when Zynga products seemed to be in eternal beta even as they earned buckets of money.

Anyway, while what SOE does with H1Z1 is of some interest to me, I had no interest in being part of their “pay to test while we develop the game” agenda.  That is pretty much the same song I have sung about Landmark, which has been in early access for nearly a year now.

My cynicism on display

My cynicism on display

At the end of the day though, I have to ask myself how these sorts of early access routines affect my desire to play a given game.  And the answer isn’t exactly favorable.  I am happy enough to have passed on an early investment in both games, but the drawn out nature of even watching from the sidelines has diminished Landmark for me, while H1Z1 running through what looks like PlanetSide 2 problems… which PlanetSide 2 is still having two years after launch… makes me willing to wait for a long, long time before I will bother trying.  Add in the fact that pwipes will be unlikely after a very early point in order to keep the hardcore fans invested and sweet in both games, where it certainly seems like location will matter, and it feels like SOE is selling advantage on top of charging people to test their incomplete visions over the long haul.  Both make me less likely to buy in.

And at some point in the middle-to-distant future, we will be getting EverQuest Next and the current pattern from SOE indicates that it will go through the whole early access routine as well, which gets something of an eye rolling frowny face from me.  Certainly the way Landmark has gone and the way H1Z1 has started has not endeared me to the early access idea.

I am not convinced that early access is a good thing, even when it is done better.  Over in the realm of Lord British, Shroud of the Avatar is also up on Steam for early access.  It is still in a rough state, too rough at least for me to want to devote much time to it.  I log in once in a while to see what it looks like, but am otherwise biding my time.

However, I feel differently about Shroud of the Avatar.  I bid on the Kickstarter to get a copy of the game, which was expected to cost money at some future date anyway.  And, despite the real estate focus of the game, I feel less like I will be missing out by not getting in early, there being a whole campaign to follow.

So maybe it is just the type of games that SOE has been launching of late, where there is contention over location.  Or maybe it is just the way they have gone about things in the traditional SOE way, where there are intense moments of hype and energy followed by long periods of quiet.

I think early access has worked well enough for other games.  At least I can point and some good examples, like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program, where early access delivered something worthwhile, made people happy, and kept on evolving.  But for MMOs I feel less certain.  Is there a good early access story for an MMO? Should we avoid judging based on SOE?  How about ArcheAge or Trove?

What do you think about early access for MMOs?

 

Anyway, at some point H1Z1 will actually launch, at which point maybe I will give it a peek.  Until then the eager supports are welcome to it.

Quote of the Day – Why Charge for Beta Access?

We’re simply not interested in letting freeloaders gain early access to the game, not provide meaningful – if any – feedback, while we foot the bill for the backend services, servers, bandwidth etc

-Derek Smart on the $99 price for Line of Defense Beta Access

Saying that Derek Smart can be a polarizing figure might the understatement of the year, at least in the gaming industry.  Polygon did an piece on him a couple years back that covers a lot of past ground on the topic of Derek Smart.  He gets online and says what he thinks.  Sometimes what he says looks to be self-defeating, like the extra drama piled onto the Quest Online vs. David Allen lawsuit, which ended up with Quest Online giving David Allen some money to just go away.

And sometimes he stabs right at the unvarnished truth that others are skirting around, as with some comments about the demise of 38 Studios two years back.

The latter is the case with the quote at the top about Line of Defense.

LineOfDefenseLogo

We have been wringing our hands about companies like SOE charging for what they call alpha access to Landmark… in a world where “alpha” apparently now means a stable platform devoid of most of the planned features… but this is the real reason you ask for money up front.  Sure, a bit of income is nice, but if your company is at a point where it needs that revenue, you are probably have other problems to worry about.

No, what charging for early access like this does is put up a barrier to entry that filters out all but those who are truly interested in what you are creating.  This gets you the people who really believe and want to help you out.

It is a double-edge sword however.  If you are going to make people commit, you had best have something ready for people to commit to.  You have your true believers, the core of your core audience, lined up and ready to go, so you screw them over or leave them hanging at your peril.

We have seen quiet periods with Landmark where the user base starts to idle as it waits for the available tool set to take another step towards the vision of what the game might be.  Not much testing getting done.  And then there is the true believer syndrome, where the forums start to feel like the domain of a few such who are committed to a particular version of the vision and who shout down any who challenge their orthodoxy.  Such are the risks.

You can read more about the Line of Defense early access program on Steam at the 3000 AD web site.

The Wait is Over… For Some…

A bunch of very happy people got this message in their email.  They can start playing Star Wars: The Old Republic today.  A list of servers await them, or one server if their guild has been assigned.

Early Access Invite

I hope nobody missed out because they sent one to me.  Sorry!

And, on a tangential note, I hope EA and BioWare have a lot of authenticators lined up to sell and can get them in the EA store soon.  Judging from my Google traffic, a lot of people want one.  SWTOR authenticator, and variations thereof, lead my search engine traffic by a wide margin.