In the world of modern video game development and publishing there are two constants. Your game will be over hyped. Your game will under-deliver. With few exceptions to the rule, the modern development and advertising cycle for newly published games turns AAA class titles into huge disappointments while indie darlings continue to thrive.
Gone are the days where we once read about our games in magazines. Thanks to media outlets just like PowerLeveled and the social internet, we know more about the video games coming to market than ever before, no longer relying on that first-look at E3 and the snippets of information we can pick out of the “Official [Platform] Magazine”. In this transition, many publishers like Activision and Ubisoft rely on earlier marketing than ever to bring a mass of hype and pre-oder sales to push their titles. Further still, developers on the indie scene push content at pre-release development stages out to market with explicit messaging that their titles are incomplete, causing growing concern that these titles may never issue a final release, and inherently be broken in “Alpha” or “Beta” stages forever. Whether a title is great or flops flat, these pre-order sales help fund blockbuster titles despite a lack of supporting information on the title or a reliable review to run on.
As the perception of what is acceptable to purchase relies more and more on how often we’ve read about a game, watched it on Twitch.TV, or play the title hands-on before the “real” launch, developers are pushing out Beta tests and early access like never before. This culture of early access as a natural step in the development process is splitting the gaming community today, and development teams may need to change this standard for the ultimate success of their title can be possible. While a free-to-play title is safe to launch into an “Open Beta” which transitions into the “Full Release”, and indie developers may need to push for early access to secure funding, there are many instances where both of these scenarios are haunting games which have been launched before they are ready.
As a free-to-play title on our radar, World of Speed is ingrained within these issues, sharing the spotlight with Peter Molyneux’ “Godus” and The Stomping Land. Ranging from the minor to the extreme, these titles each run with a hype issue that could be fixed simply by not feeding the machine. With the launch of The Stomping Land on Steam Early Access, one of the many promising new survival titles at market in 2014 showed us why we should fear Early Access inherently, and realized our fears in the Kickstarter community weren’t without merit. Funded on Kickstarter to the tune of over 100,000 US Dollars on June 6th of 2013, The Stomping Land featured a list of promises including the taming and development of dinosaur-riddled lands. Having confirmed their degradation, artist over dinosaur modeling Vlad Konstantinov decided to leave the development process as founder Alex “Jig” Fundora stopped supporting his team and the game as a whole. Being funded almost entirely on promised content as opposed to delivered promises, The Stomping Land represents the most extreme of our broken culture of early access and over-hype.
As a prestigious developer, Peter Molyneux leads the way in today’s prominent issues with his long history of over-promised and under-delivered content, and with Godus there is no exception to the rule. Launching his title on iOS, Android and Steam Early Access, Godus is developer 22 Cans’ title funded for over 500,000 Great British Pounds on the back of Molyneux’ Fable development fame. Securing funds as a “God Game”, something Molyneux started his illustrious career on, Godus delivered as a strategy title, but requires little strategy. Going to war against adverse nations in Godus means little more than sculpting the land and waiting around, leaving many disappointed in a more successful Kickstarter program – though at least this title made it to market. As a result of over hyping, Godus looked to be more than it could be and didn’t find a real push because of a soft “beta” launch, ultimately not successful after the first few weeks.
Having not yet hit digital shelves, free-to-play title World of Speed is falling in as the opposite victim of this ridiculous standard that we bear. Announcing the title in cooperation with a Beta sign-up, World of Speed has been highly anticipated among its fan base but it dying off as a result of not releasing the Beta test fast enough. Though World of Speed has been announced for nearly two years, there is no product to show for it – neither in closed or open Beta. As a fully free title, this closed Beta launch could quell an unrest in a community that is hungry for video footage and in-game action. Promising a launch on multiple occasions, World of Speed must avoid the trap to ensure success. Holding back might be their only chance to get an “indie darling” win, even though they are not independently published.
What makes a good title today isn’t about the graphics, it’s not about the advertising, and it’s not about the money you put in. The number one highest rated multiplayer title on Steam today is independently developed by just one person. Some of the highest valued titles on the PC today won only on word of mouth, such as DayZ which started an entire genre without traditional sponsorship and has sold into the millions. Success on today’s market is about clear development and being open with your community. Nothing else really matters, and until developers can get on board we need to change our buying power to reflect. Don’t go pre-ordering Assassin’s Creed titles if the last game wasn’t developed well – that’s how we got where we are. It’s time for a change, and the change should happen now.