Publishing lessons

Board games & crowdfunding

Early access

20th June 2023 0

In just a few months’ time, Starfield will be released, a brand-new game from the Bethesda studio. This is the first new universe Bethesda has created in 25 years, and it is one of the most anticipated games in recent times. This is largely due to the success of their other games, specifically Skyrim, one of the most successful RPG games of all time. Many see Starfield as a spiritual sequel.

I’ve just been looking at their pre-order options and noticed two words that have become very common in the video game market: early access. I can pay £69.99 to buy the game, or I can pay £99.99 to get the game, a few digital extras, and unlock early access. In other words, for an extra £30, or 42% more, I can begin playing the game 5 days earlier than if I choose to wait. The online ARPG Diablo 4, which was released earlier this month, had a similar offer: pay £69.99 for the game, or £89.99 for a deluxe version that grants 4 days of early access.

In the case of an online game like Diablo 4, it could be argued that early access is a good thing for the developers. Online games are known for server crashes around release as they struggle to manage the number of players. Splitting the demand in half through an early access and normal release might be a good idea. Yet, I’m not sure if that is their primary reason, and games like Starfield, which are offline single-player games, do not have these requirements.

For a game like Starfield, which is full of story and built around discovery, the idea of letting others play the game 5 days before me is troublesome. Not because I want to be first, but because I want to avoid seeing spoilers online and don’t want to have to stay off the internet until I complete the game.

However, the question I’m really pondering is how I feel about paying for early access and whether there are ever situations where it is a good thing. In the case of my games, I typically launch them through a crowdfunding campaign, and by backing my games, you will receive your game before anyone else. This is part of my process to thank my community for supporting me and helping make my games a reality. The retail release always comes after fulfilment.

The difference here is that I am not charging people a premium for that early access; it’s included within the standard price and considered a free benefit that I offer as thanks. I’m not sure how people would respond if I suggested charging an extra 30-40% on top of the usual price so that they could get the game a week early.

Do you think there is ever a case where paying for early access to a game is a good thing? I think offering early access by delivering the game to backers first as a free benefit is okay, but that’s as far as I would want to take it.

Frank West

Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!

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