Early access games are controversial with many gamers. On one side of the argument, there are gamers (including myself) that by and large accept early access games as a fact of gaming life at this point. It’s a way to be on the early hype train for games while financially supporting continuing development. For many of us pro-early access gamers, it’s also a way to contribute to the development of the game, whether it’s via voting on features to include in the final release or helping identify bugs as an unofficial QA team, especially for smaller indie titles lacking the team and resources to tackle some of these issues in-house. However, there are many gamers that will not touch a game until it is a 1.0 release. These anti-early access gamers want a “complete” product that is relatively bug-free and has well-balanced gameplay. They shun the idea of being a free tester or guinea pig for these early access titles, believing it is unfair to half a product when they would not pay for half a movie.
Both arguments are valid and it’s fair to say that in the gaming space, there will not be a shift away from early-access games. Especially in light of messy and disappointing 1.0 releases like Cyberpunk, or more recently, Warhammer 40K’s Darktide (which is in such a disappointing state, the developer, Fatshark, recently issued a public apology and further delayed the console release), early access releases seem like a sound business decision to refine a game while minimizing expectations for the full launch. But, are we seeing too many early access titles that fail to meet expectations when launching in their final form? Is the period being unnecessarily extended to capture income as early as possible without a plan for the future of the game?
After 3 years of content updates, patches, and hotfixes, Industries of Titans is finally here in its 1.0 release. This strategic industrial sim has been kicking around in early access since 2020. We’ve visited the game throughout the years and have to say that upon revisiting Industries of Titans for the 1.0 release, I prepared for a potentially time-consuming experience expecting to need to relearn a new game. Instead, the 1.0 release doesn’t feel revolutionary. the game feels familiar, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the game’s most interesting features (ship combat, fighting rebel forces, transportation, and logistics) have been included in planned updates going back to 2020. The developer, Brace Yourself Games, stated they released the game in early access because they wanted to have a closer relationship with players throughout the development cycle. This transparency was great in communicating balance changes and game features to the community of players, while also actively incorporating player feedback into the next hotfix or update. The transparency even extended so far as to communicate to players in the November 2020 Patch 0.6.0, that the major milestones from the development roadmap were completed and everything going forward was “uncharted.” Yet the game continued operating with the Early Access flag for another 2 years. Most “major updates” were balancing issues, bug fixes, and a handful of buildings, but mostly quality-of-life updates. After 5 years in development, 3 years, and early access, we have received a game with the most stunning cyberpunk voxel graphics, an absolute banger of a soundtrack, and complex systems with room for individual discovery and customization. Industries of Titan is also a game that delivered early on key gameplay features, removed many planned features from its roadmap, and released without notes about the future of the game.
By contrast, Rimworld (another colony-sim game), also spent 5 years in development and several of those years in public early access status before releasing a 1.0 version in 2018 (yes, this game has been around longer than you realize). When Ludeon Studios finally published the 1.0 version, a statement about the future of the game accompanied it. (Admittedly, it’s not much of a public plan, but it at least acknowledges that there will probably be future content.) Rimworlders were happy to participate in the early access phase because the game was fairly stable, included the core features, and also opened itself up to the modding community. Over time, many of the most popular mods were incorporated into each new version of the game. Today, Rimworld receives regular development updates, and unique DLCs, and anything else is taken care of by the healthy modding community.
A long time in early access is not often negative, as beloved titles like Subnautica, Don’t Starve, and even Minecraft show that a well-developed game can shine and exceed expectations on full release. Unfortunately, for every Rimworld or Subnautica, there are just as many games that fall flat on the release or stay in early access forever leaving players to wonder if their beloved game has become abandonware or if the early access badge is a community joke (looking at you, 7 Days to Die). With nearly 7000 titles in early access status on Steam, let alone the various other platforms and launchers available to us, it’s harder than ever to distinguish a quality time investment in these early access titles. The longer a game stays in early access, the more we players start to wonder if it’s a worthwhile investment of our time. Industries of Titan is a fun experience, but after spending so much time in early access, by the time of its release, I feel like I’ve seen all it had to offer and find myself wondering if I could enjoy it more if I had not already spent 3 years with it. Not to rush development because a game is ready when it’s ready, but sometimes a game just needs to be set free to be more fully enjoyed.
JadePrincess (or Jade) is a lifelong gamer with a passion for nearly all genres of games that started with her (dad’s) NES and Zelda 2. While she enjoys many other hobbies like sewing, motorcycle riding, fencing, and pretending to grow vegetables she still manages to squeeze in a few streams on Twitch (usually featuring a deep-cut indie gem) and co-host a nerd-culture podcast.