Gaming terminology and descriptions have always been a little off. Remember when everything had “RPG elements”? Or when everything was an MMO? Or now when even MMOs aren’t called MMOs by publishers? I feel like right now, Early Access, alpha, beta, expansions, and patches all kinda mean similar things.
For example, right now a game called Stonehearth is technically in early access, and each update is called an alpha. But today it has more game to it than a lot of recent full releases, and its amazingly stable for an ‘alpha’. Yes, its not done, and more content is on the way, but if you bought it today I’d still say you got a game that is more than ready to be played fully.
Another example is Fallout Shelter, a mobile game I wrote about when it initially came out that has received a good number of updates, each one making the game significantly better. The big changes have come in the way of wasteland locations, which have a bit more gameplay to them and really show off the combat animations and brilliant Fallout IP style. That plus the new overseer mission system makes the whole game far more engaging.
If Shelter had been releases as an alpha and only called ‘done’ at the current version, would anything be different? If Stonehearth today was called ‘released’, and in a year was on version 1.6 ala Shelter, would anything be different?
We accept bugs in fully released games, even AAA titles like Fallout 4, so why do we need the ‘Early Access’ tag to let us know about potential bugs or missing features? Sure, at a certain level none of this matters, but it does make finding a game a little harder, especially if you are someone who wants to avoid a game until its ‘done’.