I have a massive love/hate relationship with Early Access, but I think I finally cleared the final mental hurdle with it. Two primary issues bother me with EA.
The first is when a game drags in EA, either because of slow patching speed (Stonehearth) or because the scope of the project keeps increasing (ARK). With most games I’m not here to ‘help you develop’ the game, I’m here to play it, and its hard to fully dig in sometimes knowing the EA banner still hangs over a game. This leads to half-playing, and that can result in playing a game enough to get kinda bored, but not enough to complete it or play through fully.
The second issue is playing an EA game too much, and then when changes happen not going back to play the better version. This happened to me with Darkest Dungeon. When I first bought it I loved it, and played it a lot. I hit a point where it wasn’t all that fun anymore, and stopped playing. The game continued to be updated, and was made much better. When I went back to play it however, too much of it still felt the same, and while I could see and appreciate the new stuff, it just wasn’t enough. That’s frustrating because ultimately I like Darkest enough to want to beat it, but can’t commit to getting through the middle phase anymore to actually do it (luckily in the case of Darkest, the next update adds a ‘faster progression’ mode, which I’m very interested in).
So what grand revelation have I come to with EA?
The moment you buy an EA title, that’s the moment the game has left EA for you. Everything after is post-release patching or free (hopefully free… ARK) expansions/DLC. If you buy a game and it still feels off after less than 2hrs, use the Steam refund policy, its quick and easy. If you see enough there to actually play it, congrats on your purchase, but pretend the game is no longer in EA, and don’t play it with that mindset.
That mindset also helps mitigate disappointment when scope is cut short or delivery is delayed. The moment you bought it was the moment EA ended, so any promises about future stuff are just hopes, not guarantees. The only thing you should feel owed is what the game is RIGHT NOW, and again if that isn’t up to par move on.