PC Gamer recently had a good article about Survival games (ARK, Rust, etc) almost never making it out of Steam’s Early Access, whether or not that was the correct use of the system, and if overall that’s a problem.
The initial reaction I had, and I’m sure most have, is that of course a game staying in EA forever is bad, especially if they also open up a cash shop or start charging for DLC. But what is EA really for games like ARK or Rust? (For more focused games, EA is most certainly for finishing your game prior to being done). How is EA different than a ‘released’ MMO? In an MMO we accept that the game isn’t ‘done’, and we also accept that sometimes systems get abandoned or the game’s direction changes. How is that different from EA really?
If ARK had called itself an MMO and ‘released’ 2 years ago, other than associating terms with the game, what would be different? As a player, you bought a game with a lot of content, some bugs, and devs that had more plans to continue updating the game. As they provided free updates in MMO ARK’s buy-2-play model, they also announced and released some optional payed DLC. Would there have been an uproar about this? Of course not, because that’s common and accepted in games like GW2, or The Secret World.
The perception problem for games like ARK is they really aren’t MMOs in the traditional sense of the term, yet from a developer standpoint, they work best when updated in a similar manner. ARK was fully playable and enjoyable 2 years ago, and was worth the price back then. Since that time its expanded greatly, but still isn’t fully ‘finished’ in terms of polish. That sounds a lot like most MMOs, doesn’t it?
And I don’t think ARK or games like it would have been better or more enjoyable if the devs had stopped adding features or expanding and just focused on polishing for an official release, as that would have taken a lot of time and returned little for the players. Yes bugs are annoying, but ARK has been very very playable for a long time, so we aren’t talking terrible stuff here, but rather minor annoyances in most cases, and the stuff that is really bad usually does get fixed. Again, how many MMOs can we say the exact same thing?
I think the best fix for this would be for Steam to change how EA works, perhaps limit how long a game can remain in that status, or add a new status for games that expect to be a work-in-progress for a long time (1yr+?). In part, EA is to let players know a game isn’t finished yet, but games like MMOs and survival games that aren’t abandoned are never done, so the EA tag is accurate, but misleading. The problem isn’t with the model, but with the label.