Starbound and early access in indie games

“Starbound,” by Chucklefish LTD., is an expansive multiplayer adventure game, and is the spiritual successor to the surprisingly popular “Terraria.” It remains in beta, albeit in a fully functional and quite enjoyable form. In spite of its unfinished state, it has already pre-sold over a million copies, and most of those buyers are already playing it.

This is all thanks to an emerging trend in the rapidly growing indie game community.  It’s a payment model known as “early access,” which allows developers to charge customers for a beta version of the game with the promise that a completed version is on its way. One of the earliest examples of this is most likely “Minecraft,” which has sold over 13 million copies!

Of course, this model is potentially exploitable. There isn’t really any guarantee that the developer won’t release a beta simply to bait people into paying full price for their unfinished game, only for that developer to take the money and run without ever delivering on their promises. A similar controversy surrounds the wildly successful Kickstarter website, on which such problems have occurred in the past.

For now it remains a sort-of ‘buyer beware’ territory. It is wise to look into the project in detail before purchasing the game. Risks aside, “early-access,” when executed correctly, can greatly benefit the developers as well as the users.

Developers have the opportunity to get feedback on their game before it’s finished. By the same coin, players can contribute their input in a meaningful way, potentially altering the direction taken by the development team. Furthermore, this allows developers to use some of their profits towards the betterment of the game. As long as abuse is avoided, the system has the potential to produce better games as a result.

“Starbound” appears to be a very worthy title to join the “early-access” revolution with.  Even in its beta state, there are a lot of things to do in “Starbound:” There are planets to explore, bosses to battle, items to craft. You can even play music and meet alien non-player-characters.

Being multiplayer is also a huge asset, as this game truly shines when played with a group of friends. Though it is perfectly entertaining to set up your home base and traverse caverns in search of various pieces of loot alone, it becomes far more engaging in a party.

Though the game remains unfinished, the number of items to create and collect is staggering, and procedurally generated planets and enemies ensure that no two experiences will be the same. “Starbound” is an example of a very safe “early-access” investment, as the game is already a ton of fun, and will only become better as development continues.

To sum it all up, “early-access” is still in its baby stages, and will come with a whole host of problems should the trend become more widespread, but for now, we’re seeing more of the good side of it. If more great games like “Starbound” are produced by this payment model, then it can only be a net positive for the industry.

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