The Evolving Industry: The Effect of Early Access

There have been a few video game releases, recently, that have caught gamers’ attention, particularly: Street Fighter V and Splatoon. Both of these games have enough merit and popularity to naturally catch anyone’s attention, but they are two very different games, with Splatoon being a shooter from Nintendo and Street Fighter V marking the latest instalment of a beloved fighting game series from Capcom. They are definitely games with fun and quality built in but there is one more thread joining them: They were released with a relatively small amount of content on-disc. With many Steam releases and some major publishers following a similar route previously, this is an ever-growing trend.

Splatoon and SFV have gone about their initial release in different ways, but the following results were the same. Both games released with a small amount of content, but just about enough to warrant a full release from a business point of view. In doing so, both Capcom and Nintendo risked their respective game’s critical reception and there was something of an outcry in both the communities on how the games were released incomplete and not worth the expensive price tag. The aim of this method is to keep users interested in the title in the long run by releasing updates and new content, so the player base keeps coming back to play the game months or even years down the line.

hitman

On the other side of the Spectrum, Square Enix will be releasing Hitman(2016) with the same aim but with a different methodology. They are taking the Hitman series in an episodic nature releasing a mission at a time but with a much smaller price point and a slew of live content. Consumers are taking these changes with much trepidation as their beloved franchise heads towards a episodic nature.

We are unsure whether it’s a good idea for game developers to release a game with a lack of content, only to put it in at a later date. It creates a lack of trust with consumers and shows them how profits have taken more priority over the spirit of the game or franchise. Hitman will only release with one mission at launch, but it’s been boasted to be large and immersive enough to bridge the gap in the content release. There is an option to buy a ‘complete’ edition which will give you access to the game as it becomes available. Of course, the promised content will be there at a future date but the damage has been done, especially for a player new to the series, which, more than likely, could be the case with Street Fighter V in particular. With such a backlash, there have been numerous negative reviews from critics and fans alike. Citing the future of this trend, we had IGN’s take on SFV:

‘Capcom’s fighter is great, but it’s missing enough to make us worry about future AAA releases’.

Where the hell is Blanka?

It really does look empty.

Whilst these developers have opted to go down similar enough roots, there is one key aspect differing between the public opinion and reception of all of the games in question – the price point. In the UK, Splatoon was widely released at around £35-£40, with the average Wii U game costing £40-£50 in most cases. Hitman will be initially released for £12, but it will have a full traditional release AFTER the content has all been released individually, around the end of year. Street Fighter V’s typical cost of £45-£50 seems very expensive for the relatively small amount of on-disc content, whereas Splatoon and Hitman were released as a more budget-friendly option considering their lack of initial content. Splatoon may have launched with just four maps and one online mode, but it had a solid single-player and plenty of weapons to choose from day-one. It had just enough content to be considered a worthwhile piece of entertainment for the price and it was widely received as Nintendo and the Wii U’s big new exclusive IP – Street Fighter V didn’t have this luxury.

Street Fighter V is the newest instalment in the series and serves as a direct follow-up to Street Fighter IV. With this in mind, gamers had a lot of expectations and it had a lot to live up to. When it was first announced that the game would launch with 16 fighters to choose from, with the rest available as DLC at a later date, Capcom raised a few eyebrows. All of the DLC characters can be unlocked for free however, at the cost of your time and sanity, but you don’t have to buy them. Capcom have also outlined further future plans for Street Fighter V, including a fully fledged story mode and cinematic expansions to be added in as a free update down the line.

splatoon

It was an odd move by Capcom to hold back content with Street Fighter V, presumably in order for the game to release as early as possible – a move that hasn’t resonated well with fans. Street Fighter V is an experiment from Capcom, an experiment on their leading title. This method could have been tested on another title without risking the prestige of the Street Fighter series. With Street Fighter V, Capcom wanted to keep people interested in the game without releasing updates through brand new editions of the game. I commend Capcom for wanting to stop the multiple versions of the same game, like with SFIV, but we are not entirely sure they’re going about it the right way.

Hitman is an experiment in itself by Square Enix. This will be their first Triple-A title translated to a ‘Truly Episodic’ nature which has been more prominent in independent and smaller games such as the TellTale games. The first part of the game will be released on March 11th, 2016 with just one mission for $15 USD (or £12). The initial release date was in December 2015 but the game was intentionally delayed to refine the new experience. Square-Enix are hoping that fans of the series will not be disappointed as this singular location will be a living organism. The ‘Live Component’, as described by the publishers, will offer new challenges, contracts and targets every day. This method would completely overshadow the lack of content as the publishers have set up an I.V to pump into the game until the new maps and content come through. With a low initial price point, they are also keeping the doors open to the newcomers, offering a taste of what’s to come – almost like a paid demo.

broken steam

Are there too many broken games on Steam?

These players in the Video game market are no small fries, and many new studios will be looking up to the success of these respective titles as a milestone. They have set a precedent that it is acceptable to release early access games to the public. Luckily, this instance is a better example of this trend. The fiasco of the PC release of Arkham Knight and Mortal Kombat X showed us exactly how releasing games early fares badly for everyone.There also have been numerous Kickstarters where the developers have either ran out of money or released broken games. These games were released buggy and broken due to a lack of communication with teams or a rushed testing phase:Thus the games being unplayable and the publishers being harassed. . At this point, these games become a tiresome chore to see if they are actually fun or even playable.

Video games have been going up in price for the past few years with less and less original content. Whether these examples are a success or not, the game studios will have to take a stand on what is more important to them and their consumers. User scores on sites like Metacritic are very low for Street Fighter V, and it certainly seems that the lack of initial content has put many people off buying the game. It is definitely an issue; as it stands, the game feels unfinished and empty, which isn’t something fans should have to put up with.

street fighter V

As many of you have heard before, Capcom are in danger of alienating casual fans of Street Fighter, who won’t want to cough up £6 for every new fighter. They wouldn’t have any other choice considering the time required to build up enough in-game money to buy just one, let alone multiple new characters. In order to “buy” a new character with in-game currency, you need to build up 100,000 Fight Money. As it stands, completing all of the single-player content in the game will award you with enough Fight Money to unlock one new character and a new costume. Winning online fights also awards you with Fight Money, but only 50, and with six new characters planned for release by the end of 2016, you’d have to win a heck of a lot of online matches to get them all for free. SFV just comes off as stingy and money-grabbing from Capcom, whereas Nintendo gave every single new feature in Splatoon away for free, just to keep players motivated and interested in the game for an extended period of time.

By providing constant updates alongside new, free content, Nintendo have built up a bond with users, which by now seems unbreakable. Splatoon is arguably the darling of the Wii U, and its methods have crept their way into another of Nintendo’s big hits: Super Mario Maker. By supplying free content, Nintendo gave the impression that they were putting the fans first. It was a smart business decision which has allowed Splatoon to become as popular as it is. Nintendo are more able to release free content than a company like Capcom, but with the struggles of the Wii U, Nintendo are not in a particularly strong moment. Giving content away for free in Splatoon does well for Nintendo’s image as it makes them seem like the good guys.

splatoon fans

Someone likes Splatoon.

With Super Mario Maker, again, Nintendo made it so in-game items and abilities would unlock themselves to the player over time. Unlike Splatoon however, most of the content in Super Mario Maker was already there to begin with, instead unlocking by actually playing the game. In practical terms, the effect is similar to that of Splatoon in that players are likely to carry on playing in order to unlock and try out the new content. Building active communities is an important part of the success of any game, particularly ones geared towards online play. And in the case of Splatoon it certainly helped that Nintendo was seen as very generous in giving away all post-launch content entirely for free – they could have easily charged for DLC!

To be fair, giving away content for free isn’t necessarily the right answer either. The Hitman series has always had a constant fan-base as the games are tough but very entertaining, mechanically. Square Enix, while constantly updating the in game content, will charge their players per each new location. This will play an active role in the investment which the consumers are making. Staggered content, free or not free does seem to be a viable way of keeping the game accessible to everyone whilst generating a large amount of interest and revenue from the title.

super mario maker

As more and more video game developers are moving onto more experimental ways of releasing their products, you start to wonder how long the traditional approach of releasing games will last. Whilst early access titles give users a chance to have a say in the final version of the game on platforms such as Steam, we’re not sure that consoles can really emulate it. We feel that if games take the Splatoon approach, then they’ll probably find success, although it might not be instant. Releasing games with a small amount of content, but adding to it over time is certainly an interesting idea and it can prove successful in the long-run, as Splatoon has proven. We expect to see more games, like Hitman, try it out, but we really hope that games don’t take the SFV route, as players won’t take the blatant stinginess for long.

More experimental projects lead to more experimental releases. In the long run, these games will contain more than enough content and generate success, and if handled correctly, it will be a glowing trend to release DLC for free. It depends on how future content is handled, and it doesn’t seem that Capcom are doing it properly; they want you to buy future characters and it feels like they are purposely holding content back in order to make money. Despite their decisions, there is no right answer but that’s the beauty of this trend. This is the type of evolution which drives our community and gaming, as a whole, forward. Looking at the stagnant 1983 crash of the gaming industry, we can see a reassuring future. A future where the developers, publishers and gamers are constantly butting heads for new and fresh ideas to keep us moving forward.


Toby Saunders is sometimes opinionated, and you’ll find him posting garbage about games, films and his beloved Spurs and Bath City FC on Twitter.

Bryan Salik is a writer who may be new to writing but has been with gaming since the cartridge generation. Check out more of my work on Medium at https://medium.com/@bssalik.