Hi! Been a while. Plenty of reasons for that, but the main thing I want to get into is why we’ve decided not to do Early Access.
First off, to avoid burying the lede, yes we’re skipping early access but no, that doesn’t mean the game is a year away now. In fact, it’s still pretty close. I’ll go into more detail below.
So let’s break down some of the misconceptions about early access.
Most developers claim they’re doing early access to build community, get valuable feedback, empower the player. Well, they kinda have to say that, don’t they? If they don’t say it’s all about you- the player- then you won’t buy in. But that’s only maybe a small part of the reason for early access.
You might think the real reason is to trick players into paying for abandoned, unfinished software. That does happen but I don’t believe it’s the whole story, either. Or even the main story.
As a developer, the reason for going early access is that 1) I need an ongoing income to keep developing. Games take a long time and the more money I have for living expenses, the longer I can work on the product and the overall quality of the game increases. Even a small game can cost between $500k and a million, running out of funds is why games get released in poor condition. And 2) early access provides a lot of valuable exposure. Or at least, it used to.
But what about player feedback? It is useful, but not in individual cases. Here’s a simple example: one player complains that the game is too hard. The next commenter complains that the game is too easy. You don’t have the time and resources to add a bunch of difficulty and feature options. Which person do you listen to? The answer is neither, you look at trends. If the majority of players can’t get past the first level but your forum elites insist the game is too easy, what do you do? My personal opinion is that you stick to your vision of the game and fine-tune it to feel the way you think is the most compelling. You can’t make everyone happy and when you compromise you don’t make anyone happy. But in truth, there’s no correct answer.
Player feedback, when it affects the core of your game, can hurt more than it helps and makes people pissed off when they would have been perfectly happy with it as a finished product instead of early access.
The truth is, marketing reasons were the biggest reason for early access. I don’t know if this is common knowledge, but an article on Kotaku is nice but doesn’t mean you’ve made it. That article may get 3,000 views, and a paid banner ad on Rock, Paper, Shotgun may get 10,000 views. That’s chump change. That’s almost insignificant numbers that has zero affect on your sales. Promotion on Steam will get literally millions of views. Going early access could get you promoted on the front page once at release, again with a major update, and again at launch. That’s absolutely huge. That’s the most you can do on a shoestring budget, by an order of magnitude.
It’s also not true anymore. Since I started working on this project, the number of early access games has exploded. It seems like every game has an early access period, and that means that nobody is getting that extra promotion anymore.
On top of that, public opinion of early access has plummeted. Developers are putting games up fully intending to abandon them. Or just finding out they’re not profitable enough and then abandoning them. Or making games specifically to pander to early access mentality, without any real end goal or conclusion in mind. It’s like releasing chapters of a book that you plan to drag out until people lose interest and then just stop writing mid-sentence. And that’s pretty shit.
To avoid such a bad response to early access, we keep completing more and more features. Right now the entire game is functional except for alternate heist goals and a couple suggestions coming from player feedback. Eventually I just looked at what we had and thought, why even bother releasing it early at this point? It’s almost done…
On that note, there’s one last reason we’ve ditched early access. With changing attitudes toward the concept, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. You either wallow in obscurity, forced to keep working on a game you know nobody wants, or you’ve got 600,000 wildly passionate players making your life a waking nightmare, like the developers of Darkest Dungeon. Neither of those options sound great to me.
So there you have it. When I started working on Killers and Thieves, early access made sense, it had a lot of advantages. At this point, it’s only disadvantages. Thanks for understanding another delay and I can tell you it won’t be that much longer.