Every game is not created equally, some are more equal than others. That is to say, making an RPG is different from making a FPS, and so on. It is important to understand the trials and limitations of the project you will be working on in order to further adapt around them.
Early Access games are no different, and pose their own set of challenges. Before starting your own Early Access project, or even while working on one, here are some tips to make sure you know how Early Access will affect your game.
Development is Unpredictable
Often times, game development can be a very volatile and unpredictable beast. Many big name Triple-A games end up turning out to be drastically different from their original design documents. Features get cut, changed, or sometimes even added. The game will go through multiple stages, multiple builds, and even possible engine changes over the course of development.
If you manage your time, money, and team well, development has the potential to be a very smooth process. Yet Murphy’s Law states that “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. Accidents happen, unforeseen technical problems may occur, or your original idea may just not be very fun. No matter how hard you try, many things have the possibility of changing over the course of making your game, and whether or not they do is not entirely in your control.
Consumers Want a Stable Gaming Experience
To the consumer, the constant change can be an issue. Consumers expect a relatively stable experience. They want to be able to play their game and simply receive updates to the game as they come out. However, depending on how drastically you are working on improving the game, this means that sometimes game save files will become invalidated, fundamental mechanics of the game that consumers grew accustomed to might change, or emergencies might put a wrench in your update schedule. This is not conducive to consumer experience.
Consumers want new content and reasons to keep playing, but at the same time they also want a sense of familiarity and grounding. It is the job of an Early Access developer to balance game improvement and growth, with the consumer’s need for stability.
Adjust Your Development Fittingly
If you limit your development to working with the consumer in mind, it has the chance of limiting the development process. You might not be able to implement all of the features you had planned on, or be able to make necessary changes and fixes. What’s worse is that if some of the features that end up getting cut were features the consumer was promised, you will now have upset your consumers.
This does not mean Early Access is a bad thing, but rather is one of the challenges that you will need to keep in mind as you work on finishing your Early Access game. Your design document should be structured in such a way as to account for your game’s update structure. You will also need to know ahead of time when you want your game to hit Early Access. Releasing a game in Alpha can lead to many more problems then releasing it in Beta. Figure out when you’ll be making the most drastic changes, then publish into Early Access when you’re ready for stable updates.
Even if your team lacks a dedicated designer and production pipeline, you have the option of seeking online or in-person consultations as well. Many production and publishing companies offer services that will allow you to get your Early Access game on the right path, saving you time money and effort in the long run.
Production pipelines for video games are an extremely vital and beneficial part of the development process. Having a plan and knowing the exact order in which the parts of your game are going to be created can be indispensable for not only developers, but producers, artists, and even marketers. Accounting for the changes in your development ahead of time will put you head and shoulders above your competition, and push your game one more step towards being successful.
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