When you're on the outside looking in, your perception depends almost completely on one extremely important detail:
How clean is the window?
Regular readers of this column are well aware of my thoughts and opinions on Early-Access experiences, as I've dedicated more than just one detailed editorial on this Steam client plague. Don't get me wrong, it isn't that Early-Access is a bad thing. The problem is that most developers just execute them horrifically. It's not entirely their fault. They're noobs. They've never really done this before.
For the past couple of years, I've been closely monitoring (and writing about) several games that have run Early-Access and Founders programs - the majority of which have only increased my vitriol for this unique development tool/method.
On top of that, we've also witnessed a steep rise in the number of "Kickstarter" campaigns for gaming that, while interesting and useful, are generally more of an abuse of Kickstarter as a community-donation ploy than an actual vested-value funding tool for a unique invention/creation.
Is Kickstarting a game a bad thing?
Well, that depends on what type of game is being made. For the Kickstarter model of funding and investment, finished material goods is really what that engine was built for. Not hopeful digital commodities that may or may not ever come to fruition. Table-top game manuals, card-game concepts, and other tangible design ideas are the kinds of game funding that Kickstarter is best suited for.
All that being said, the reality is that most games are utilizing both Steam Early-Access (or equivalent home-grown founders programs) and Kickstarter crowd-funding campaings poorly, at best. I can think of very few digital gaming projects currently in development that are going well - with many no longer going at all.
I'm not writing this to complain. In fact, that first bit is just another heavy reminder to developers and potential founders alike that you really need to be careful how you go about this process and achieve a mutual understanding - otherwise the game in question will actually be harmed in the long run, if ever even gets off the ground. The real purpose of this article is actually to compliment somebody who is actually doing a great job.
I continue to remain impressed with the developers of Crowfall and how they're communicating with their future playerbase. I personally bought into the Kickstarter project initially, but later pulled my backing when I realized with more news releases that I wasn't quite sure if the game was to my liking or not.
That's a good thing.
The developers have been communicating exceptionally well - so well, that I realized it was far too early in the design process for me to warrant putting my money on the table. I'm wondering now if I might have made a mistake.
With ArtCraft's latest news release and the announcement of the details for their pre-Alpha testing phase, I can't help but bask in the glory of clear, concise, and strong communication the team continually shares with the public. Not only that, but it is one of only two crowdfunded MMO projects of this scale that I have seen present a plan for very focused testing, all while putting their best partially-developed foot forward. If you haven't yet read the studio's intentions for the project, you should definitely do so (as they have taken no small amount of time planning and presenting this project for your viewing and participatory pleasure).
Too many Early-Access and Kickstarted/crowdfunded games struggle to properly plan their founder and backer programs, and even those that do typically fail to communicate that plan clearly to the actual (not intended) audience/participants.
It's a shame really; not just for the players, but the developers too - and also these games that they're putting so much time and energy into (as well as all those players' hard-earned money).
I may not be a current backer for the project, but I'm cheering for this studio that actually appears to be using these development tools and methods properly. Whether you're into the concept or not, any fan of gaming and game design has to appreciate the way they're going about their business right now.
In a sea of dismal Alpha clients and Kickstarted-hopefuls, Crowfall is executing things better than just about anybody right now (although I'm still a complete homer for Illfonic's Revival). I'm finding it extremely hard to complain about the Early-Access and pre-Alpha testing plans they've cooked up so far. They look sharp, thoughtful, and honest.
At this stage in the process, what more can a gamer ask for?
Kudos ArtCraft, on your mission so far; and good luck with a very challenging and trying future of Early-Access frustrations. (It's a painful, but rewarding process).
There will be ups and downs, but as I detailed in an open letter to Daybreak Games Company just last week: communication is key.
If a developer can continue to keep participants informed and expectations managed (for both active players and those waiting in the wings), your potential for retention, growth, and overall success remain exponentially higher. After all, there's nothing worse than losing the core audience of people that care as much about your future product as you do. They're the best marketing team you'll never have to pay for, because word of mouth and personal convictions trump the best advertisement the world can buy.
So for a final word of advice ArtCraft (and any other early-access, open-development teams out there):
You don't have to make us happy for the whole ride, you just have to get us in the trenches with you. If you can keep us believing in the battle, we'll probably keep fighting alongside you, dark as the circumstances might get. There is a skill and an art to that kind of inspiration, leadership, and relationship management that most studios just aren't equipped to handle.
So make sure that you are.
Your friendly neighborhood game critic
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Crowfall Game Page.