Every few months there seems to be a new early access survival game taking the Steam charts by storm. H1Z1, Ark: Survival Evolved, Rust, The Forest and of course the latest flavour of the month, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. But one of the first examples of the genre was the standalone version of DayZ. Originally a mod for Arma 2, the game was released in early access in December 2013 and everyone seemed to be playing it, despite it being full of bugs and often running terribly. Of course, the whole point of early access is that eventually the game is completed, but here we are nearly four years after it was released, and DayZ is still unfinished.
A quick look at the game stats on Steam Charts shows a steady decline in players ever since release. During the games peak, it had over 45,000 concurrent players, nowhere near the levels of the latest early access behemoth, Battlegrounds, but still a very respectable number. Essentially, DayZ managed to successfully transition from a mod for a relatively niche title to a successful game in its own right. Unfortunately, it seems Bohemia Interactive have failed to capitalise on the initial success of DayZ, and the game is still in early access with a dwindling player base. Steam Charts shows that the average number of concurrent players has not reached 10,000 since June of last year, with the average for the last 30 days being just over 3000. Quite a fall from grace for a game that was supposed to get better the more it was developed.
The falling playerbase is hardly surprising though. Entire games are developed from scratch and released in the time DayZ has been in early access, people have moved on. Actually, no, people have been pushed away. Yes, there have been numerous updates in that time, but the last time I played DayZ it still remained a buggy mess, with zombies falling through the floor, running through walls and generally being really hard to hit. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on fixing all these bugs, the developers seem to spend most of their time just adding new weapons, vehicles and clothes to the game. This is fine, more content is always great, but it helps if the base game works properly first.
These bugs were forgivable two years ago, but now? Absolutely not. I don’t blame DayZ though, it is a symptom of a much wider problem. Early Access. In theory it is a great idea, it should allow developers with an awesome concept to continue the development of their game when perhaps otherwise they would have run out of money. More excellent games is always a good thing. The issue though, is many developers release a game into early access with little in the way of a development plan, and DayZ is by no means the only culprit. There a numerous early access games on Steam that seem to be dead. They raked in the cash early on, then development seemingly stopped with the games never getting finished.
One example that comes to mind is Folk Tale. It is by no means the most well known early access title, but it is a game I’ve had my eye on for a long time. It appeared to be a sort of cross between a medieval town building sim and an RPG, and I first saw it a few years ago. I decided I didn’t want to get it in early access, instead choosing to wait for the game to be completed so I could enjoy the full experience. Needless to say, it is still in early access and from the Steam reviews from people who’ve already bought it, it doesn’t look like it will ever be finished. Of course, there are early access success stories, Darkest Dungeon instantly comes to mind, but there are far more early access titles that have never been finished.
But what can be done to solve the issue? Like most of the problems with Steam, it would require more human input on the part of Valve. but it’s well known that they don’t like to do that. But surely if a game is being allowed in Steam in early access, it isn’t too much to ask that the developer has some kind of plan or development goals, and most importantly an end date. Players need to know when the game they’ve bought is going to be finished, and developers need to know when their game will be finished, to avoid the temptation of just constantly adding small things here and there to the game, never actually finishing it. This is where Valve should step in. They need to be properly reviewing each new early access game before it actually makes it onto Steam, talking to the developer and making sure they have a development plan with a clear end date.
I know some people would also argue that if a game has been in early access for too long, players should be entitled to a refund, but I disagree. Take DayZ for example. I may be disappointed that even after nearly four years it isn’t out of early access, I have still played over 80 hours of it. Regardless of whether those 80 hours were put into a game that was complete or not, it is a lot more time than I’ve spent on many completed titles. But here’s the thing, if Valve actually communicated with early access developers and forced them to set a release date, this wouldn’t be a problem. If developers then kept putting off their release date, a refund would be more acceptable, as long as those were the terms laid out at the very beginning of development by Valve.
What are your thoughts on early access and what I’ve said? Let me know in the comments! Also follow me on Twitter @Andrew_H93 and Instagram @andrew_h1993. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about DayZ either, check out my article on VICE here.