Earlier today, we brought you Tim Schafer's explanation for Spacebase DF-9's unexpected transition from early access to v1.0 release, and why planned features have been lost in the process. The short version is that the game stopped selling enough Early Access copies to keep supporting development at the scale Double Fine was hoping for, so it had to adjust its plans. In light of this, several other developers with Early Access games have made public statements regarding their projects, and Early Access in general. Here's what they had to say:
"Alpha Funded / Early Access is not an 'alternative' development approach. It has a very specific use for a very specific set of games," said Andy Hodgetts of Project Zomboid developer The Indie Stone. "So what is very clear to me, is if you can't guarantee this from the outset then Alpha-Funding / Early Access is not for you. It's too risky and were it just your own reputation on the line, that'd be fine. But failures tarnish the reputation of the entire model, so a failure (particularly a high-profile failure) is potentially damaging to the very developers who need this model the most."
Meanwhile, a 'health check' statement on the Chucklefish blog notes that recent troubles at other developers means: "It's not the best time to be a part of the early access party and it's easy to see why people are worried about the health of the Starbound project." However, it goes on to note that the game's future is completely secure:
"Not only is the development of Starbound extremely healthy. (More so than it's ever been in fact, with more team members than ever and all of us in the same location), but Chucklefish could fund the development of Starbound for another 9 years at least. Even if we didn't make another penny in that time."
Elsewhere, Maia developer Simon Roth shared some hard numbers. He said that, over its lifetime, Maia has averaged $1,515 a day, though that number is massively skewed by the attention it got around launch. During a month without significant updates, it makes closer to half that amount.
"At our current burn rate, running off cash reserves, with no further sales of the game, development can easily continue for about five years," Roth said . "That said, current development has a few bottlenecks I would like to hammer out of the pipeline, which will push up costs by a few thousand."
It's interesting to see that it's these smaller devs that have the financial safety to net to keep development going even if sales drop, but it also makes sense. As Hodgetts pointed out, unlike Double Fine, they have much smaller teams that don't work out of San Francisco, where the average employee costs $10,000 per month .
Ultimately, it's important to remember that Early Access remains a very new funding method, and the bugs are still being worked out in terms of best practice. As ever, we're interested in hearing your thoughts on what works here.