Programming with an audience: devs discuss alpha funding in games

Ian Birnbaum

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Early buy-ins, crowdfunding, and early access have taken game development (and more importantly, game funding) into crazy new directions in the last few years. An extensive set of interviews at Gamasutra asks some of the biggest names in early access funding, like Dean Hall ( DayZ ), Markus Persson ( Minecraft ) and Chris England ( Xenonauts ), about their experiences developing a game with thousands of early adopters looking on.

The verdict? It's a mixed blessing, for sure.

"I think the biggest benefit is that you can get real momentum going for your game at the gestation period of the design," says Hall, the creator of the popular DayZ mod for Arma 2 , which will soon launch as a standalone game. "Without doing this, the game can only become 'hot' when the design is already locked down and finished." Hall cites Kerbal Space Program as a good example: the game is a hit early in its development, and the income and attention has led developer Squad to add more features. "[KSP] became popular very early in its development, and allowed the scope and the direction of the game to adjust proportionally to this. If they had made the game completely first, I don't think its scope and direction would resemble at all where it is today."

Markus Persson, founder of Mojang and creator of Minecraft, agrees. “For [an open-world] game like Minecraft, it makes sense to release early and fund early," he continues, "but for other games (such as story-heavy games) it makes no sense to release an incomplete product.”

As for the down-sides, the developers list fear of disappointing fans (who have already become customers), being overly ambitious and becoming locked into a game that you're afraid won't be fun, but has to be completed to send to already-paid-in players.

Check out the full interview for more developers' thoughts on early access funding.

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