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EA's style of 'early access' sucks

Anthem released on February 15, when anyone could buy an Origin Access Premier subscription and play the entire game. Lots of people did, and for their eagerness they got to play Anthem before several major issues were addressed in the 'day one' patch, which came just before what EA would call Anthem's actual 'release date' on the 22nd.

Games are patched just after release all the time. That's standard, even if it is annoying that major issues are often fixed after launch rather than before it. What isn't normal is the claim that a game didn't launch when it clearly did. 

According to EA, Access Premier allows us to "play the full game before launch," magically disregarding the meaning of the word 'launch.' Eat the full meal before it's cooked. Listen to the full song before it's recorded. I'm not buying it. Anthem was not an 'early access game' in the way that, say, Slay the Spire was. It launched on the 15th, when people could play the 'full game.'

It isn't as if Access Premier is some exclusive, tucked-away club. When you go to buy Anthem in Origin, EA first recommends subscribing. To instead purchase the game and play at 'launch,' you have to find a transparent button under 'Not interested in joining today?' If at some point more people subscribe to Access Premier than buy the game, will EA still be claiming its games haven't launched when subscribers start playing? 

There's no mystery to EA's design: it wants people to subscribe to Access Premier instead of buying games à la carte, and letting subscribers play first is the best incentive it can offer, because participating in launch week is part of the fun. There was no way I was going to wait and see with Mass Effect: Andromeda, for instance. I'd been looking forward to it too much. I wanted to discuss it with my friends. I didn't end up liking Andromeda, but I don't regret playing it at launch and being part of a moment.

I just don't like being bullshitted. There are four lights. Anthem launched on the 15th.

For EA, that's now a subscribers-only moment, as the 10-hour Origin Access trials it started with have evolved into a full week of unrestricted play for Access Premier subscribers. For those subscribers, that meant almost a week of playing Anthem before the 'day one' patch addressed some of the loading issues and bugs. For the developers, it was a week of simultaneously supporting subscribers, responding to criticism, and patching the 'release' version. For non-subscribers, it was a week of looking in from the outside, dodging spoilers, wondering which criticisms would be addressed in patches and when, and for some, embracing the narrative that 'real' version hadn't released yet, and so all commentary was invalid. It sucked.

Even if that day one patch was never going to come on day one—hypothetically, Anthem could have actually launched on the 22nd and still needed nearly a week for the patch—I'd still have been happier without the early launch on the 15th. I don't find playing first fun. Participating in a launch is about having a shared experience, not getting in before my friends get to. Plus, I just don't like being bullshitted. There are four lights. Anthem launched on the 15th. If a day one patch was planned, it should've released on the 15th. If there wasn't time for that, then it wasn't a day one patch. That's just true, and repeatedly hearing otherwise is causing me even more hair loss than usual.

What would make me mad is if, to play at launch, I had to subscribe to a service I don't want and then hear that the issues I'm experiencing will be fixed before the 'actual' launch.

Never pre-order, check reviews and other sources to inform your buying decision, and wait for a patch or two before making a purchase. That's my sensible advice, and just about everyone, myself included, will disregard it sometimes. If Anthem isn't your cup of tea, here's a hypothetical example that might be: I'm going to play Cyberpunk 2077 on launch day. I just am, and I'll do so knowing there might be issues that'll take a patch or two to fix, and even that I might not like it. I may or may not be annoyed by what I encounter, but I won't be mad. What would make me mad is if, to play on that launch day, I had to subscribe to a service I don't want and then be told that the issues I'm experiencing will be fixed before the 'actual' launch in a week. That would be ridiculous.

At the very least, EA acknowledging that the Access Premier launch is the launch would save us all this arguing over semantics. Alternatively, though, EA could actually embrace a Steam-like early access model. Extended early access periods dull the excitement of launch day, and I'm starting to miss the experience of diving into the relative unknown, but a compromise may be needed when it comes to games of a certain complexity. (On that topic, our friends at GamesRadar have a good report on the difficulties of launching online games.) 

Anthem clearly could've used more testing at scale, and more time for BioWare to respond to that testing. If Premier subscribers are to be those testers, then EA ought to be transparent about what they're getting: not "the full game," but a buggier, lower-quality version that they are helping test, not before it 'launches,' but before it leaves early access. They get to take part in the premiere, but there's nothing 'premier' about it.

Tyler has spent over 800 hours playing Rocket League, and slightly fewer nitpicking the PC Gamer style guide. His primary news beat is game stores: Steam, Epic, and whatever launcher squeezes into our taskbars next.