Editor's note: We've received additional comment from Stardock regarding early access pricing for GalCiv3. Read its statement below our original story.
I like galactic conquest, devastating AI and overbearing tech trees, so I'm very excited about Galactic Civilizations 3. Not excited enough to pay the £76 / $100 asking price for the Founder's Elite version, however, which has been placed on Steam and the GalCiv site with some pretty major caveats from the developers. They warn that "major systems are unfinished and content is severely limited" and, remarkably, add "please be aware that the game isn't actually, well, fun yet."
Stardock might be taking cues from Planetary Annihilation's expensive early alpha phase, but Uber inflated that price to match the corresponding tier of their Kickstarter campaign. They felt that it would be unfair to offer Steam customers a better deal than those who backed them charitably.
Not quite so for GalCiv 3, though you will get a few bonuses for getting into the game early. A star will be named after you, you'll get a special mention in the credits, early access to artwork during development, a forum badge and access to unannounced future expansions, but the main appeal is the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping developers make a game you might like.
"The Founder's Elite edition of this Early Access will only last for a short time and is geared towards those who truly want to help us make a great game," the developers continue. "Later this year we will discontinue the Founder's Elite offer and replace it with standard Galactic Civilizations III Early Access ($49.99).”
I think that something's gone quite wrong if developers are charging a premium price for an experience that even they they admit is bad, but you may disagree. Is it worth the price to back something you love? Is this simply a case of let the buyer beware?
Update : PC Gamer received the following statement from Adam Biessener, Stardock brand manager:
“Our goal with the Founder's Elite Edition is to involve fans that are invested in the long-term health of the game. We want to incorporate their feedback as early as possible, when systems are still being designed and can realistically be cut, added, or dramatically altered.
We chose to launch the alpha with only the $99 price point because, frankly, Galactic Civilizations III is in a true alpha and isn't ready for wide play yet – something Stardock has been doing with pre-release access to its games for longer than a decade with its core fans. Putting early access out on Steam for $50 or the discounted $40 price point we offered for months through stardock.com would have resulted in a lot more gamers assuming that Galactic Civilizations III was ready for them to start putting in the hundreds of hours we fully expect our fans to invest in the game.
Those people would have been rightfully disappointed in the alpha. We chose instead to clearly mark the alpha as unfinished and not intended to be fun (again, a practice Stardock has engaged in for years with supremely positive results for our finished products, before polished betas were nothing more than glorified demos from larger publishers), and to invite anyone with enough faith in the award-winning series and in Stardock to be part of a much earlier playtest than we have offered in the past.
We believe that offering consumers that level of transparency is key to maintaining their trust.
We also believe that $99 is a more-than-fair price to charge for a lifetime subscription to all Galactic Civilizations III content, between the numerous DLCs and full expansion packs we plan to develop. Stardock has a long history of supporting its games for several years after release, and Galactic Civilizations III is the biggest game we've ever created.”