The reason I’m posing this question is because the idea of early access or an open beta is to have players play the game early and give feedback about how the game could be better or to find and report bugs. While it would be helpful is this is how it happened, should players be obligated to complete these extra tasks? The answer that is obvious to me, is no. Players should be able to play the game without having to do anything else if they don’t want to, especially if they paid for it. Even without an obligation though, is there an expectation? I personally feel a bit of guilt thinking back on certain situations playing early access games and offering no feedback or not taking the time to report a bug I ran into.
The best example I can think of where I don’t feel guilty is playing during the early access period of Slay the Spire. This is because I found out that the developers were tracking/collecting user data to help regarding balancing the cards. Card pick rates and event choice pick rates from all players gave them a lot of data to make balance changes to cards that were too strong or cards that were rarely picked. If providing helpful feedback is effortless on my part, then merely playing the game is enough to do my part.
Playing the game and running into a problem while playing is a different story though. It would make sense to report a bug so that one doesn’t have to run into anymore after it gets fixed. The issue here is that I never ran into game breaking bugs that prevented me from playing the game, just weird niche bugs that don’t matter that much. As a result, I took the lazy route and went about playing the game, putting thoughts of the bug out of my mind. I have two examples of such bugs.
The first was found playing Hades many months ago. The developers had added a system to the game that allowed experienced players add modifiers to the game that made it more difficult before they started a run. The bug was related to these covered statues of Skelly the skeleton that are awarded to players who complete the game with specific amounts of these modifiers turned on. In this courtyard area where the statues are located, the player can attack with the various weapons and use them against Skelly as a means of testing them out before starting a run with them. I had decided to attack the covered statues, because I didn’t know what was under the coverings until later, in a pretend attempt to try and force my way into finding out what the secret reward was. Doing so ended up crashing the game. This has long since been fixed, and since the game could still be played without issue if I didn’t attack the statues, so I did nothing.
A more recent example involves graphical issues playing Legends of Runeterra. These issues often happen when a leveled-up champion card Karma is in play. When leveled-up, Karma essentially plays a second copy of the same spell card you’ve just played with the same targets. The bug I experienced recently was playing a Shadowshift card on one of my units with a leveled-up Karma on board. Shadowshift brought the targeted unit back to my hand and left a Living Shadow in its place, but then the second copy of Shadowshift repeated the process on this newly created Living Shadow. The rest played out as expected except I realized that my recalled unit and the recalled Living Shadow were both invisible. They became visible when I hovered over them and were still playable on future turns but were otherwise empty spots in my hand that took up the expected amount of space a card would take up. It looked interesting after I drew another card and it was visually separated from my other cards by the two invisible cards. Again, since it didn’t break the game, I did nothing.
Games Collecting Dust
Something else that I derive a bit of guilt from is not playing very much of games that I paid to get early access to. I’ll admit that maybe I’m confusing buyer’s remorse for guilt in such cases, but I knew that I would want to eventually play the finished version of the games, so I bought into them. I Kickstarted a game called Roguebook because it had some of the features Slay the Spire had, along with some new ideas and because it was being made by the developers who made Faeria. After playing a bit of it after getting access to the playable alpha, I haven’t played much of it since. Perhaps I feel bad about not playing it because it is a wasted opportunity to help make the game the best it can be, but I end up playing other games because there are so many to play and I only have so much free time to play them in.
I’m still convinced that consumers can do what they want with the games they purchased and that there is no obligation to do anything after that transaction, not even play the game. However, I’m still perplexed by the feelings of guilt I’ve discussed here, because while it doesn’t seem to be strong enough to change my behavior, it is somehow strong enough to make me want to write about it here. Perhaps an expectation can be formed through the framing of how feedback is solicited. I’ve experienced both, developers who are eager to get your feedback as listening to the community is something they care about, while others frame it as backing the game at the required Kickstarter tier lets one into a sort of exclusive club where you have the privilege of giving feedback to the developers. Perhaps the latter example is more likely to expect their backers to respond, and I feel guilty for not doing so. Regardless of these negative feelings, I do still enjoy playing games in early access to not only spend less time waiting to play it, but to also follow its development progress and weigh the pros and cons of major changes to work on improving my own game design knowledge.