The Game Preview program is, on paper at least, an amazing idea for those gaming studios that would really struggle to try and bring their projects to the wider audience. It allows developers to release a game in early access, address any glaring faults and earn a little revenue from those gamers who wish to back the game before general release. Instead of games being sold on release day which are broken and in some cases unplayable, it allows developers to finish their game as much as possible using the feedback from the Game Preview program. As it currently stand, Game Preview is only available on Xbox One, but is it really as perfect as it sounds?
It feels like games spend decades in the Game Preview before developers are happy for it to be released to the public. But it has now come to that stage where a number of games such as We Happy Few, ARK: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles have now left the program and are available as full releases, with PUBG soon to follow in their footsteps. But for those games that have cleared the program, it doesn’t seem to be all sunshine and rainbows.
We Happy Few is easily one of the most recognisable games that was first released using the Game Preview program after a hugely successful Kickstarter. I must admit, after watching the opening trailer at E3, I too was sold on this game and bought the game through the program after missing out on the chance to donate through the developer’s Kickstarter. At that stage, I enjoyed what I played and as the latest updates started rolling out for the game, I was beginning to get excited for the game’s full launch.
But anyone who has played We Happy Few since its release a few weeks ago will see just how broken the game is. There are numerous bugs, such as the AI forgetting they are in combat with, and in some extreme cases, the saves becoming corrupted forcing you to start all over game (this happened to me, twice!). The issues that plague We Happy Few should have been fixed before release and with the prior knowledge that the game was part of the program for two years; it is hugely disappointing it was released in this state.
The same could be said for ARK: Survival Evolved. The general consensus on the title is that it is still plagued with bugs and glitches. ARK: Survival Evolved caused controversy when it was part of the Game Preview program by releasing DLC for a game that wasn’t even finished yet in a bid to try and grab more cash for their game. It could easily be said by the critics of the program that this is something we could expect, but judging by the reaction of the public, it seems to have put other developers off.
Finally, we turn our attention to PUBG, arguably the most successful Game Preview game to have ever graced the console. A battle-royale game, it is has attracted millions of players, despite the state of its gameplay and if you are a member of any Xbox groups on social media, then you are undoubtedly going to see a screenshot or video from this game. But no matter how much the game lags or the bugs that it is hit with annoy players, the game remains popular. With PUBG’s full release to the Xbox One market imminent, I think it is fair to say that the Game Preview program will be defined on this game’s success.
Even though the games that have so far left the program have been hit with numerous problems upon release, I don’t think it is fair to blame it on the program itself. In essence, the Game Preview program is a tool for developers to get their games on the market in early access and generate funds to keep the development flowing. The foundation for what could be one of the most useful tools available to developers is already there, it just needs something extra for it to become even more attractive.
You would think that that was the reason why the program existed; for developers to iron out the creases and fix the bugs before it hit the market. For example, charging $60 for We Happy Few when the game is as broken as my social life just isn’t the right thing to do. The developers must have known the game would be released in that state and should have held off. The only assumption could be that outside pressures and deadlines forced the developers to release the game.
As it stands, I would not say the program has been hugely successful but it hasn’t failed as such either. Although plenty of the games that have cleared the program were broken upon release, it has still given us the chance to play games such as We Happy Few and PUBG ahead of time. With the current state of the industry, if it wasn’t for Game Preview then these games may never have graced our consoles.
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