In the beginning there were only complete games. People, customers, consumers, sales agents, and distributors all knew nothing of the development process. In truth that is mostly due to the development process itself being under development during the earlier days. But around the early 1990s much of the development process was in place, and still the people knew nothing. Why you may ask? Because we did not need to know. We didn’t need to know how terrible a game looked, or badly it played, or what features were being added and removed. That information was unnecessary for us to purchase a game. That was before the internet, before fan based rage and online hate became the market driver.
Now we exist in a world where we must know everything, and we must know it now. Future players determine if they will purchase a game based on what it “might” have within it months, and sometimes even years, before the game is finished and goes on sale. Rabid followers debate the producers and developers about what makes the game good before they’ve even seen a screenshot, much less played it. Opinions are created and set based on early information release done by the development team because without it, the game is dead on arrival, or worse, called vaporware and not worthy of coverage.
Thus in the early 2000s we entered the age of the BETA. Games, mostly finished, but lacking some polish were provided to a select few hundred to play-test. Frequently they were made to sign contracts (NDAs) preventing them from discussing what they saw and did. These people would become the online champions of the fledgling games while they were being finished. Sometimes these BETAs exposed major flaws in the game resulting in rework and last minute fixes. As time went on the games were more and more polished before being released into BETA. As a result the process became known as a “Marketing BETA.” It was an accepted and recognized ploy by the publisher and developer to try and get some “free” marketing from the future player base. BETAs became more open and eventually became free to participate without NDA, and thus lost their meaning. Haters went back to arguing and fighting developers and demanded more knowledge even earlier in the process. Developers likewise lost a tool they valued in the feedback from the small private group of BETA testers.
The market moved on to the age of the ALPHA. Once again we had a small private group of testers, to whom the job of championing the product fell. They could test in peace, and build positive experiences, and correct the negative ones. But like BETAs before them, ALPHAs were lacking what was present in the BETA. ALPHAs had whole features missing, or incomplete development of assets. ALPHAs may be missing textures, have stand-in models, or UI elements that say “insert blobby health bar here.” ALPHAs are not finished games.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. With the advent of Steam’s Greenlight program, and the success of highly visible start-up efforts on Kickstarter (and less visible on other crowd funding sights) people realized they could learn more even before BETA was out. In the early 2010s we as consumers started playing games that weren’t even feature complete, much less tested and polished. People were purchasing into a system that may not even deliver a finished product. This shifted risk from the developer and publishers onto consumer shoulders. It also opened the ever desired potential of direct to consumer sales to developers and publishers, cutting out the physical (and digital) storefronts as a requirement. New sources of funding, new sources of sales, more “free” marketing, as well as risk mitigation became an overwhelming drive for much of the game development industry.
Couple this revelation with the introduction of open mobile platforms and it also made poor, at home, independent developers a reality. Game development was no longer the domain of the risk tolerant, or financially secure. Thus it was with this in mind that I provide to you a view of the first ALPHA build of “Bombs”. It is far from complete, has missing textures, and stand-ins for models and textures both. If you push too far right or left it goes through walls, and as of yet the bombs don’t affect anything when they explode. All in all it took me 3 work-days to get to this point. That is a far cry from the 2 months of effort that was required to reach the same point back in 2001.