An Early Access Program For Xbox Or PlayStation? Maybe

An Early Access Program For Xbox or PlayStation? Maybe.

As popular as Steam's Early Access program is for PC games, you'd think one of the big consoles might have a plan of their own to let gamers regularly pay for and play games before they're finished. They don't, but from what two top people at Sony and Microsoft told me, they're at least thinking about the pros and cons of having one.

Last week, I talked about possible early access programs for PS4 and Xbox One with Shuhei Yoshida, head of worldwide studios at Sony, and Phil Spencer, the head of all things Xbox at Microsoft.

For context: the Early Access program on Steam has been hugely popular, helping games such as The Forest, Rust, Prison Architect and others find big audiences befoe they're even done. Gamers have happily paid for the right to download and play regularly-updated builds of games and give feedback as the developers keep working and releasing newer versions. Steam Early Access has at times also been controversial, angering gamers who buy into an early access game only to see the game's development stall.

So... an early access program for Xbox One or PS4?

"It is interesting, when you look at this year's E3 -- whether it's us or PlayStation -- there are a lot of betas that are happening," Xbox's Spencer told me. "I've started to think about: 'Is there a way to more programmatically think about what betas mean on a console?'"


The Xbox's Phil Spencer: "I don't have a plan that's locked on that, but just having a bunch of betas happening, I'm not sure if that's the best way to run a console, either."


Spencer mentioned that the Xbox One already has an early access program of a sort at the console platform level. Some 100,000 or so people are part of a "preview program" and receive console firmware updated in advance, experimenting with new features and stress-testing.

"I have thought: 'Is there a way to look at that platform all up for games, so you have this environment where, yeah, sometimes you have games where things might not work as perfectly as you would want but you're able to see things a bit early?'

"I don't have a plan that's locked on that, but just having a bunch of betas happening, I'm not sure if that's the best way to run a console, either."

Spencer's right about the proliferation of betas and alphas on consoles that is making for a somewhat ad-hoc early access offering already. Just last week, gamers suddenly got to play a Battlefield Hardline beta and a Destiny alpha on PS4.

More betas are coming throughout the year, and Microsoft is partially selling their big fall Halo collection with the promise of December access to a beta for Halo 5. What was once rare has begun to feel constant, albeit only involving huge big-budget games, as opposed to the indie games developing in public through Early Access on Steam.


PS4's Yoshida: "We cannot just to decide to do that alpha thing with one title, in my opinion. I think we have to work on the title of the program or channel to clearly to show that these are still early."


As for Sony?

Yoshida, Sony's head of worldwide studios says there is "definitely some interest from some developers but we have to really message and communicate well to consumers to do that. The good thing that has always been with consoles is that it's very easy to play. You just open the [game] and it works."

If someone downloaded a game on PS4 and found that it was not finished and in an alpha state, Yoshida said, they might be surprised to run into unexpected complications. "We cannot just to decide to do that alpha thing with one title, in my opinion. I think we have to work on the title of the program or channel to clearly to show that these are still early."

If that sounds like there's a plan for early access on PS4, not so fast. When I pressed to figure out if it'd be happening, he said, "From my standpoint -- head of studios -- there is interest from developers, that's all I can say."

The Sony and Microsoft men sound like they're well aware of the hazards, but Spencer's notion, in particular, rings true. If there are going to be all these betas showing up for console games, why not go with a full early-access program? Of course, early access wasn't originally about big game companies, but there are plenty of indies -- the kind who use early access on Steam -- making games for consoles, too. Maybe they'd like it.


Comments

    I'd rather pay more for a better game then less for a half made one.. ffs

      I'd accept responsibility on my part as a consumer instead and choose not to buy something i didn't want. Ffs.

        Sorry it doesn't work like that. You HAVE to buy the clearly unfinished product and then scream bloody murder while throwing out words like vapourware, scam and threats of suing, refunds and leaving the community all together.

      I think EA pioneered early access on all platforms with Battlefield 4. Any day now they are going to release finished game.

    As long as they do it for both and not favor one console.

    It goes without saying many early access games don't make it, developers give up or the money runs dry.

    This can cause issues for both parties and customers cry..

    It a not worth it in my opinion.

    I've been waiting for a few games on steam to finish their early access but it doesn't seem to be happening fast enough for my liking, sure I can play the game but its the same content for weeks if not months by the time an update comes around I've forgotten about it because it's so boring and repetitive...

    Please....PLEASE.... dont do it
    Steam hasn't been the same since

      Especially since the front page of Steam is getting raped with Early Access games. Get that shit out of the featured slider and put some deserving finished games in there. Early Access should be hidden behind the front page, not be all over it. Give the finished games some of that limelight.

    "The good thing that has always been with consoles is that it’s very easy to play. You just open the [game] and it works.”

    It has always been like that, I feel like its increasingly moving away from that.

      I whole-heartedly agree with this. I built myself a decent PC near the end of the last console cycle. And while it looked a lot better than the PS3, I still chose to play on PS3 because every time I wanted to play a game I had to log into 3 different DRM's in the case of GTAIV and update all my drivers and it was just a hassle, Console gaming is so much easier. Pop a disc in and play.
      Nothing wrong with PC gaming, just a bit more work. And for those dedicated it can be a better experience.

      I have an old PlayStation magazine within article stating the same argument of how annoying it is to set up PC games. Now I feel that consoles are eventually going to turn into PCs anyway. Yes you get more but more stuff goes wrong too. Eg: wrong setup. Bring back plug n play!

    I know i have the option of not buying into an early access game but its really annoying to see the front page of steam constantly filled up with unfinished early access games. This would lead to a lot more confusion and annoyance doing this on consoles.

    I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Valve for ruining video games.

    I'd like companies simply to go back to releasing more demo's... At least a demo shouldn't be as buggy as an early Alpha build.

    Alot of games don't release a demo for a number of reasons... Devs will complain that it takes too many resources to create one, when that time could be better spent finishing the game.

    The cynical side of me suggests that alot of demos are not created to hide average games from the public and hope they will buy in blindly.

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