The imagery of a rollercoaster is apt for the lengthy and at times troubled cycle that RollerCoaster Tycoon World's (RCTW) development has seen over the past few years. It's a cycle which has just taken another turn for the worse, with the game launching in Early Access this week — a week when the full product was supposed to be released.
The announcement was made over the weekend through Steam, with the developers saying the game will be made available on March 30. That date appears to be a global launch at this stage, meaning that Australians and New Zealanders should get access to the game first (something that doesn't happen particularly often).
But while being able to play the game earlier is a nice bonus, it comes as a surprise to those who pre-ordered expecting the full game to ship before the end of the quarter. "Thus, we are reaffirming our refund policy - we allow refunds up to March 31st 2016 to anyone that pre-ordered the game through Atari.com or RollerCoasterTycoon.com," the developers wrote on their Steam page.
Furthermore, there's no indication of when the full game might be released. According to Atari, they'll better know "our timeline for final release" as the Early Access development progresses — which is handy, because the Steam description says the game will stay in Early Access, Blizzard-esque, "until we all feel the game is ready to be shared with the world as a final product".
What's even more remarkable about this whole saga is the fact that you can buy a physical copy of RCTW in some countries. PC Games.de snapped a shot of the box from stores in Germany, although the front of the box doesn't have any indication that users are purchasing an Early Access product.
Support for Linux and SteamOS users has been delayed — "it needs more time," a developer posted. Commenters are also concerned that about the game being abandoned during Early Access if it doesn't get enough sales, a worry buoyed by the US$49.99 asking price.
I've fired off some questions to Atari's PR about the announcement and I'll keep you posted if I get any updates. On the surface of it, however, it seems like the most reasonable move that the developers could take.
If the game wasn't truly ready, launching an unfinished build through Early Access makes a lot more sense than yet another delay. RCTW has been pushed back enough already, with the current RCTW developers (of which there have been 3) already missing their earlier target to ship late last year. Some fans will also be pleased at being able to play any form of the game now though, even if it's not the full product they were hoping for.
But it's not a good look, especially when fans on forums are already raving about the state of Planet Coaster and the crowdfunded Parkitect, RCTW's two main rivals. It's also a massive red flag to any gamer who has purchased an Early Access title only to be left disappointed at the end, as was the case with Towns!, StarDrive and Spacebase: DF-9.