Early Access MMOs and Character Wipes

There are a lot more "early access" games now than ever before, thanks to Steam and Kickstarter. Basically what this means is that some random, poor game developer can release what amounts to a semi-playable demo of their game and then ask people to buy it for a (surprisingly minor) discount, hoping that they’ll raise enough money and interest to fund the rest of the game development.

In a lot of cases that is as janky as it sounds, because some Steam developers think it’s okay to put out crap that is buggy and unplayable, but I think it’s a concept that can work well for the MMO genre, since MMOs are almost always in constant flux even after their official releases anyway. MMO players as a whole should be used to bugs and change.

So in the MMO space, I’ve been looking at games like Gloria Victis, Life is Feudal, Shroud of the Avatar, and Star Citizen as possibilities to buy into early. I’ve already bought into Trove and EQ Landmark.

But here’s my problem. It’s not at all clear how these games will handle character wipes during development.

If I sign up to beta test a game and I get selected for a closed beta, they are in effect paying me for my service as a tester. I feel an obligation to actually test the game and provide feedback, in exchange for the opportunity to see the game early. I fully expect that I’m going to lose whatever progress I make when the beta ends, because I’m not there to have fun. I’m there to do a job.

But if I actually pay money to get "early access" to a game, I don’t feel nearly as much of an obligation to do a job. I’m paying them for a service, not the other way around. I’m fully prepared for and fine with bugs and unfinished content, but I also expect to be able to play.

I can accept dealing with bugs and server down time and whatnot (we have to deal with that after launch day too). But if I spend money to buy into a developing MMO a year early, and I spend a year playing that game, working around bugs and providing feedback, maybe even kicking in some more money because I like where the game is going, and then all of my progress gets wiped on some nebulous future launch day, I’m not going to be very happy about that.

If I know beforehand that I’m going to lose my progress, I’ll play entirely differently (and frankly, less often). Or maybe I would only kick in $10 or $20 just to "see" an early game, whereas I might kick in $50 or more if I know I won’t lose my progress.

(Trove, which is the only MMO that I’ve "funded" and actually received, so far wipes with every new patch. Granted it isn’t a huge scale MMO and there isn’t much progress worth keeping, but it does not fill me with confidence for other early access MMOs.)

Early access games need to be very clear about their wiping policy, and so far they aren’t, and that’s super janky and misleading.

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