What happens if you can’t finish your early access game?
Launching a game is a serious commitment of time, energy, and money. During a traditional development cycle, you’ll finish and launch or cancel and move to a new project.
During early access launches, there’s a grey area in the middle. What happens when you sell your game to consumers before it’s complete, but can’t get across the finish line?
The reality is that cancelling an early access game might be the best decision for you, your studio, and your players. And there are many reasons why you might make the call to end development:
- The market might change, and other games might deliver on similar concepts already.
- You may discover that your ideas aren’t quite as fun in practice as they are in theory.
- Players may not be taking to your vision as much as you had hoped, and financial reasons may prohibit you from investing more.
Regardless of the reason, it’s important to remember that you’ll be leaving behind players who took a chance on you. How you treat those players can make or break your reputation.
Transparency is key, even if you can’t finish your game
Many of your players will have the same question shortly after you make your announcement: “What happened?”
First, you’ll have some decisions to make about how much detail you want to share. Your players probably don’t need to know everything.
Think about what you would want to know in that situation:
- What is the primary reason you’ve decided to end development?
- Is your studio closing? Are you laying off employees?
- If your game has online features, will those be ending?
- Are you offering refunds?
- If your game supports a real-money currency equivalent, what will happen to any balances in players’ accounts?
- If you aren’t able to offer refunds, how will you take care of players? (We’ll talk about this below.)
- What’s next for you? You might not be able to announce your next project. In fact, doing so might send the wrong message about your development priorities with regard to the game you’re about to end. However, giving your most loyal fans reason to stay hopeful is important.
You should immediately cease sales of your game and any add-on offers. Offering in-game purchases when the plug is about to be pulled is considered bad form.
Treat your players with respect. Remember, they took a chance on buying your game before it was finished. Early access customers have a reasonable expectation your game will eventually be released. Especially when you can’t deliver, it’s important to be humble, grateful, and respectful.
Take care of your early access players
If you need to end development and sunset your live game, you should consider giving players some time to say goodbye. Remember that you need to allow time for your announcement to spread through the community.
Giving players a couple of weeks (or even a couple of months) to make peace with reality is important. During that time, you can celebrate your efforts and your community.
Some developers have chosen to reduce the cost of in-game purchases to nothing. Making premium goods free will allow players to experience as much of your game as possible before it’s gone for good.
If you can create an atmosphere of celebration, your game’s final days will be bittersweet. It’s still not an ideal situation, but it’s far better than universal frustration and disappointment.
If your game doesn’t feature microtransactions, you might consider a giveaway or steep discount for one of your other titles. Cancelling an early access game can cost you an enormous amount of goodwill. Anything you can do to express your gratitude and show respect can help mitigate damage.