Back in December 2013, Facepunch Studios rolled open-world survival game Rust into Steam Early Access.
This was around the same time that DayZ launched into the alpha-release programme when survival games really came to the fore of PC gaming.
Now, more than four years on, the developer is about to release the project in a 1.0 state this month. But has the indie firm missed the boat on survival games? We catch up with chief Garry Newman to find out about the outfit's experience with Early Access.
How would you assess your experience of developing in Early Access?
It's been fine. It suits the way we work perfectly, so it's made a lot of sense for us.
How did you decide that now is the time to release?
To be honest, I think we could have left Early Access a year ago. We decided that now was the time by asking ourselves whether if Early Access didn't exist, would we release this game on Steam now in its current state?
The answer was yes. We knew that people would look at the release as us saying: "We're done, it's finished, here's your finished product". So we have to educate our users so they realise that this is a formality. Things are going to stay the same, we're still going to update regularly, things are going to keep improving, we're not walking away.
What advice would you give someone going into Early Access in 2018?
Think about it carefully. Consider what you're getting yourself into. What if no-one buys? What if no-one cares? Are you going to walk away and let those people that supported you down? Are you prepared to work through all of that to a point where people start to take notice and start to care? Do you have a plan to leave Early Access?
Is there a concern that the popularity of the survival genre has passed? Games like Rust and DayZ garnered a lot of attention back in 2013/14, but now all eyes seem to be on battle royale.
I don't think that's a massive concern. While Rust is a survival game by design, it's a world where players interact. Battle royale is definitely the new shiny thing that everyone is chasing at the moment, and it's pretty trivial to turn a survival game into a second-rate PUBG knock off - so I can see why a lot of people are chasing that. For us the focus is on the survival game right now - we've got places we want to take it that haven't been explored yet.. so we're really trying to avoid chasing the popular things.
Have you taken any learnings away from other Early Access titles that have had a long development time and made it to 1.0, for example, Ark: Survival Evolved?
We've definitely learned a lot from Ark. [Developer] Studio Wildcard found itself in shitty situations, having to raise the price to $60 without much notice, but the team delivered significant content at a really amazing rate.
Last year you told PCGamesInsider.biz that you’d "avoid Early Access like the plague". Has that opinion changed at all? Would you use the programme again?
I'd only use Early Access if I needed to, and even then I'd go into it with a period in mind. If we'd made a multiplayer game and needed to test it, we'd say: "Okay, let's release in Early Access for three months, fix it all up, and release".
There have been a lot of games since then that I've seen do Early Access really well. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, They Are Billions and Northgard come to mind.