Early Access is a strategy used by video game developers to get support for their games from players. Interested players can purchase and play the game in production. Apart from the monetary support, game developers also get feedback from these players as the game is created to completion. This means that the game being produced gets to improve with the help of the community while being funded.
One example is Minecraft, which was built by Markus Persson also known as Notch. He allowed users to pay him upfront to access the game. This worked well because the game initially lacked a clear narrative and was mostly a voxel sandbox game until it got played and commented on by the community.
Several video publishers and developers have followed suit, and although some have been successful, others have failed or exploited the system. Here are two early access titles that have been around for a decade and are still being updated, as well as how much they have evolved from their initial release.
7 Days to Die
7 Days to Die is a survival zombie game developed by The Fun Pimps and was published for early access in December 2013. Players must basically survive a zombie apocalypse while also building their own base. A zombie horde will attack the player’s position — and essentially, their base — every seven in-game days.
With 10 years of development, 7 Days to Die is currently on its Alpha 21 build which was released just this year. Each major alpha build had considerable changes such as reworks to the crafting and perk system. When it originally came out, it employed the same crafting mechanism as Minecraft. These mechanics involved knowing the formula and steps to build an item. Now, players only need the schematics and the resources to build. They will also need to loot and read magazines to boost their crafting abilities.
Undead variants coming to Alpha 22 and Consoles. Stay Tuned! pic.twitter.com/aWCvC8OQdS
— 7 Days to Die Official (@7DaystoDie) August 29, 2023
Another one is the perk system which was not present in the first alpha but was added later on. It brought a lot of depth to the game, especially in multiplayer mode, where players can have a specialized build to aid their crew and defend their base against zombies. The graphics have also changed a lot since the first version, which looked like a mix of Minecraft blocks and a semi-realistic world. Currently, the game looks like any other FPS game, and moving has never been easier. The game developers are also working on upgrading the graphics of the game’s various zombies, coming to Alpha 22.
The modding community also plays a significant role which is why 7 Days to Die is still a popular game to play today. Mods add more depth to the game and even convert the core gameplay, making it more appropriate for other players. An example would be the Darkness Falls mod, which adds several skills and classes for more in-depth character building.
Project Zomboid is another zombie game that came out a month after 7 Days to Die did. The game’s development began in 2011 which means it took two more years before it was available for early access. If I were to compare this isometric zombie game to another game, it would probably be The Sims but in a survival setting.
One of the most significant changes in the game was the transition of the visuals from 2D pixelated graphics to 3D models. This led to creators focusing more on gameplay elements and overall better animation. It also included a story mode in the early alpha builds, but it was eventually eliminated to focus on the open-world features. In particular, they focused on the sandbox mode which allowed players to modify the game to fit their playstyle.
A circumstance came up today to remind me how much #ProjectZomboid has changed over the years…
BEFORE ———————–> NOW pic.twitter.com/iV854vHk7J
— The Indie Stone (@theindiestone) October 3, 2022
Multiplayer in Project Zomboid has come and gone, but it is now fully playable with friends. It even includes a split screen for two-player co-op sessions. Playing alone, though, is still fun and scary when hordes of zombies are after you. The game also has its own modding community. However, unlike 7 Days to Die, it is better integrated because it uses Steam Workshop for all of its mods.
Developers are now working on Build 42 but there’s no set date for its release. What we can look forward to is the planned improvement in the crafting system and map extension. There’s also better engine optimization and multiplayer optimization. Meanwhile, the much-anticipated NPCs will be the emphasis of Build 43 which is still so far away.