March 6, 2014 12:30 PM | Lena LeRay
Infested Planet is a top-down RTS, but it's got a very different feel from most of its RTS brethren. In Infested Planet, you control a small squad of badass space marines with unlimited amounts of good guy ammo and the skill to fight off endless waves of swarming aliens. If you've ever wanted to be a sci-fi action hero, this game will scratch that itch. Beautiful in its simplicity, Infested Planet is about to make its official launch out of Early Access.
Since Mojang's notable success with funding development by selling Minecraft before it was complete, other indie developers have taken to offering preorders with beta access. Many of them do so on their own web sites, taking preorders with beta access via PayPal. The introduction of Steam Early Access, however, has made it possible to couple that development period income with the visibility benefits of using Steam.
There are a lot of Early Access games on Steam now, and on March 6th, Infested Planet will be among the first to officially launch out of it. Alex Vostrov of Rocket Bear Games has answered some questions about his experience with Early Access for us.
What made you decide to make Infested Planet available via Early Access?
I was exhausted from working in a void and was eager to share the game with real people. Seeing players enjoy Infested Planet was incredibly motivating. Take the Weekly Challenge mode. I added that because I kept imagining how much the community would enjoy it. I just couldn't get it out of my mind.
Infested Planet will have been in Early Access for almost exactly 8 months when it releases on March 6th. Did the length of time spent in Early Access meet your expectations and why or why not?
Originally, I thought that the game would take three months to make and that was back in 2010. That's pretty good evidence that people shouldn't use my expectations as any sort of objective measure. I can say that the game has been in Early Access just long enough for me to finish the things that I wanted to have in July.
Are you finished adding features to the game, then?
I'm pretty revved up about the next game, but I think that it's important to love your audience. Everyone who bought Infested Planet would appreciate post-launch support. I already have an idea for DLC and I'm very enamored with the way the patches for Crusader Kings II were done -- something free for everyone and something for people who bought the DLC. It's something that I'd like to try with Infested Planet.
About how many purchases were made during the Early Access period?
I'd rather not make the sale figures public yet. I can say that it was more than I expected before release. Some days before launch I wondered if anyone would care about the game at all. On launch day, I think that I was hitting F5 on my browser the entire time. I'm not crazy rich or anything, but I can make the next game, which I'm deeply grateful for.
How did the helpfulness of player feedback stack up against the time spent sifting through it?
Talking with people on the Steam forums has been one of the best things about Early Access. Unlike some other developers, my interactions with the community have been awesome! I've actually read every single post on the forum and replied to many of them. I think that level of openness has been surprising to some people who are used to AAA companies.
What has been the biggest downside of using Early Access?
Sometimes you have to work on the nuts and bolts of the game -- option menus, optimization, etc. When you're on Early Access, you feel like there's a spotlight shining on every patch you release. I definitely felt [pushed] to add new flashy features, instead of buckling down and finishing existing things. The flip side, when you focus on the routine stuff, is that you feel like you're not entertaining your fans enough.
What has been the biggest upside?
It's been incredibly motivating. I think that these last 8 months have been the most productive of the project. Plus, when I have doubts about the game, I remember that it's already had a measure of success. Feeling like you can't fail can be very liberating, as a creative person.
Also, I'm not too proud of the launch last summer. I was coding right up to release day. I didn't have time to reach out to the press about the game. Agh! It's great to have a second chance to do things right. This time Infested Planet is polished and we had time to do a proper trailer.
Games go into early access at a much greater rate than they come out of it; can you speculate on why that is and tell me whether or not you think that's a bad thing?
What's driving Early Access? Games are grueling to finish. You take a giant risk, working for months or years, taking it on faith that things will all work out in the end. Wouldn't it be great if developers didn't have to bet their entire livelihoods like that? Moreover, wouldn't it be amazing if players themselves could tell us what parts of the game they enjoy, and which parts need work?
I'd be worried about Early Access if some games got permanently stuck in "Beta". That would betray fans who bought the game and expected it to be finished. Developers have a responsibility to deliver on their promises.
Do you have plans to use, or would you consider using, Early Access again?
I think that it depends on the game. I would definitely do it again, but perhaps I would plan it out a bit more. It would be great to do if for something like Castle Doctrine - where you need a community to polish the game.
If you could go back in time and redo your Early Access launch, what all would you change?
I suppose that I'd do the things that I'm doing right now. I'm very proud of the trailer we've made for release. Also, I'm making an effort to tell the world about the game this time. Last time I was just too worn out to email the press.
Honestly, I think that I was really lucky with my Early Access launch. I did it just before Steam opened the flood gates to hundreds of games. With something like four to ten games coming out each day, I don't know if you can be as sloppy [now] as I was.
It doesn't look like Rocket Bear Games has done any Kickstarter campaigns. Is that an avenue you would consider using, in light of your experience with early access?
Kickstarter is a whole new beast. It's a myth that it's "free money" -- there are player expectations that come with the cash. You will be distracted from making the best game possible. What if midway you have to make some drastic changes? That said, I think that some projects, like experimental, risky games would be perfect for KS. Knowing that your wacky idea is eagerly expected by hundreds of people is great for removing doubt.
Who would you recommend use early access? Is there anyone you would suggest run the other way as fast as they can?
I think that it would be very strange for story-heavy games. What would it be like to play Gone Home with no textures and the attic missing? It's great for system-heavy games, especially games that are meant to be played over and over again. Don't Starve is a perfect example.