2023 was the year I got fed up with seeing those ‘early access’ deluxe editions where you pay more to play the game a few days early

I think you know what I’m talking about here: Far Cry 9 comes out on September 7, but if you shell out an extra $15 for the Premium Deluxe Plus Edition, you can get a five-day head start clearing the bases of whatever caricature of a 20th century revolutionary movement Ubisoft’s cooked up this year.

And I don’t mean to dog on Ubisoft too hard here⁠—it feels like every game is doing this. Starfield, Modern Warfare 3, Hogwarts Legacy, and Like a Dragon: Ishin are just a few games that pulled the deluxe “early access” move in 2023.

At the risk of getting into “Old Man Yells At Cloud” territory, this trend just makes me so tired. So many companies call this “early access,” but that’s already a thing! It means you release a proscribed version game before it’s finished to get revenue flowing and playtest among a wider audience⁠—the rhetorical sleight of hand in conflating a pre-order bonus with this practice already makes it feel like we’re starting on the wrong foot.

I get it

No, I do, I get it. This is a marketing practice with a clear enticement for gamers and benefits for publishers. Let’s say it was a follow up to one of my favorite games. Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree is playable three days early if I spring for the “Scarlet Rot Edition” or whatever⁠—you bet your ass I’d be forking over the extra tenner.

If you’re selling a game, the pre-launch play window is a clear thing to differentiate and possibly move higher paid tiers of your product. Instead of an ugly premium skin of the game’s starting pistol that’s blue or something, you lure suckers in with the much more tangible benefit of starting the party early.

What’s more, you do get a mini version of one of the benefits from an actual early access launch: a brief window of wider playtesting among an agreeable audience, one that’s willing to pay extra to get your game as soon as possible, and, at least in theory, might be more willing to overlook some pre-launch day foibles.

The “Old Man Yells At Cloud” part

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

It just annoys the everloving hell out of me, the part of me that still has some dignity and hates getting nickel and dimed. Now, I sure picked the wrong hobby if I hate being nickel and dimed, but this particular practice is so odious to me. 

The sterile marketing logic behind the practice feels anti-fun.

I hate the stratification of game pricing in general, seeing that unfurling scroll of Premium, Premium Plus, Premium Plus Plus Ultra Digital variants of games⁠—it makes something that should be fun feel like picking out an insurance package. “Which fits my needs better, the $80 ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ bundle of Call of Duty 24: Black Ops 11: War On Terror, or the $90 ‘Mission Creep’ bundle?”

And at the end of the day, you’re effectively paying extra to not have the game’s day one patch⁠—and there’s always a day one patch. This is such a small thing, just a couple days and a couple bucks of cash, but the sterile marketing logic behind the practice feels anti-fun.

Videogame launch dates already feel so amorphous in this era of actual early access, and you also have the baked-in assumption that so many AAA games will only be ready for prime time after six months of patches. Do we really need to be muddying the waters even further as a deliberate marketing tactic?


(Image credit: EA)

I’m not talking about the excellent history podcast, I mean as in the consequences of your actions. While that audience of gamers willing to pay extra to get your game early might be among your most devoted, it can also prove vocal and mercurial.

My mind jumps to Battlefield 2042 and Mass Effect: Andromeda as easy examples. The former had a premium pre-launch play period tied to EA Play (formerly EA Access) and certain preorder packages, while the latter had a 10-hour “trial” available to EA Access (now EA Play!) subscribers ahead of launch.

These games were not exactly fated to have rosy receptions to begin with, but the story became the entire gaming world watching in fascination as the people who ostensibly loved these series the most howled about the bad times they were having and shared unflattering clips highlighting bugs or other issues.

And wouldn’t you be upset too, if you paid extra for one of these things only to find it’s a total dud? So let’s just leave the Bronze Supremo Warfighter Three-Day “Early Access” Edition behind in 2023. I know we won’t, but I just think it’d be nice if the industry would prioritize my feelings on this matter⁠—I’m a good guy.

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