Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Eve Online: SOMERblink closes down

Wow this last week has been insane in Eve, and it's all revolved around one name: SOMERblink. If you are like me, you may have only been peripherally aware of SOMERblink. I knew of their existence, just like I knew that there were members of the community who didn't like them. I also knew from listening to the Crossing Zebras podcast that they were involved in some sort of controversy almost a year ago. So when my twitter started melting from people talking about the latest Somer scandal, I decided to write a bit of an overview of the entire situation, starting with the scandal a year ago. Buckle in, because this one is a long one. Let's delve into it.

To explain the issues, you need to know what SOMERblink was. Started four years ago by Somerset Mahm (also known as Somer), SOMERblink allowed for people to gamble with their isk (the in game currency for Eve Online). The form of gambling is a system called a micro lottery, which operates similar to a raffle. People buy a ticket (or tickets), into the raffle (or as SOMERblink called them, Blinks) for a chance to win a rare or expensive ship, game item, or a PLEX. These tickets are limited for each item, meaning that you can't buy a hundred tickets for something you want (although you can buy out all of the tickets if you are fast enough). If Somer had just kept it at that, they would have been perfectly fine. But before we get into what they changed, we need to look at some previous issues Somer had with the community in Eve.

The layout of a typical game of Blink.
A little under a year ago, Somer and CCP came under fire from players in Eve for a planned giveaway at Eve Vegas. CCP had planned to give away some extremely rare ships, including a one of a kind ship that had been given out as a prize for winning the Amarr Championship in 2003, the Gold Magnate. When that ship was later destroyed in 2004, there was no way for anyone to obtain a Gold Magnate. Of course when CCP announced that they were going to be giving two of these ships to Somer to use in the lotteries, players were outraged that a piece of Eve's history was going to be given to a website who would profit a huge amount for its lottery.

Later in 2013, a mail was leaked from a SOMERblink employee stating that each member of the staff at SOMERblink would be receiving an Scorpion Ishukone Watch from CCP. These ships, which cannot be built in the game, are used by CCP as prizes for community events and are estimated to be worth between 15 to 20 billion isk. At the moment there are a known 132 of these. CCP's reason for giving these rare ships out? As a thanks to "one of the most awesome community sites we have." This caused a lot of controversy among the community, mainly because this deal all happened behind closed doors implying that CCP wanted to keep this a secret for some reason. Even other Eve based gambling sites distanced themselves from SOMERblink, with Eve-Bet stating that they thought those ships should be reserved for "more deserving winners and not sites that can afford to purchase them off the market like everyone else."

The first way SOMERblink tried RMT.
Now we get into the part that Somer changed. While all the attention was on Somer and SOMERblink from these two events, FunkyBacon, an eve blogger who also hosts an Eve Radio show posted this blog post about SOMERblink. In it, he details a way that Somer had been making money by what was ostensibly selling isk. Like selling gold in WoW, selling isk for real money (RMT) is not allowed in by CCP as detailed in the EULA (specifically section B of Conduct). How was Somer able to do this? FunkyBacon used the image to the right to detail how this worked. SOMERblink had a link to a website called Markee Dragon who sell Eve game time codes that can be exchanged for PLEX - an in game item that can either be used to add 30 days of game time to the account, or traded on the in game market in exchange for isk. In return for directing traffic to their site, Markee Dragon give Somer a referral bonus. Somer then gives the player 200 million worth of credits to be used on his site (essentially giving the player 200 million isk, but only for gambling use).

NoizyGamer, another blogger who talks a lot about RMT and botting in MMOs, made a post that was extremely well researched and in depth on the whole situation. His research lead to a discussion with the Chief Operating Officer of Somers previous GTC reseller - Shattered Crystal. During the conversation, Noizy found out that Somer had been let go as an affiliate after a bidding war on the referral bonus percentage. Standard referral bonuses are 5%, but Shattered Crystal had to let Somer go after the bidding hit 8%, and with the volume of GTC that the link on the SOMERblink website had sold, Noizy estimates that Somer was making around $7500 a month with his incentive to buy from him, if he was indeed at 8%. Eventually, CCP were forced to make a change to the rules regarding selling time codes, and Somer had to stop offering the bonus credits.

Screenshot from NoizyGamer's blog. Find it here.
And that leads us to last weekend. A reddit post on /r/eve shows how SOMERblink have setup a new form of credits, called PLEX Credits. Members of the CSM are alerted to another possible RMT scheme by Somer, and FunkyBacon makes another post explaining what he understands is going on. The biggest part of all this? Somer claimed this had been "vetted and approved by CCP," which lead to concerns that CCP was again allowing some form of incentive from SOMERblink to buy from their affiliate link, rather than elsewhere. CCP Falcon, the community manager over at CCP, posted a thread on Evo-O acknowledging that they were aware of the situation and they were reviewing the proposal that Somer had provided to the sales team at CCP, along with the legal and information security teams.

The biggest question I've seen asked is this: How is this RMT? Once again, FunkyBacon provided us with an updated version of his previous diagram to show exactly how:
Seriously guys, go read FunkyBacon's blog. He's even a CSM member.
In this situation, the player clicks on the affiliate link on the SOMERblink website, taking them to Markee Dragon, where they buy PLEX as usual. Markee Dragon pay Somer the usual affiliate cut. Doing this gives your account on SOMERblink a PLEX credit. This credit is basically a token that SOMERblink use to guarantee that they will buy that PLEX back - at a higher than market price. That reddit thread that I linked earlier estimated the price that Somer would give was around 45 million isk more than market price in Eve (average PLEX price in Eve is currently around 780 to 790 million isk), so a total price of 830 million isk. The best part of this in my mind, is that as FunkyBacon pointed out in his blog post, if SOMERblink then use that PLEX in one of their lotteries, they bring in 936 million isk, meaning they profit a little over a 100 million isk. It truly is a brilliant scheme: Somer profits in both isk and real life cash.

Click here for large version. Thanks to Noizy again for this picture.
So the question has to be asked. If this was "vetted and approved by CCP," why did Somer shut down SOMERblink when CCP Falcon posted that they were investigating the situation? Noizy gives us some insight here in an update to the situation he posted the day after his initial post. Somer posted a link to an email chain between himself and the Vice President of Sales at CCP, Lisa Bell-Cabrera, and a copy of the proposal to her. Unfortunately, the email chain can no longer be accessed, but Noizy did get a screenshot of the proposal shown above. It's interesting to note that under the section marked Justification, Somer explicitly says that "Blink provides no extra isk or bonus Blink credit for buying through the link." However they are technically providing extra isk, by buying that PLEX at a higher price than a player could otherwise sell it. It's a bit :tinfoil:, but it's certainly possible that Somer intentionally worded the parts about buying the PLEX back vaguely so it seemed like there was no additional ISK being provided. In any case, the whole proposal reads like a shady sales pitch, and

And that leads us to where we are today. A rather sharply worded message was posted at the top of the SOMERblink website that read:

Hey friends,
Thanks for all the years of Blink that we've spent together. It's been a long four years-- some of it longer than others! Unfortunately, as of today, Blink is going to go on extended-- perhaps indefinite-- hiatus. CCP has gone back on everything they said several months ago, and the resulting environment is so hostile that it's not one we want to try to operate in, if CCP throws us under the bus.
If you have prizes waiting, they will be fulfilled. You can claim prizes as normal. Bonk tickets have been refunded to your account balance. We will begin refunding all account balances of people that have played in the last 6 months, starting with balances over 10 million ISK. As always, we're not in the business of stealing your money. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet many of you, through Blink, Eve, and our lotteries channel. Thank you for the experience.

CCP Falcon also posted the official response to the whole situation on the forums. In it, he details the fact that none of the ideas for promotions that Somer had provided were approved by the appropriate people "namely, the Legal Team," and that Somer had "no basis to assert that the live promotion was "approved by CCP"". In an interesting twist, Somer's characters were all banned permanently for violation of the EULA and Terms of Service, meaning they will have to start a fresh account to play Eve if they choose to come back.

If there is one positive I can find about the SOMERblink scandal, it's that they are paying back isk to players despite the fact that they could easily shift that over to other accounts and be space rich. Maybe it's because they are already space rich from all the earnings of Blink that they feel they should pay them back. In any case, its a small silver lining to what is otherwise a very rocky story. I can't help but think that if Somer had simply put some sort of advertising on the site to make money, none of this would have happened. They could have even still had the link to Markee Dragon to earn the affiliate cut from time code sales alongside the ad revenue. Instead, Somer got greedy, and had to try and come up with these schemes to earn fast money. Protip: If you have to be deliberately vague in a proposal, your proposal is probably shady.

If you haven't exhausted yourself on this topic, I'd highly recommend reading all the linked blog posts from NoizyGamer, FunkyBacon and the forum posts by CCP Falcon. They go into so much more depth than I can in a single post, and each one of them is a really good read.

So if you stuck around to the very end of this long winded post about the life and times of SOMERblink, congratulations. I'm off to go and shoot some rats for a while. As always,

GAME ON!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Broadcast for Reps

I don't have a whole lot to say today, I just really wanted to share something with you.


This was posted on the Eve subreddit, in a thread regarding Robin Williams, who recently passed away. Robin committed suicide, and had a history of depression alongside alcohol and drug abuse.

To get personal, I've struggled with depression for many years. I generally don't talk about it with anyone. I'm only writing this today because this image made me tear up and feel so much better about Eve's community. This image has touched me in a way that, I felt that I needed to share this with others, because no matter where you are from, we all play the same game.

I quit Eve last year, while I tried WoW, as I was totally burnt out on the community and needed a change of pace. This lead to the most active time for me writing, as WoW offered many new avenues to learn about. However, I've been back quietly playing Eve for the last few weeks. Just some mining and trading here and there, nothing too insane.

Now I'm so glad I did. The Eve community often gets a lot of people commenting on how ruthless we can be. And it's true, we can be ruthless. Our game is one of the most competitive I've ever played. But on the other side, the vast majority of the Eve community are just cool people. They play the game in a way they enjoy, and in game conflicts remain in game. I've had corp CEO's who showed more interest in me than actual people I know in real life. The few Eve players I've met outside of the client are really fun people.

So to close, no matter who you are, or even what game you play, you are never alone. Tell someone if you need help.

Broadcast for reps, and the logi wing will pick you up.


Fly safe, and game on.

Monday, 28 July 2014

July Update

It has been well over a month since I wrote anything here. Oops. I haven't forgotten about it, and I swear I still love you. You see, I've been on holidays. I took a four week break from work, and visited my family in this time. Of course, me being me, I still played games throughout this time. So what have I been up to?

Well firstly, I started my play through of Pokemon X. I've already beaten Y, and will be using that game to try and accomplish something I've always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity or drive to do before: collect every Pokemon. With the advent of internet trading (I kinda skipped it with the DS generation of games), and the help of Reddit, I should be able to accomplish this task. But before I start, I want to beat X to collect some of the unique pokemon from it. I'll probably keep a small update going on that here. Maybe a section of the Random Ramblings.

Second, I bought Battlefield 4, albeit almost a year late. I've always been a massive fan of the Battlefield franchise, with most of that time spent on BF2, a game I will always look back on with fond memories. I've really tried hard to not pick faults with BF4 while playing it, as I realise it's a new game aimed at a newer generation of gamers. But damn is it buggy. I normally don't do this, but with BF4, I made a list of bugs that I encountered in both the single player and multi player. Currently that list sits at around 15 things that happened more than once, with about 4 of those being completely game breaking and requiring restarts of the game..

For all its flaws though, there are moments of absolute brilliance in the game. For every bug, there is a moment that just feels awesome. From flying a fully loaded troop transport helicopter to a capture point, to taking a full squad out and saving a point you have captured, BF4 does a great job of making you feel that you made a difference in the game. It's just a shame that some of the bugs can rob you of the fun moments that a Battlefield game has to offer. Along with this, it's a shame that most of the community plays the maps that don't have vehicles, one of the defining features of a Battlefield game. A personal gripe as well is the completely random nature of battlepack unlocks. You may get unlocks for guns that you don't use rather than targeted unlocks that suit the weapons you actually like.

So that's what I've been up to. Expect some of my thoughts on the Curse of Naxxramas adventure for Hearthstone soon, as well as some other updates on my gaming. For now though, I need to get back to beating the 4th gym in Pokemon X. As always,

GAME ON!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Watch_Dogs Graphics Controversy

In 2012, a short gameplay video of Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs was shown at E3. Touted as the next graphical step in the console wars, it was received extremely well by both critics and gamers. The hype for Watch_Dogs was very real, and to some, it was supposed to be the first truly "next gen" title for the X-Bone and PS4. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the studio who brought us the Assassin's Creed series, Rainbow Six: Vegas 1 and 2, and Farcry 3 and Blood Dragon, Watch_Dogs had the pedigree to be something special both in gameplay and, more importantly, graphically.

However, when it finally released on the 27th, it immediately became apparent that there was a pretty big difference between what was shown at E3 2012, and what we actually got in 2014. For those who haven't seen the difference, this image will give you an idea of just how different it is:
The lighting is different, textures appear to have been downgraded and the crowds in the world are less dense. Alongside the very obvious graphics downgrade, the PC version has been plagued with bugs. Players have reported strange frame drops, mouse acceleration issues, and a stuttering where the game seems to freeze for a split second. Before the game was released, people called out Ubisoft for the downgrade in some of the more recent trailers. A Ubisoft PR rep responded with a simple "nothing was downgraded" and left it at that.

But, this was proven to be a lie. Last week, a modder by the name of TheWorse posted on the Guru3d forums about some files he had found while searching for fixes to the stuttering issues on the PC version of Watch_Dogs.
After release and this stupid stuttering problems I started searching for fixes etc.
Then I saw many threads talking about the engine when I realized it was based on dunia 2 so I tried to unpack the files which obviously not worked.. so after searching so much for the unpacker I found it, started playing with it and after a long time of testing I ended up getting the E3 Bloom from 2012 working.
After studying how bin hex worked and downloading many tools to convert files etc, I was able to integrate and enable many effects. I told myself to keep trying and trying and that is what I have done.
 As you can see in the picture to the right, the config files still contained all the settings to activate the effects shown in the E3 gameplay footage. Some news outlets are calling this a "mod", but in reality it's a simple config change to activate what many considered the selling point of the game. To add to that, TheWorse was able to find fixes for the stuttering issues in the PC version, all within the files of the game. To add insult to injury, a picture surfaced of a line of code that had the comment "This is PC only, who cares" written above it (although this honestly could easily be a fake).

And the result of all this? Reddit blew up, twitter went crazy and Ubisoft went into damage control. PC gamers were/are obviously angry that a game that should have been a showpiece on our platform was seemingly hamstrung to bring it closer to what the modern consoles can do, and that we are getting no clear answers from Ubisoft at this stage.

The question remains: Did Ubisoft deliberately lower the settings to bring PC down to the console level, and if they did, why? There is no reason I can think of that makes sense. It's no secret that Ubisoft's history with the PC is full of controversy. In 2012, the CEO of Ubisoft Yves Guillemot made the incredibly uninformed statement that "only 5 - 7% of PC gamers pay, the rest is pirated". While I am a fan of the Assassins Creed series, they are some of the least optimized PC games on the market, and the always online DRM with Uplay has a history of dropping out and losing all progress.

But the thought that a company would deliberately hamstring a PC version of a game to make it run the same as the version on the consoles is disturbing. It's no secret that the PC versions of games are going to be superior to consoles as the hardware is better. The biggest downside would be because there isn't standardized hardware, they have to spend more time optimizing the game (and that's one of the big reasons PC ports can be bad, as they aren't optimized properly), but the vast majority of PC games will look and run better than a console. Why a company as big as Ubisoft wants the PC versions of their games to below their full potential is beyond me. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come from Ubisoft.

As always,

GAME ON!

Edit: Ubisoft has replied. In a post on the news page of the Watch_Dogs website, they state:
The dev team is completely dedicated to getting the most out of each platform, so the notion that we would actively downgrade quality is contrary to everything we’ve set out to achieve. We test and optimize our games for each platform on which they’re released, striving for the best possible quality. The PC version does indeed contain some old, unused render settings that were deactivated for a variety of reasons, including possible impacts on visual fidelity, stability, performance and overall gameplay quality. Modders are usually creative and passionate players, and while we appreciate their enthusiasm, the mod in question (which uses those old settings) subjectively enhances the game’s visual fidelity in certain situations but also can have various negative impacts. Those could range from performance issues, to difficulty in reading the environment in order to appreciate the gameplay, to potentially making the game less enjoyable or even unstable.
Thanks for playing Watch Dogs and stay safe on the mean streets of Chicago.
-The Watch Dogs Team
So far the vast majority of feedback I have seen to this post has been negative, and people are quite obviously sick of the rhetoric from the devs over the graphics controversy. I personally don't think this is the end of the discussion, and with news about Farcry 4's possible graphics downgrade, I'm hoping this really doesn't continue to be the norm for the gaming industry.

Let's hope not.

Monday, 26 May 2014

A Disturbing Trend

I woke up this morning, rolled over to turn off my alarm and started browsing Reddit as I usually do. Right on the front page, I was confronted with this post that linked to a video by Jim Sterling. If you are so inclined, take the time to watch it. Even just the first 2 minutes of it will give you an idea of what I'm going to be talking about.


See what I'm talking about? This game is possibly the worst thing I have ever seen. It looks like something that was made as a little fun project by a couple of mates, not something that should be sold as finished product. Today I'm not going to touch on Steam allowing something like this to even enter the Greenlight system, and I've made my position on early access games very clear (although this game is not listed as such).

I am however, going to touch on how developers react to criticism from both reviewers and customers. You see, the developers of Air Control have been in full damage control on the Steam forums. And by damage control, I mean they are attacking people leaving bad reviews. Here's some examples taken from Steam users Blancmage, MamCieNaChopsa and 0Bennyman. In case the responses are deleted in the future, here's the quotes from the developers in the order that they are linked there:
  1. Problem is in your pc, that is why you cannot run the game.
  2. You cannot run the game cause of problems with your pc. We tested it during a month. This game worked on all the computers of our testers.
  3. At first, this review was made on weak computer. Secondly I want to say you guys that this guy who recorded review did not read about game controls and that is why airplane fell down in the end.
As someone who writes a lot, and not just on this blog, I totally understand how hard it can be to receive criticism from people, especially when they aren't creative themselves. When you have made the effort to create something for others to enjoy, it hurts when you hear that they didn't. Unlike these developers however, someone not liking my writing style or enjoying my fiction isn't something I can change. I accept that what I write about or how I write is not for everyone.

Honestly, the fact that Killjoy games thinks that responding to criticism in this fashion is acceptable shows that they aren't cut out to develop games that will be released on large distribution platforms like Steam, especially if they are going to only half finish them. The responses range from denial (the problem is your PC not our game), to flat out deflection (We tested it, and it worked fine). At the time of writing on Steam, there are only four positive reviews, and they are either sarcastic or attack all the negative reviews that were posted by people, including this gem:
Very good game 7/10, would be 9/10 with some bug fixes.

If you are an American you probably won't enjoy it because your *** is too fat from hamburgers to fit in an airplane seat LOL
The worst part of this whole situation is this is the second time this year I know of an indie company responding poorly to criticism. If you watch TotalBiscuit, you probably heard about what happened with his WTF Is... video on Guise of the Wolf, a game developed by FUN Creators. When TotalBiscuit posted a scathing, but fair opinion of their game, FUN Creators responded by placing a copyright claim on his account, denied doing so in a series of emails and then proceeded to joke around on Twitter when evidence was posted by TotalBiscuit there. They even went so far as to claim that TB had used Photoshop to change the body of the emails, and demanding he deletes his channel as they are "a lot bigger than your little YouTube channel."

Since indie development really took off with the massive success of titles like Minecraft and Day Z, everyone who knows how to code wants to make that next big hit. Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority of these people don't understand how PR works, especially on electronic media. Everyone has a forum to express opinions, be that Twitter, Reddit or the Steam forums. The absolute worst thing that anyone can do is respond in a negative way to criticism, as the backlash that is created by this will absolutely kill any hope of the next game you make being taken seriously.

The best advice I can give? Either hire someone to do PR for you if you don't have the necessary skills to do it effectively, or don't respond to criticism if you know you cannot control yourself. If you do respond, keep it civil and be willing to accept that you may be wrong. If someone points out legitimate bugs, don't attack them. Thank them. Most of the time they are doing it because they want to help you achieve your vision of the game because it's something they would enjoy.

And for goodness sake... don't respond like FUN Creators or Killjoy. It's just not worth it.

As always folks,

GAME ON!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Wildstar: My Impressions from the open beta.

Oh Wildstar. You certainly have a good sense of humour, and that's something that I can get behind. If you haven't seen anything about Wildstar, then you've been living under a rock. The open beta ran for a 10 days, finishing yesterday for those of us in Australia. I played 3 different classes to level 10, just to get a feel for how it plays, including once with a friend questing with me. So, without any further procrastinating, let's dive into it.

The Good:

Right off the bat, Wildstar makes an impression with its art style. Now this has somewhat divided the people I talked to in the beta, including several of my real life friends. I personally like the cartoonish feel they have gone for in the design, especially the stylized characters. The animation quality and texture work is spot on, and the game really does look beautiful. At no point did I find anything that looked particularly out of place, and the effort that has gone into the game shows.

Alongside this, you have the combat. Wildstar uses a system I find very similar to Guild Wars 2's combat. You have a limited number of slots for skills to prevent ability bloat and allowing you to really customise the way your character plays compared to someone else with the same class. I do feel that eventually there will be "best builds" for whatever you are doing, but this system allows for you to change out a skill to better suit a situation you are having troubles with.

The telegraphing of attacks when combined with the ability to dodge provides a far more immersive combat experience than most tradition style MMO's. A large part of being good at the combat in Wildstar involves knowing when to dodge and attack, and where to go when dodging. Some attacks have a very narrow cone, but a long range, while others have a wide cone and short range. If your character is stunned, a prompt appears telling you to mash one of the WASD keys to lower the stun duration.

If you have been reading my ramblings for a while, you know that I generally don't like PVP in MMOs besides Eve (as it is a PVP based game). Wildstar is a massive exception to this. Because of how immersive the combat is and the nature of the telegraph system, when you win it feels like you have have a real victory and that your skill allowed it rather than just stats. Someone who is good at dodging attacks while being able to apply their damage to a target is going to do far better regardless of gear.

I mentioned at the start that I played 3 different characters to around level 10 (Wildstar's level cap at launch will be 50), so I only got a very small taste of what they were like, and a tiny sliver of the questing experience. The three classes I played, the Medic, Warrior and Engineer had reasonably unique skill sets, but similar enough that nothing felt over powered. The Warrior and Engineers can both be tank style characters, so they have a lot of threat building abilities in one of their skill trees, while the Medic can be a healer as the name implies. To get an idea of what each class can do, this site has a great tool for viewing the skills of each one.

These aren't the only good things about the game, but they are the main things I loved about Wildstar. That being said however, there are some things that do need to be discussed.

The Bad:

While in the beta, I had a number of crashes to desktop. With the release date set for the 3rd of June (or the 31st of May if you pre-order now), there is limited time for these bugs to be worked out, but I do have faith that the major crash issues will be sorted by release. There is also a fair bit of optimization to be done, with people reporting frame rates as low as 10 on current generation cards on some occasions. Hopefully this all happens before the release.

As with any MMO, latency in Australia can be an issue. Like WoW, there are "Oceanic" servers, but these are still based in the US. While I never had major issues, there were a few times where I thought I had managed to dodge out of damage, but still took the damage anyway. Time will tell as to how this plays at the high levels of both raiding and PVP with the telegraph system.

Finally, and this is more of an issue with me than the game, I just don't feel invested in the story at this point. Where World of Warcraft took an established franchise and continued its story, Wildstar is an entirely new IP. The story is all there, but most of the time, I just didn't care. Granted, this might change when it's released and I am actually paying attention, but my experience in the beta is one of apathy about the direction the lore is headed.

To conclude, Wildstar is a solid MMO that seems to deliver a great experience. I'm really looking forward to giving it a go, and hope that it doesn't turn into another Old Republic, where it dies soon after release. From all indicators, it seems that the devs have done a fantastic job of providing content for the end game, but still giving a solid leveling experience. Roll on May 31st, and I'll see you on Nexus.

GAME ON!


Sneaky edit: There was another day of beta that happened this weekend, and I'm pleased to report that in the 3 hours I played, there were no crashes to desktop and the game ran far better. Definitely pick this one up guys. It's well worth it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Selling Early Access Games

Ever since Minecraft, developers all over the world have offered access to their games during the early stages of its development. It's actually become so normal that Steam now has an entire section of their store dedicated to Early Access games to keep them separate from the fully released games. Like everything, there are both good and bad aspects to selling early access games that are still very much in development at the time.

The Grand-daddy of Early Access
In my opinion, Minecraft's success relied largely on the unique nature of the game compared to anything on the market at the time, coupled with the ability for some very creative things to happen in the game, and the small development team (for the vast majority it was just Notch working on the game) who listened to the feedback and ideas that the community around the game had. Along with this, Notch generally delivered on the promises that he made regarding features, kept the community informed as to progress, and Minecraft was frequently updated. People felt that they money they spent was well worth it, especially considering the fun they had from both vanilla Minecraft and the later mods available for it.

Compare this to some other games. Cube World's alpha was released in June 2013 and has currently had one update since then. In October of 2013, the frustration of those who had paid money for the game came to a head and unleashed on Twitter at the developer, Wollay. He responded to say that development was still happening on Cube World. Since then however there has not been an update and any blog posts at Wollay's website stopped as of January 2014.

Towns was another game released on Steam's greenlight system, and one of the first ten to actually make it on the system. Today, it was announced that Towns was being abandoned, and this was not for the first time. The original developer for Towns, a team of three called SMP, originally decided that they were going to stop development of the game due to burnout. All of this came after a post by SMP detailing that, while they were definitely feeling less inclined to work on Towns, the project was "alive and kicking." However in the same post the following was said:
So so far Towns has sold more than 200k units and generated a gross revenue of more than 2M usd. and although we are pretty sure we can and will sell a lot more, we still see it as a huge success.
A game still in development, no where near the final product had made more than 2 million US$ in revenue. Profits from this are obviously hard to work out, but with over 200,000 units sold, they definitely would have made decent amount of money. When SMP did finally hand over the project to the new developer, Florian, they told him that they sold a particular amount each month, but by then it was too late. The hype had ended and the money was no longer coming in as much as it had been.

Early Access has led to the death of many Kerbals
None of this is to say that early access isn't a good thing. It certainly can be. Games currently like Kerbal Space Program and Prison Architect that receive regular updates and communications from the developers have given players hours of enjoyment for gamers who dropped money on them. The money that they make when funneled back into the game can be the difference between a feature making the final release or not. That being said however, when a project goes wrong, it leaves gamers out of pocket for a product that was promised to be much better.

Early access is one of those things in gaming that requires caution, much like micro transactions and day one DLC. There are several games that I have purchased that in their current state are unplayable until further iteration is applied. I could have saved that money and spent it on other games that were more completed than those were, but the idea and concepts behind the game were so compelling that I had to try them out. Now those games probably won't get played until they are more refined and closed to release. My complete opinion? Buyer beware. No matter who it is, you might get burnt by a developer who gets burned out and drops a project. Or you might get another Minecraft style game that ends up being a staple of your gaming library. Either way, a little restraint goes a long way in preventing tears due to an early access game.

As always,

GAME ON!