There are some games, especially those with online multiplayer, where being involved at a specific point in time is an important part of the experience. Sometimes it’s engineered that way – most MMOs have seasons or expansions where older content is regularly removed or otherwise deprecated. Others it’s by virtue of the community – while I’ve heard Pokemon Go still has an active playerbase and has made significant technical and gameplay improvements since launch, there’s no way now to recapture the magic of Summer 2016 unless you were there.
In most cases, though, gaming-on-a-lag has more benefits than downsides. Besides the fiscal advantages outlined in the relevant XKCD, there’s also a bit of Darwinism in place. In some ways it’s the “Never Preorder” argument carried to its logical conclusion – a few days after launch you’ll know whether or not a game met pre-release expectations, but in a few years you’ll also know whether or not it has staying power and replayability. And you’ll know if the developer is committed to supporting it long-term.
For the record, I’m not really a strict adherent to the “No Preorders Ever” philosophy. I do prefer transparency about what I’m actually paying for, though. When I bought Minecraft back in 2010, I liked that there was a stable, free (albeit limited) version that I could play to my heart’s content (there still is, actually), and while if I wanted the latest features of InfDev I had to pay, I liked that it was obvious what I was getting was a work-in-progress from an indie dev with no promises as to project milestones. The deal was I paid a reduced price to play the unfinished version, and in return for being an early adopter, I’d have access to the final version when – and if – it ever released. I’m a lot more content to pay ten dollars for something I know is a gamble than sixty bucks for something that’s marketed as a finished product, but isn’t one. Similarly, Faster Than Light pinged my radar back in 2012 for having a Kickstarter with a low buy-in and the option to participate in the beta. Like any Kickstarter, there were no guarantees, but they were honest about what you were getting in return for your money. However, while I love sci-fi and roguelikes, I’ve never been very proficient at real-time strategy games. Watching me play Starcraft is like watching a chimpanzee play the piano. I kept an eye on it, though; it was well-received at launch, and I was impressed with the developers’ level of commitment. They released an expansion (Advanced Edition) two years later at no additional charge, and they were still actively supporting the game with updates and patches as recently as 2018. While from a business practices standpoint I found that to be exemplary, I still wasn’t sure the game was going to be for me.
In the twilight zone of meaningless time between Christmas and New Year’s last year, Faster Than Light went on sale for free. Wrapping up the 2010’s, many people were calling it one of the best games of the decade, and at that price I had nothing to lose. I claimed my copy and eagerly set out across the galaxy.Continue reading “Faster Than Light”