By now, if you’re a Starbound player, you probably felt the wrath of a nasty coding error that wiped out players’ ship inventories, storage boxes, and other items. I know I did, and while it hurt a little, I didn’t have a lot of critical items in there I couldn’t get back. But for many others who have sank a lot of time into this game and have more unique items, not having a backup of your game files and having this bug wipe out your stuff can frustrate many to the point of quitting.

So how are we supposed to deal with the new wonderful world of “Early Access” gaming, effectively open-alpha or open-beta gameplay where wipes and resets can be expected alongside game-crippling bugs? Certainly this is nothing like the games of old that were completed, playtested, fixed, and shipped bug-free to the player. Small-time developers are essentially charging us to be their QA department. This kinda rubs me the wrong way.

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What I’ve accepted with Starbound is that as a beta game, it will crash, it will wipe, and it will have problems. The game is setup to reflect this by not making it difficult for someone to start from scratch and be back towards the top tier in a day or two. But the difficult thing to swallow is the fact that as a consumer, paying money for something that only half-works isn’t typically something we do as consumers. We don’t buy a car that is still being assembled. We don’t pay for services rendered until they are complete and we are satisfied. We do pay for food that is still being prepared, and we also pay into insurance we may or may not use. But for most gamers, especially those who grew up in the days of old, when you bought a game, it was like any other item you bought. It was complete, free of programming defects, and fully playable without patches or updates. Obviously the times have changed.

Indie gaming is something that I find marvelous and disastrous in the same token. All of these small groups or single-developer folks have been given a platform and audience to really create what the bigger studios would never sign off on, and all of them have contributed to some seriously great games over the years. On a different hand, lacking the management, quality assurance, and integrity provided by larger companies, these smaller outfits are only focused with the development of the game, and tend to failcheck on the finer points of customer service. As one user in the forums pointed out for Starbound, even after the second patch, the bug was still a problem, and rather than pull the update or put a warning on the site for people not to update or login, they choose to ignore it and continue working to resolve the bug. That’s the decision a developer makes, not a good customer service representative. A good CSR will first notify their customers of a problem before beginning on a solution, as soon as possible. This is why Sony was hung out to dry on their security breach, as opposed to Target which took less heat because they got in front of it quickly.

I suppose it is because I’ve worked a number of years in help desk roles, customer service is always above actually fixing things. As an engineer, to me, having something be worked on and fixed is more important to me than things like notifications, closing loops, root causes, and other communications-based things. But I’ve been nailed to the wall a number of times in the past for not talking to someone while I am fixing their problem. It’s maddening to me. When I bring my car in for repair, I rarely meet the technician who fixes my car. When he has things he needs to find out from me, he tells the sales or service rep who faces the customer and they ask me. They’re people persons. Many other industries and fields hired people specifically to be these people persons. They hired engineers and workers to do the work, uninterrupted. So what changed with computer technology? At what point did we start to fold technician and customer service rep into the same pair of hands and expect to get anything done?

Shit Beta Players Say
Shit Beta Players Say

The worst part surrounding this is the community. I began this post yesterday before I started on an hours-long project on a planet to build sort of an elaborate facility/skyrail station, and eventually build a skyrail around the planet with some various other things. Three or so hours later, with the entire building and everything finished, my server I host myself went out for a few moments and when I went back on, the world was reset. Opened the universe folder, FAIL tag next to my world.

I mad. :(
I mad. 🙁

So, as you can imagine, the tone of this post starts heading south when I lost 20k+ pixels worth of blocks, items, crafting tables, and other things I had stored on this planet that I was working with. I have to make yet another Robotic Crafting Table, among other things, and that is pretty annoying. Now, again, I get it, things happen, and I make backups of game files, but being this was my remote server, I don’t have anything set up there to take snapshots of the universe folder every five minutes, nor should I. I spent an hour fussing with the FAIL file to see if I could get it resolved, but according to the log, it crashes on load, prompting it to wipe and regen the planet. I gave up and uploaded my player file to a site to modify the items in it, and gave myself a billion various building blocks and replaced all of the lost items save for a few. You might consider that cheating, but I am already at Tier10, I’ve “completed” the game, I am playing with blocks and ideas now. So I didn’t give a shit to use an external force to repair my losses so that I can try again.

The community however is atrocious. In my hour or so trying to find a solution, every post I came across settled for the lowest bar of technical savvy within this game, that it was “beta” and that you should stop your whining and start all over. It’s that mentality that led to my SO MAD tirade on Twitter last night, because it’s the same type of lazy standards that I fought with developers on in my old job. The difference here is that this is a game, and that was business software. But the idea that when something is broken, rather than fix it, we just leave it broken until the next update or patch, or ignore it completely because who gives a shit? I’m betting a Chucklefish developer could probably fix the FAIL file, or write something that could, given the stack information from the error. But the point is more in the fact that these worlds are so fragile, that merely a connection issue causes the world to implode, that bothers me. I can upload/download the universe between the VPS and home, and I can backup locally as well, but who is to say once I have built an orbiting casino in space, will it decide to destroy everything in seconds without any chance of recovery?

I’m not trying to put down Chucklefish and its developers. I think they’ve created something unique even in a genre that is ripe with comparisons to the tried-and-true Minecraft. Having not played Minecraft, it’s difficult for me to call it the best of its kind, but it rather grinds my gears when someone takes in a large chunk of cash from the pre-sale of its beta game and cannot hire additional developers, customer service representatives, and internal QA testers to help facilitate the next phases of their game development. Maybe they have and I am just not noticing. I know they spoke about an office and some other games, but really, given the popularity of Starbound, wouldn’t it make sense to have 80% of your efforts focused on it? Either way, forcing the community to accept the notion that playing a beta game essentially means ragequitting every week over a new bug makes for an unsustainable player base over time, and at some point, the people on the fence about early-access gaming and development are going to shy away from it in favor of completed products, because it simply is a waste of time to put in so much effort for little return.

I do want to continue playing, and I know that makes me somewhat hypocritical given all of this, but it’s still a very open-ended and robust game with the potential to become the unholy combination of a number of popular games and conceptual designs. The motivation has always been from the start that this is a game that, once completed, will be the sum of all of its parts, working together towards greater things. Patience is just something I think myself, and many other gamers these days, simply don’t have because there is such a large array of content constantly barraging you on a daily basis. It’s not like when we waited months or years for choice cuts to appear on store shelves, Steam literally has a new thing worth playing twice a week. So for Starbound to succeed for me, it has to be something that constantly supersedes the flavor-of-the-week, every week. It’s about space though, and I love space-themed games. There aren’t enough of them in this sea of army-shootan-zombie-GHOSTDOGE-racing-CREED-type games.

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