Before I start, I should probably preamble that I’m not talking about Zomboid here. We’ll probably never do DLC for Zomboid, but i use the word “probably” because it’s not inconceivable that way after we’ve released a 1.0 build, done a few patches and what-not, that we might do some sort of off-shoot extra entirely unrelated to our plans for the game. Probably not though, I just wouldn’t want to rule anything out. But probably not. Almost certainly not, actually. Maybe 99.9% certain that we wouldn’t. But never say never, just probably not ever. Have I made my point yet?
Anyway. Should Early Access games have DLC? I’m not talking about ‘games which were once Early Access but are now finished’ because these aren’t Early Access games anymore. No, I mean games which are still in Early Access.
I think it’s a bit of a grey area, really – and while I’m inclined to scream “God, no!”, really it comes down to the slightly squidgy nature of Early Access games and their various funding models:
- Alpha-Funded – sales in Early Access fund the game’s development in an extremely direct way.
- Kickstarter – Initial Kickstarter funds development, E.A. sales basically profit
- Traditionally Funded – Developer / Publisher funds game, E.A. sales recoup investment earlier
This is extremely broad categorisation done for the sake of simplicity. Basically, I think you’re in iffy territory with DLC in the first category and half of the second. For example, with a Kickstarter project DLC may have been one of your backer rewards which would then make delivering that reward by a given date a fair priority. So doing the DLC before the game is out of Early Access makes some kind of sense. For alpha-funded Early Access games, though, I think it ought to be pretty much a flat, “no”. Your customers are buying your game, in part, to help fund its development – not to help fund some DLC they might not want or care about.
For the traditionally funded games, well, if the publisher wants to spend money developing DLC it’s kind of their call – especially given that the DLC team might be an entirely separate set of people to the main game team, and therefore funded separately. In other words, DLC development has not impacted on the main game’s development in the slightest.
The trouble is, of course, that all these varying funding methods are invisible on Steam. Unless you do a fair amount of hunting, it’s not possible to distinguish between an Early Access game funded directly from sales, and those which were once Kickstarter or publisher-backed projects which had a juicy cash injection pre-Steam.
So while DLC for Early Access games does kind of smell a bit whiffy, it’s really difficult to make a statement on how reasonable or shockingly awful spending development time on DLC while you’re in Early Access actually is.