Killing Floor 2 Early Access Turmoil Raises Important Questions

Tripwire Interactive has released a major update for its upcoming co-op FPS, Killing Floor 2, and the contents have some Early Access players crying foul.

Killing Floor 2 first entered Steam’s Early Access program in April of 2015, for what Tripwire described as a “polished beta” with a subset of the game’s full planned launch content. This, as the studio explains in the Early Access notes, would allow it to gather player feedback as it adds and balances the rest of the game’s content, piece by piece. Despite the time-intensive process, the game has so far received 83% positive feedback on Steam across over 26,000 reviews.

Though Tripwire is carefully not releasing a roadmap for the game’s development goals, it says on the game’s Steam store page that the launch targets include 10 Perks (think character classes with unique stats and abilities), and an influx of additional maps and weapons. Curious players have kept up with work in progress and release notes on Tripwire and Steam’s forums, and through routine What We Are Up To (WWAUT) community announcements.

It was through a February community announcement that players first learned a mission-essential gameplay developer left Tripwire sometime after the release of the seventh Perk, causing the team to “rework” their current production schedule. In March, Tripwire announced a new player-versus-player game mode and indicated that they did not anticipate a new Perk in the next release. PvP went live in last week’s update, though players still await three of the game’s anticipated 10 Perks, one of which (Sharpshooter) is an original Killing Floor class currently missing in the sequel.

“Where is Sharpshooter?” is becoming a rally cry among players, but this is not the first of their major concerns. In November, news broke of the implementation of a new crate-and-key microtransaction system effecting cosmetic elements of the game. While stylish real-money extras have been around since before the horse armor of yore, the community had strongly-worded questions about the impact of an active Early Access microtransaction system on the core game’s remaining development. Some customers complained that they were misled about how their money would be spent.

Representatives for Tripwire have responded to community grievances with a wealth of information, receiving mixed results. Community manager Jared Creasy (AKA “Yoshiro”) discussed the business model for the game and the studio in a forum post during the microtransaction backlash and the team’s development philosophy when the addition of PvP arrived ahead of several Perks. Some continue to question the studio’s decisions, but its communication practices have earned the respect of many players throughout the community.

So, how much should players expect to influence an Early Access game? In the case of Killing Floor 2, this appears to be a question both players and developers are struggling to answer.

“We see Early Access as an opportunity to involve you, the community and actually incorporate your feedback as we balance and put the finishing touches on the game,” says Tripwire in its Early Access release notes. “For us it’s all about getting your feedback (objective analytics and subjective feel) and letting it help us make smart decisions for what eventually becomes the FULL RELEASE.”

Yet, in the case of the PvP update, many players felt the new game mode’s announcement was an unwelcome surprise, and was widely opposed on the forums by those who felt it would take the unfinished game in a new direction completely. Yoshiro’s explanation of how the decision was beneficial to the studio’s design strategy did not appear to satisfy players who felt Tripwire had again (at least temporarily) abandoned the shortest path to the game’s release.

With a list of complaints and one or more unsatisfying responses, many of these players are unsure where to turn. Some have joined up with Steam Community groups, such as TWI – No Microtransactions to connect with other unhappy players in an attempt to organize efforts and present ideas to improve the game. In this group’s case, players have set forth a “message to TWI” including statements and requests they’d like the developers to consider, saying many of their number are longtime supporters and asking that Tripwire concentrate its efforts on finishing the core game content discussed in the Early Access release notes. For their trouble, some players state that they’ve been banned from other official Steam groups while defending unwelcome opinions. Tripwire maintains in all official communication that all feedback is read and evaluated, but otherwise makes few promises.

It’s worth noting that Tripwire has not broken any of Steam’s major Early Access tenets, other than perhaps being too specific on what the game would include at launch. It remains to be seen if the studio will bounce back from their staffing troubles and reach the game’s full launch on better terms with the community. Killing Floor 2’s Early Access run may provide useful data to the industry about how divergence from player expectations affects loyalty and sales both before and after the game’s final release.

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