While early access has become a key tool for independently-developed titles, it’s rare to see the strategy from a major publisher, beyond the usual late beta tests.
Anno 1800, however, the Ubisoft title from developer Blue Byte announced yesterday at gamescom, will enter early access well over a year before release in order to fully engage the community in its development.
Ubisoft isn’t charging consumers to get their hands on early builds, either. Instead, it will providing free playable builds over the next 12 months that players can feed back on.
The announcement of Anno 1800 comes alongside that of Anno Union, a new community-facing website that will provide a centre point for the community. By launching assets through the site and having developer discussions there as well, the developers hope to concentrate feedback in a single location so they can better relate with it. The idea for greater community engagement came from the process of releasing DLC for previous title, Anno 2205. There, the team found that community feedback on the feature set of the game was vociferous and, in many cases, divided. With Anno 1800, it wanted to gauge opinion far further out this time around.
The new title is the seventh in a series spanning back over nearly 20 years of development. The latest title is based in 1800, and so has themes including the industrial revolution, imperialism and colonialism. A tricky period to negotiate, then, as a ruler.
Nils Ehlert, international product manager at Blue Byte, told MCV@gamescom that they’re aiming to “get our fans into the game early, give them the chance to play the game early, and give them the chance to actually change something.
“Otherwise, the game launches a few months after announcement, and maybe some balancing stuff can change but nothing major.”