A flurry of news has come out of nowhere on Atari's upcoming RollerCoaster Tycoon World, which was delayed late last year after a lot of bad reports surfaced from its beta test—perhaps most notably from NerdCubed. The delay had pushed it to an unspecified time in 2016, but now we have some information on when you can expect to get your hands on it. Sadly, though, it's not going to be in finished form, instead it will be coming out in Early Access on March 30th.
However, that is by far the most normal thing about this upcoming release as the rest of this story around the release will just keep getting weirder. The first thing to get out of the way is that there is no final release date plan for RollerCoaster Tycoon World that has been announced, and they are intentionally leaving it as such. In their Early Access blurb on Steam it says:
“We will be in Early Access until we all feel the game is ready to be shared with the world as a finished product. Yes, there really is much more work we want to do. This isn’t about just bug fixing but also adding new functionalities that the game needs. As Early Access progresses our timeline for release will become clearer"
So there's no clear path at this time for release. However, for those of you who want to get away from the Early Access release, Atari is making a big step in making the refund available to everyone who ordered through their website through March 31st, so that you have a day to see how the Early Access is. On other retailers you'll have to work with them to get the refund facilitated, but their wording implies you will be able to.
Some of you are looking at the title and wondering, but I wanted to clear that out before we get to the weirdest part of this announcement: RollerCoaster Tycoon World will be available in physical retail shops. Yes, soon you may be seeing retail copies of RollerCoaster Tycoon World at your local friendly neighborhood game store while it is in Early Access. The retail version will be the same as the Steam version and will require updates throughout the Early Access period.
Some of these copies have been found by enterprising forum users, and from this we can see the case and ... well I'll present the images here and you tell me if you can spot the issue:
If you're thinking to yourself "how am I supposed to know this is early access" well you win! Yes, there's nothing on the front of the case at all that makes it clear. Instead you have the back of the box, which is German because there was a release mix up (more on that later) and basically states (according to a German friend of mine who translated it for me) that you agree to having a Steam account, the Steam user agreement, and that the game is still in development. Thus you have to look at the back of the box, bottom section in the non-bolded print to know that the game is in Early Access. Alternatively, you could look at the back of the manual in similar small print in an area that makes it look like it's only about Steam activation.
Early Access because of it's nature generally requires that it be clearly discussed so users know what they are getting into. It's why Steam, GOG, and others all have special ways of making it clear what a game still in development is and what is not. At the retail level, you're also away from those hardcore enthusiasts who would know about the words Early Access and into a far more general audience, yet instead of clearly explaining it or even labeling it, the only way to find out about it is to have already known or read the small print at the back of the box.
As for why it appeared on German shelves early, it appears there was a mixup with their regional distributor Ak Tronic, which is where the box images above come from. Essentially, for a period on March 24th the game was on sale there, and customers who bought it found the game was not working as it wasn't launched on Steam, and the game on the disc requires an authentication by Steam as well as an update. PCGames.de reported on this and got a statement from Ak Tronic confirming the error and that it was being taking off store shelves ... although the fact that they said the release date was March 31st hints there still may be some confusion between Atari and Ak Tronic. On the RollerCoaster Tycoon Forums, admin Nookriot released the following statement on the 23rd of March:
The game will soon be available on Steam and other digital retailers, and the box version will be available in certain countries. For those of you buying the game at retail, it will require an Steam update on Day One to give the latest and greatest version of the game – we cannot stress this enough. It appears a few retailers have already released for sale a box version of RCTW. Please note that to play this version you need to wait for the game to be available on Steam, so that you can activate your purchase and get the latest updates, because this version does not include improvements we have made to the game since creating the disc version.
The parks are opening very soon, and we can’t wait to share the game with you.
Atari has dealt with Early Access once before and one can only hope this experience goes better then their last or the German launch. Asteroids: Outpost was their last attempt, and it was abandoned only several months in, as presently the game has no official servers and no updates for over 8 months and somehow is still available for sale on Steam for $30 despite this.
As stated above, RollerCoaster Tycoon World will be entering Early Access on March 30th and will cost you about $50.
Okay, EARLY ACCESS IN STORE SHELVES? Really Atari? This is flipping insane, and the lack of notice for people to know about it is absurd. This is made worse by the fact that Atari's past history in Early Access is anything but flattering or reassuring. Customers at retail shelves don't always know about things like Early Access and the complete and utter lack of transparency on this comes across almost like an attempt to scam people out of money, where they'll have no real way to refund it. Instead, they'll be stuck with the product or at best able to resell it back to the store, which won't do much as the game requires the Steam key to function. Also I have to mention that beyond the Asteroids: Outpost debacle, Atari's developed games have been awful with Alone in the Dark: Illumination being one of last year's most panned titles by ... everyone, and their Haunted House remake being so bad that Steam actually pulled it off the store.
Also the whole Germany situation I'm just laughing at as I found this out, and it's representative of the company as a whole given that degree of a mess up. The statement by Nookriot revealed some knowledge of it, but it was still on sale the next day because ... reasons. Also, unrelated to this mostly but right now the forums url for Atari leads to the Alone in the Dark: Illiumination page, so if they released a statement there I can't get to it.
What do you think of Early Access hitting Retail Shelves? Do you think RollerCoaster Tycoon World will be better than recent Atari games or a continuation of the sad trend? Share your thoughts in the comments below!