Recently, I have had the unfortunate experience of buying one of the most popular Early Access games available on Valve’s Steam platform, RUST. I, like many others, put down US$20 in order to alpha-test this new survival game, which is loosely based on DayZ. The inherent issues with Early Access games such as this is that they implement only the bare essentials, and they're asking you to pay in order to play what could be considered, at its best, unfinished/unpolished gameplay, and at its worse, a pointless waste of time.
To date, I have sunk 38 hours of my life attempting to make some progress, any progress, playing this game online with other people. Most of that time was spent collecting sparsely generated resources in an incredibly large environment, while trying in vain to avoid being killed by other overpowered players during that process. I wasn't alone either, I worked with my loving partner, who I convinced to buy the game in order to properly try it out.
The problem with RUST lies in the core concept of the game: it rewards those who are already geared up and leaves new players grinding for hours on end in out of the way areas with little to no available resources, only to eventually be ripped off by the more powerful players. In short, the game has incredibly bad balance, and this doesn't seem to be a major concern for either the developers or those who currently play the game.
Time after time, we tried to collect resources in order to reach the level that the others players were already at. Nine times out of ten we would run into another player who is fully loaded within the first few minutes of a new spawn, where they would instantly kill us for no reason; well before we could even build a rudimentary stone hatchet. On the rare occasions where we managed to evade detection and stay alive for a few hours, we would manage to build a base, only to be killed and looted before any real progress was made. Any attempts to object to the situation would be shrugged off by loaded players with “Welcome to RUST”, or even more obscenely, “Suck shit, that’s how the game is played”.
What’s going on here is more problematic than you may think. The game rewards players in a better position, and even encourages them to go around griefing new players, mainly because there is absolutely nothing left to do once you reach that “all-powerful” point. The players get so bored, they go looking for trouble in order to justify their position and the money that they have spent on a game with no goals left to pursue. The ones who pay for this design flaw are new players, which is completely contrary to proper game development.
Nobody wants to spend six hours grinding for resources, just to be killed and required to start from scratch again. As I said, I've wasted 38 hours already and still haven't managed to get past building a base. You may just think I am upset that I never managed to get anywhere, and that may be true, but I am myself an open source game developer, and if the games I made behaved in this manner, people would complain and probably stop playing entirely.
The biggest reason for RUST’s success is the “brand name” the developers brings to it, Garry Newman and Facepunch studios. This game is not popular because it is good, per se; it is popular for the sake of being popular, and it brings with it an entirely undesirable player base, all of whom get kicks from hacking, griefing, lording over the weak, and causing all manner of trouble. In time, this will limit the number of players who are actually playing the game to the elitist few; sales are not an accurate representation of how good a game really is.
It is insane that a game this broken continues to receive rave reviews and massive amounts of attention, but I have my doubts that this will change in the future, because the players that do continue to play are the ones who get the most out of the current structure of the game. Everyone else simply stops playing, effectively throwing those twenty dollars in the trash.
If I could get a refund at this point, I probably would. Instead, I may just end up building my own, balanced version of this emerging game genre, and I will do so under a free and open source license. You shouldn't expect people to pay for something that isn't even finished (or good), as they have no measure of the actual value that product has, or will have.
In summary, don't buy RUST unless you like being constantly frustrated and picked on, or you are willing to suck the penis of whatever admin is currently running the server you are playing on.