Facepunch Studios founder Garry Newman has invited a portion of the Rust community to quit the game, arguing that his team is stuck in a "ping pong loop" of unhelpful feedback.
Newman's post, while confrontational, is admirably honest, and addresses some of the unique problems that Early Access games can face on the road to a full release. Rust, which launched on Steam around three years ago, has almost 4.8 million owners - per Steam Spy - despite essentially being unfinished.
"I'm noticing a pattern, and we need to address it," Newman said on Reddit, urging the community to recognise its "wider implications." He described the issue as a "ping pong loop," in which "we release an update, you love it for a month, you get bored, blame the system, bitch for a few months, then we release another update - and the same thing happens."
"I know this probably sounds pretty dismissive, but that's not how I want it to be. I'm trying to be pragmatic"
Some might instinctively respond to this as a developer reacting poorly to negative feedback, but Newman's concern relates to the nuances of Early Access in general, and Rust in particular. He suggests that, after three years of constant evolution, some of Rust's most dedicated players might be sticking by the game even though they've lost enthusiasm for the experience - or, to use Newman's description, they're "bored" and perhaps don't realise.
"My worry is that this is going to be a constant thing," he continued. "We're not going to hit a point where you go - yep - don't change anything - keep it like it is. Because it's not that one particular system is much better than the other, it's just that one is fresher than the other.
Newman's "suggestion" to those on Rust's sub-Reddit was, "if you're bored of the game then just stop playing it. But before you get angry about it consider whether we have given you enough entertainment over the last 3 years to justify pocketing your $20.
"I know this probably sounds pretty dismissive, but that's not how I want it to be. I'm trying to be pragmatic. If you're interested in the game, if you play regularly and still get enjoyment when you play - we're definitely interested to hear what you think. We especially love hearing your stories, watching your videos, seeing your screenshots and paintings - all things that this subreddit has been very low on.
"If we want to leave Early Access then breaking this loop has to be part of that plan. We have a pretty good idea on how to push forward with Rust, but none of it is going to make the game more appealing to people that have spent their last 1,000 hours hating it."
Facepunch has hit a few bumps in the road with its community in the past. In April this year, when Rust had a confirmed 3.5 million copies sold, it altered the game so that the gender and race of new player avatars were randomly assigned and permanent. While fully justified in terms of the game's design and the user experience, there was a significant backlash to the new system. Newman's column for The Guardian at the time is still worth reading, another example of a development team pushing constant change to a community that, in some instances, no longer feels like it's participating in a work-in-progress.