Why Steam’s Early Access Model is Great…And Also Terrible
Steam Early Access has been a thing for quite a while now.. Valve wanted to promote indie game development, and the Early Access model provides a way for independent developers to create the games they want without starving in the process. It also allows consumers to support the games they want developed in a real way. Great, right? Yes and no. It turns out there are a few unfortunate side effects to the process, which we’ll talk about here.
The Good: ALL the indie games!
We’ve seen an explosion of indie games on Steam since the advent of the Early Access model. There are literally thousands of games which were made by single people or small teams, and most of those games run a third to half the cost of a big production game.
This is awesome, because it allows for a much more diverse marketplace. In addition, indie developers are willing to explore games that big production companies just wouldn’t touch. It also allows for a lot more simple, lighthearted games which don’t need the big studio treatment to be entertaining.
Because of these upsides, we’re seeing a lot of young people who might not have otherwise got into game development giving it a shot. Not every game is successful, but it’s great to see them taking an interest in what is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
The Bad: Unfinished games…unfinished games everywhere
One of the unfortunate eventualities of a marketplace where anyone can get paid to make a game is the discovery that not all developers are created equally. We’ve already seen a lot of games that were way too big in scope, and ultimately fell far short of what was promised. These games are either released in a half-finished capacity, or just abandoned altogether.
This makes it hard to want to buy an Early Access game. On one hand, you’re putting your money where your mouth is – you’re showing that you support the development of the game and you’re willing to pay for it to be made. On the other hand, you’re taking the gamble that the developer(s) of the game might not behave in the most professional manner, or might just outright pump-and-dump the game.
The Good: Be a part of the game development process
One cool thing about playing an alpha- or beta-stage game is that you can have a very active role in the progress of the game. Games like Space Engineers and 7 Days To Die are excellent examples of how much fun Early Access can be. Both of those games have very active development teams (Space Engineers has released a new patch every Thursday since the onset of the project), and have shown that they absolutely care what their respective communities think.
The Early Access model allows developers to hear from their players and incorporate suggested features, fix bugs, or overhaul entire systems long before the game reaches a stage where problems become massive. If you want to be an active part of your game’s progress, Early Access makes that possible.
The Bad: No one cares by release date
One unfortunate but inevitable side effect of Early Access is that for many games, the appeal of the game (or new car smell) wears off by the time the game finally reaches release. For instance, the above-mentioned Space Engineers has been in development for going on 2 years. Many players paid their $10 – $15 for the game, played 20 – 30 hours, and have since put the game back on the shelf.
In this way, game developers might be losing out on a substantial portion of their potential crowd. Much of the rationale for purchasing a new game is the awe you experience when the game is brand-new. It’s going to be hard to justify buying a game (for full retail price, no less), when it’s already been available on the Steam marketplace for years.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I have personally bought Early Access games and put them down after only a few hours of in-game time, only to come back to them when they’re finished or in a much more finished state. The problem is that for the vast majority of Early Access games, they never reach a stage of completion where they become interesting again.
So Early Access is an interesting model with pros and cons that matter varying from person to person. If you want to support indie developers and be an active part of the game creation process, Early Access is perfect for you. If you are just looking for polished, finished games which run perfectly, you should probably avoid Early Access games.
What do you think? What’s your experience with Early Access? Let us know in the comments.