Steam Could Learn A Thing Or Two From GOG's New Early Access Program

Steam Could Learn A Thing Or Two From GOG's New Early Access Program

DRM-free gaming service GOG is introducing its own take on Early Access. Thanks to things like strict curation, a version rollback feature and generous refunds, I'm super into it. I hope Valve is taking notes. The three pillars of GOG's Early Access program (functionally but not-so-creatively titled "Games In Development") sound like a brilliant way to cut down on exploitation of a system where people pay for games long before they're "finished". Here's how GOG explains them:

First and foremost: we're hand-picking only the games we can truly stand behind. Offering a selection of the most promising titles, and those most highly requested on the Community Wishlist, is our way of avoiding bloat and ensuring that every game will be worth your time.

It takes some confidence to discover games that are still being shaped -- and to build that trust, every game in development comes with a simple refund policy: 14 days, no questions asked. It doesn't matter if you're having technical issues, if you don't think the game is sufficiently fleshed out, or if it simply doesn't click with you -- all games in development can be returned for any reason within 14 days of purchase.

The GOG Galaxy client should also come in handy for games in development. It lets you control updates manually if you want, while the rollback feature allows you to easily restore any earlier version of your game if an update breaks something or makes unwanted changes. For games in development, rollback will also track and create historical snapshots throughout a game's development. That means you can always revisit any point in a game's history -- for fun, or for science.

Good job, GOG. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it certainly results in a supplementary service with some damn well-considered features.

I really do wish Valve would implement some of this stuff with Steam Early Access. As it stands, the system's standards are far too lax, allowing for projects that either a) start out terrible and end up terrible or b) never really go anywhere. It's a crapshoot. Steam's own refund system has recently massaged away some of the pain, but it doesn't clear up general store clutter or keep shady games from worming their way into people's lives.

The version rollback idea, meanwhile, is just great on so many levels. Don't like a new feature or balance change? Screw it. Play an older version while the developers fix it. I'm not sure how that will work with multiplayer games, but still. The idea of being able to revisit pivotal moments in a game's development history also appeals to me in that way where I think, "Whoa, I think that should be a thing in every video game, even though I'll probably almost never use it."

This is all great. I hope Valve tweaks Steam Early Access to be similar sooner rather than later. The rollback thing I could actually see happening. The curation stuff, not so much. In the meantime, this is a nice reminder that I should really use GOG more often.


    So instead of variety, you want homogenization?

      What on earth are you on about? They want more in the terms of protection for the customer, how is that a bad thing? While it's true early access comes with a level of risk, there's also the fact that many early access games on Steam have been outright cons. This leaves people with a little safety net at least. Two weeks is at least a safe enough 'demo period', to ascertain whether the game is good enough to persist with or not.

      Shit, this would've been fantastic during the time period I had "The Stomping Land"... god knows I sunk 58 minutes into that 'bad boy' before never playing it again...

        I don't think anyone is arguing in favour of the early access games that are outright fraud. But there are many cases where a developer with good intentions hasn't been able to deliver. Either their expectations were unrealistic, or their development budget depended on getting more Early Access purchases than actually occurred.

        It isn't clear that GoG is necessarily going to be better at picking winners than anyone else, unless they act incredibly conservatively and only offer games that could probably get funding through traditional channels.

        If anything, the no questions asked 14 day refund policy might have a bigger effect. It'd make it harder for developers to rest on their laurels, and maybe force them into making more regular releases.

    I'd be far more inclined to use Galaxy if it had unmetered content for Australian ISPs. Anything before that just won't hold my interest.

    The hand-picking thing is what Steam used to do, it only really works when the platform isn't very big. When you get to the point you have a few thousand games at any given time clamouring for platform access, the time investment in checking them all individually is prohibitive.

    Version rollback would be a useful feature. Some games on Steam already provide this by including the previous version in the betas section, but having it as a platform feature would be nice. The down side for Steam (due to its size) is storing the files for every previous version of every game on the platform would take up crazy amounts of storage.

      True, and people were bitching that Greenlight was too slow and opaque. Valve have never really known what to do with it nor have they been great at managing Early Access. Compounding this is the fact that the Steam community is atrocious, and because of the ridiculous attitudes prevalent in the community any sort of user input is immediately tainted. GoG have a good policy and the benefit of a blank slate. Valve tested the waters infested with sharks.

      That said Valve could learn a thing or two before it devolves into a trashware platform much like the App Store was.

      Steam actually already does this.
      Every version of a game that is uploaded to steam by the developers is kept, and can at any time be made 'live' with the push of a single button.

      Added support for selecting the version in the Steam Client would not be hard for steam, but it would need to be an 'opt-in' feature for developers to support.

        They don't. Previous depot data isn't kept, just the record that it existed and its hash. The actual data is discarded past a certain point. Developers that have wanted to use that feature (eg KSP) have had to use the beta program and a separate depot.

          That's what the developer needs to do to make multiple versions available simultaneously. It's quite possible that the developer can easily switch which version is published through each of those channels as Yuuki described though.

          You'd expect Valve to be storing multiple versions of apps anyway, in order to generate incremental updates. They probably don't keep everything back to the beginning of time, but it probably makes sense to keep more than one version around.

            They don't keep old file data past a certain point. I don't have the Steam docs on me, last time I looked at them was for a previous job. Last I was aware, Steam doesn't use diffs when the devs want to push an update, it pushes the complete replacement file. Some games manage that by pushing an updater that does the binary diff itself client-side.

        Rollback is for clients though, so if you don't like what a patch has done, you can revert to an earlier version, ie go from 1.5 to 1.4.

        If Steam does have that functionality already, I'd love to know!

        Steam dose not, and probably never will, let you roll back updates any time you want. Witch is what GOG is offering.

      It's estimated that Valve make a little over $700M every year. They could afford to hire enough people to filter the submissions if they wanted to. Who knows what goes on internally, though.

        You'd think they could also afford to man a customer support line, but apparently that's not the case.

    I'm liking GOG more every day - I try to always use GOG instead of Steam if a game is on both (and price is roughly the same). Also, GOG is one of the few that actually uses $A so you know exactly how much games will cost.

    Boo! I hate unfinished garbage on digital shop fronts. I've bought a few early access games on steam that ended up being garbage which is never finished. Really soured my opinion on the early access thing.

    It's nice GOG have a two week guarantee, but beyond that, they can't ensure these games are ever finished.

    I also think early access removes incentive for developers to actually finish the games, because they've already been paid!

    If development gets too hard, and they don't project selling many more copies than they've sold already, then there is no reason for them not to abandon development.

      Agreed, it does remove some of the incentive. Personally I think the refund period should be all the way up until an actual release date is announced. You want early access money and going to take forever to finish the game? Well then you run the risk of having to give some of that money back.

    Rollback idea... so good. I wish spacebase had that. :(

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