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.