Steam Early Access Is Making Games Better

Early Access on Steam gives us the opportunity to buy games before they're even finished, but more importantly they allow us to take an intimate look into how games are created.

Before Steam began selling games as Early Access, Notch set the standard by selling Minecraft in early alpha, to a huge success. Now this idea of selling games before they're complete has blossomed into it's own and more and more developers are using it to their advantage.

Buying something that's a work in progress may be risky business, but in my video above I discuss why it's a good thing and how it opens us all up to the creative, evolving process of making video games.

Music: Jahzzar.

Wish to tweet words at me? I can be found here @laserfrog.


    Ah, Leo. I love how depressed he sounds, all the time.

    I was surprised though, I was expecting this to be a cynical take on how Early Access often means selling an unfinished game at (or near) full price.

    I find it interesting that this comes from the same man who was digging into Kickstarter's crowd sourced games a week ago. Earlier I was reflecting on how playing half translated Pokemon Gold/Silver ROMs was a big factor in me losing interest in the series (the wait to get them from Japan was obviously another factor). I consumed the half finished games early and as a result had no appetite when the full thing arrived.
    I can't help but feel like this does something of a mix between Kickstarter and playing an unsatisfying build. Taking it back to the sandwich analogy he used in the other video this is paying for the vague idea of a sandwich on the basis that they'll send out some bread right away. They've got the bread and it's real, so tuck in, just remember that if the sandwich ever comes you might not feel like eating it if you've already filled up on bread.
    You'll have had your meal and it was ok, but it sure would have been nice to have had room for that great sandwich instead of filling up on a loaf of bread.

    I'm not against early access, although there are times like Neverwinter Online where it's just an excuse to open the cash shop early on a game that won't be saved by the extra year in the oven it requires for an official release, it just seems so oddly contradictory to his views on Kickstarter.

    Transparency and involvement in the process is also a little bit of a curse. You get used to the idea before it's in the game. 'There's going to be horses', but what you think of horses isn't what the developers thought of horses. Instead of Zelda's Epona like you were imagining you get World of Warcraft's horse shaped skateboards. If you'd just waited til you saw them in a trailer or played the game for the first time it's not so bad, but the way the developer journals were sounding you really thought they were going to do something special.
    You also get the tweaks and instability. The frustration. Your character goes down the drain. Two years later you're saying 'fix this bug, it's been there since alpha!'. You know it's an early build but that doesn't mean you weren't playing the game. You're not a tester, even in 'open testing' you're playing the game to enjoy yourself.

    Last edited 16/10/13 7:27 pm

      You could do what I do with a lot of early access games - put the money down, but don't download or play it until it's close to ready for launch. I do it because I don't have enough time to try all the games I pick up out for sometimes months at a time, but it still helps the developer by giving them money now rather than later, and increases the chances of the game seeing itself through to launch.

        Yeah. I'm not putting all the blame on developers or the system. Self control and the experience to know you'll enjoy it more if you wait for the real thing is a big part of it. I'm more just wondering what made him come down differently on this than he did on Kickstarter.

    Ive thought about this and I feel the opposite. Im really not liking the early access model thats flooding Steam.
    Personally, I like to buy and play a completed game, but more and more now developers want players to buy into a game thats, what, 80% finished? 60%? 50%? 40%? Still very early Alpha?

    Ive bought into a few early access games and have been turned off by how shallow they are because they are no where near complete.
    Players are encouraged to buy into games a year before their actual release, two years, three years.
    Really, things are edging towards expecting players to buy into continuously developing products which never hit an official release, just continuously 'early access'. By the time a game is in a 'full, release worthy state' its already been available for a year or two (in a broken, un finished state) and the appeal has completely worn off.
    Those who were initially excited for it already bought into it, got bored with playing a half finished bug filled game and moved on.
    Those who didnt buy into it sat back and waited and waited, then ended up passing on the game because its now old.

    Its not about "buying into early access" or "previews" its about developers wanting more funding to continue making their games. . . which is a tricky scenario.
    On one hand its helping small time indi developers continue their work (which is great!)
    But on the other hand its encouraging developers to release half arsed broken products. Will larger companies start to follow this model?

    Imagine the future. . .
    Free to play, pay to win, micro-transaction, early access, alpha preview releases.
    How much of a limited bullshit product will people buy into?

    Is there any incentive for developers to actually finish the product?
    "Meh, 'X' amount have people have bought the game. Its only 70% complete. We have made our money. Stop development."

    Example: I bought into Cube World. Looked cute and fun. But after playing for a couple of nights I realised how shallow it is because its early access. It just wasnt fun. There wasnt much of a game in there.

    Prison Architect I really want to play. Looks like a great 'Theme Hospital' kind of game. But $30 for Alpha access? pass! And how long has that game been in early access? Will it ever get 'released'?

      But on the other hand its encouraging developers to release half arsed broken products.

      It's important to realise that's not just something evil developers do. Game designers are known for aiming higher than they can hit. It's not just the guys sitting down and thinking 'lets fleece some idiot gamers'. Peter Molyneux is famous for it but there are plenty of games that hit the shelves as 10% of what the developers set out to make, and often the developers are more disappointed by it than the players.

      I totally agree! Why should you pay to play an unfinished game? The simple answer is impatience, which I suppose it is justifiable as people want more entertainment, and they want it more quickly. I understand titles need funding, but if you can’t attain the capital through the various avenues available, then perhaps the game should not be made.

      Your Cubeworld example is a perfect one. My mate bought it; played it for a few days, but then was unable to play it anymore, as there is nothing left to do. I played it too, and found it to be promising, but pointless to continue playing. There are no quests or tasks besides the generic ‘kill that boss over there’. It's nice to help fund art, it's also nice to be able to try a game, but a demo seems to be the correct path.

      Cubeworld, State of Decay (PC), 7 Days to Die, are all promising titles, which in time will be amazing. But just not yet...

    Totally agree with DogMan, not taking a stab at Leo in particular though but the Steam fanbois in general that keep saying how awesome Early Access is yet deriding Kickstarter. Or when they claim that if Steam ever goes down Gabe's not going to be like the evil EA or Microsoft and will take DRM off all the games, since he really cares about the fans unlike them... whut? Valve is a business too, don't let anyone think otherwise.

    But back to Early Access - yeah I'm not totally sold on the idea either. It feels like a somewhat more closed and less transparent process to Kickstarter. It's basically a really early pre-order where you get to be the alpha and beta testers.

      Early access is better for consumers than Kickstarter because it's not just vague promises and concept art; there has to be a functional build. You won't be waiting 1-2 years for super-grand-master backer-level early alpha access. It turns up on the shop, you can start tooling around (if a buggy feature-incomplete experience is really your thing).

      Maybe you're a discerning backer who only Kickstarts projects which are basically early access candidates anyway, so to YOU there's no difference... but that is NOT the case for a significant amount of projects up there. I'd say the majority, in fact. Your potential to get scammed on Kickstarter is much, much higher than with Early Access.

      Additionally, if the game doesn't ship, you actually have some consumer rights because did actually purchase the product and not instead donate your support with a highly-conditional 'get a copy of the product IF it gets made' that Kickstarter allows for.

    if you want to see how its done right check out Star Citizen and the Wingman Hangars and the tons of content they put out about its awesome development

    I think it's shit. Don't try to sell me an unfinished product via a regular retail channel (steam).

      I don't mind it existing, but I get really annoyed when I see videos for something that looks pretty damn cool then go to click on the thing's store page and see that it's in Early Access. BOO. I don't want incomplete games turning up on the 'Recently Released' tab of Steam.

    Theres a sense of joy almost in seeing a great game grow. We bought Minecraft for 5 bucks and got 4 copies. 20 bucks well spent. Each patch brought something interesting. Occasionally big patches would bring 'expansions' or so it seems. Ive seen this with dayz since it started and now my son and I are happily gleeful about Kerbals new patch introducing a campaign. 7 days to die has been played a bit here. Illegally at first but then we put dowb the money for it within ten minutes we loved it thay much. So yeah Im all for it. I love the transparency.

    Of the half dozen or so "early access" games I've bought on Steam the only one that wasn't immediately disappointing was Prison Architect. Certainly the game was incomplete once started but also "the community" (at least the community the devs were listening to) seemed to have markedly different ideas about the direction for the game than my own preferences. In particular, multiplayer seems to be weighted heavily, presumably because it's the more socially inclined people who tend to comment on the forums.

    Then there are the games like Godus, where the forums are overflowing with people complaining about what an unplayable clickfest it is, and the developer response is to adjust the tones used when clicking on huts to release mana. (To be fair, they also made the terrain shaping a bit easier, but mana collection remains irritatingly manual.)

    Then again there are games like The WarZ (which thankfully I haven't bought) where the devs seem to be focusing on making as much money as possible from an alpha-quality product without particularly working to ensure that a playable game drops out at the end.

    Altogether I think Early Access is a good idea, but needs to be policed by Valve to weed out the ripoffs.

    This whole early access thing is a load of marketing crap -- a way for developers to milk the cash cow before she's ready for market.

    I don't want to play an unfinished game "to see the process of its development" any more than I want a half-built microwave in my kitchen to learn how it's built.

    There's a name for what this early access nonsense is: beta testing. Stop trying to call it anything else while slapping a $15 price tag on it...

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