Early Access: Steam’s Horror Story


Like many oth­er en­deav­ors cre­at­ed to by­pass the ne­ces­si­ty of pub­lish­ers to get odd or niche games made for a cus­tomer base will­ing to spend the mon­ey on them, Steam’s Early Access pro­gram has shown it­self to be a rather dis­con­cert­ing mess.

Either ex­clu­sive­ly or in part due to the lack of over­sight Valve has de­cid­ed to use with their ‘hands off’ ap­proach to the han­dling their plat­form and the games re­leased on it. A whop­ping 75% — 80% of all the games cur­rent­ly in Early Access seem­ing­ly won’t ever see a fin­ished release.

In fact, many of the games cur­rent­ly in Early Access serve lit­tle more pur­pose than to be a quick cash grab for some two-bit hack of a de­vel­op­er who nev­er in­tends on fin­ish­ing their fuck­ing game. Something some­thing Digital Homicide.

Basically, the se­ries of events play out as like this: You place a barely-functioning game into Early Access, promis­ing all these nifty fea­tures and con­stant up­dates, and peo­ple (be­ing the suck­ers that they tend to be, and I think we’ve all been one at this point to Valve) buy into it “hook, line, and sinker” only for the “de­vel­op­er” to run off with the mon­ey and give peo­ple a par­tial­ly fin­ished prod­uct in return.

via eedar.com

The worst part about that par­tic­u­lar part of the Early Access pro­gram this is that it is tech­ni­cal­ly le­gal, at least in some coun­tries. At least Kickstarter hand waves away the risks with their in­vest­ment in dreams schtick. Valve’s hands off ap­proach, and weak re­fund pol­i­cy, leaves con­sumers with their prover­bial dick in their hand when it comes to re­funds on a game you may not re­al­ize will be in­com­plete still when you bought it two years ago.

Here in the US, there is a very strong em­pha­sis on “Caveat Emptor” or “Let the buy­er be­ware” — es­pe­cial­ly when it comes to dig­i­tal sales of video games and movies. With the lack of any war­ran­ty or guar­an­tee in video games, Valve has in­ad­ver­tent­ly, or per­haps in­ten­tion­al­ly, cre­at­ed a ecosys­tem that al­lows for their cus­tomer base to be swin­dled out of their hard earned mon­ey (not that they have a big rea­son to care, see­ing as Valve gets a 30% cut of all sales made on the Steam platform).

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if every game to pop into Early Access is des­tined to be un­fin­ished or shit­ty. In fact, some in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful and pop­u­lar games, such as ARMA 3, Don’t Starve, Kerbal Space Program, Prison Architect, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Ziggurat, Verdun, Xenonauts, and Starbound all got their start in Steam’s Early Access Program. 

However, with there be­ing only about 50 games to suc­cess­ful­ly come out of Early Access since the pro­gram start­ed back in 2013, some not ex­act­ly re­leas­ing to rave re­views (Double Fine’s Space Base DF‑9 comes to mind), and the sim­ple fact that there are dozens of games still in Early Access, many of which that do not reg­u­lar­ly up­date, I think you can imag­ine why I tend to shy away from ti­tles try­ing to be re­leased in that fashion.

via eedar.com

And all I’ve said so far still ig­nores an­oth­er fun­da­men­tal flaw of the Early Access pro­gram. 

How ex­act­ly do you make a game in Early Access profitable?

The rea­son I ask this ques­tion is be­cause most of the funds any de­vel­op­er re­ceives while a game is in Early Access is meant to be used for de­vel­op­ment pur­pos­es, and while I might not know the most about the nit­ty grit­ty of how game de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies are ran, I can as­sume that if you use most the rev­enue earned from a game to de­vel­op said game, you re­al­ly aren’t left with much afterwards.

I un­der­stand that some peo­ple will hold off un­til a game is out of Early Access to buy it, but if you look at a game like ARK: Survival Evolved, which has (at least at the time of writ­ing) sold near­ly 4 mil­lion copies, I can­not imag­ine too many more copies of the game are go­ing to be sold once it has been ful­ly re­leased. And with a ma­jor­i­ty (if not the en­tire­ty) of the funds earned from the game hav­ing gone di­rect­ly to de­vel­op­ment of the game (or fund­ing their law­suit set­tle­ment), the folks at Studio Wildcard aren’t ex­act­ly go­ing to have the great­est amount of rev­enue to ex­pand their of­fices, hire new peo­ple, or get things start­ed for a new project once ARK is finished.

The sin­gle great­est is­sue with Early Access from the side of de­vel­op­ers seems to be that if you get one game made in Early Access, un­less the game be­comes a smash hit af­ter it comes out of Early Access, you’re go­ing to be stuck mak­ing your next game in ear­ly ac­cess as well, since that might be the only way to ac­tu­al­ly get the fund­ing you need. But again, that’s if the game you put into Early Access the first time ac­tu­al­ly gets fin­ished at all, and the chances of that are sta­tis­ti­cal­ly low.

Early Access (with the ex­cep­tion of a few great games from skilled de­vel­op­ers) is bad for con­sumers, bad for de­vel­op­ers, and bad for the in­dus­try at large be­cause of the bull­shit prac­tices it has in­tro­duced to an in­dus­try al­ready flood­ed with enough of those as it is.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.

Furious Mulatto

The un­for­tu­nate re­sult of in­ter­ra­cial breed­ing and co­pi­ous amounts of men­tal ill­ness. When he can be calmed from his hal­frican rages, The Furious Mulatto is still an ob­nox­ious cunt that makes you wish late term abor­tions were legal.

Latest posts by Furious Mulatto (see all)

Scroll to top