The Merits and Flaws of Early Access

I’m a huge fan of a few early access titles - RimWorld, Oxygen Not Included. I sunk hundreds of hours into these when they were mid-development and very different by their 1.0 version. I think the model works super well for games like this - from a smallish developer with a mostly playable game that needs mechanics tinkering and polish.

There are other early access games I felt silly for buying - Starsector, The Long Dark, Planetary Annihilation, to name a few. I bounced of these in EA, despite really wanting to like them. Sometimes feeling obligated to try a bit more to hope I would finally “get it.”

I have a hard time discerning why some games fall in the first list but not the second. Mechanics-based fun is one positive sign. A negative: I will not do EA for games that are, or eventually will be, mostly story driven - pretty sure that’s why I never got into the Long Dark during its EA, I should have just waited for 1.0 (when I did play it - it was fine but some of the early charm had worn off from the betas).

More simply - it’s hard to know when a game is going to be good, sometimes even after the first dozen hours of play. EA suffers from the same uncertainty, but with the extra complication that the game may change significantly for the worse, or disappointing, during its development.

In general I avoid EA now, instead adding such games to my Steam Wishlist for 1.0 - or more likely discounts a year later.

Oxygen Not Included might be a case where Early Access might have been better than the full release. This is just me speculating though. I tried the full game, and couldn’t even get through the tutorial level because I didn’t know what they wanted me to do. Very disappointing from the studio that did Don’t Starve, which was so intuitive and explained so well from the first moment you wake up.

Re-read my own postmortem (which is always interesting!) and was glad to see that my weekly update idea is pretty close to what we do now with Old World. (We do run it through QA, but we are approaching release at this point.)

One possibility is to run a build automatically every Monday morning, which is then uploaded to Steam without testing. This build would be sent to a branch similar to next_version (although this time, the branch would be public and not password protected), which our more dedicated players would try out right away. If there are any problems during the week, we can manually update that branch. By the following Monday, if next_version was stable, we would promote it to the main branch for general consumption.




June 1 release confirmed!!! :) ;)

I still view early access as one of the greatest Barnum and Baily swindles of all time. How game developers conned people into doing what once was a horrible, long hours, low paying job is quite a feat, the fact that they got people to actually pay to do that is just a /boggle.

Devil’s in the details and it depends on how its done. I’ve had some really good Early Access experiences where it’s not QA work at all, it’s being entertained playing a game and providing feedback on game systems (Old World). Have seen some barely functional prototypes as well, those ones are EA at its worst, IMO.

Good or bad experience it is fascinating it’s free labor.

I can understand why folks might not want to bite at a title in Early Access just yet, which is totally fair - let others test the game and jump in after 1.0 and some word of mouth/reviews, totally get that. What I can’t figure out is the gamers that don’t like the concept of Early Access. As far as I’ve experienced, games that have had an early access period are (usually) launched in very good shape. Imagine if Cyberpunk 2077 had a year of early access, the game that might have come out of that instead of what we got?

Of course, like anything, it’s not always a good thing - there is something to be said for developers ignoring the vocal minority and making a change that ends up hurting the experience, but that’s (with the games I’ve been following) been the exception, rather than the rule.

I think a lot of people have been turned off by the marketing and funding versions of Early Access.

The good-faith development/design versions of Early Access are what you’re describing, which is not always what we get.

But is that something inherent to the early access process or the games you’re selecting to play? Because I don’t think you can make the case the games that have gone through the early access process are more likely to be “in very good shape”. Early access is a tool available to developers like any other, and whether they use it well is the deciding factor.


That’s an impossible question to answer without time travel. Knowing if a game would have been better off being in Early Access for a year or two vs. not being in EA whatsoever, how it would have changed the launch state of the game. All I can tell you is that just thinking off the cuff, I remember following and playing several games in Early Access (Don’t Starve was first, but also Slay the Spire, Trials of Fire, Pathfinder: Kingmaker/Wrath of the Righteous, and others) that I’m very confident were improved by the process of live and constant updates from players running into bugs and mechanics issues that were then smoothed out after launch. Compare the first few chapters of Pathfinder in terms of polish and stability vs. all the chapters at launch that were not in Early Access for example - it’s night and day. Same with the acts in Wasteland 2 that were not part of the EA build - you could see it like a line defining night and day, the point where beta testers were not allowed to tread/provide feedback.

I of course can’t possibly know for sure, but I’m confident many games, when handled correctly (some Early Access is a cash grab for sure, as @inactive_user said, it’s really about good-faith development vs. developers that either don’t know what they are doing or developers that are just trying to get what they can before shuttering the project - we’ve seen that before, iirc), really benefit from the open access/open beta time they are given.

My overall point, however, is simply that while I can totally understand someone not wanting to participate/purchase a game in Early Access - that makes sense to me, but also there are a dozen games on my Steam wishlist that are in EA and I’m waiting for 1.0 to bite - what I don’t understand is the idea that a game should never be in Early Access and that it should have just waited until it was done to release. Put another way, if a developer wants to put their stuff out in EA first before calling it “complete” I’m okay with it, that makes sense to me even, as the process of making video games is very iterative, and getting lots of feedback (when the developer is savvy enough to know when to ignore the trolls and those folks just plain wrong), just makes for a better launch title for everyone else.

To clarify further, I’m not calling anyone out for this, not in this thread anyway, it’s just a sentiment I’ve seen expressed to my bemusement, and I guess I felt compelled to say something finally. /shrug

I have very mixed feelings about it. Even ‘good faith’ early access is morally dubious. You (the developer) are essentially outsourcing work (testing, balancing feedback) to people who don’t get paid for it - who in fact do the opposite and ‘pay for the privilege’. Even good faith development can fail, and leave players out of pocket for unfinished dross. Some are offering discounted prices for early-access purchasers, which may be the fairest option we’re likely to see here - but I’d personally still like to see more consumer protections for people that essentially get ripped off.

At the end of the day, though, I guess it’s just a label - Cyberpunk still sits in my ‘Early Access’ steam category, maybe the full release will yet be good…

Nothing about Early Access is different in this regard than normal releases ;)

I’ve spent plenty of dollars on “completed” games that turned out to be unfinished turds, and just like buying a game in Early Access that ends up fizzling as a project, really it’s on me - I’m the consumer, and I should have done my due diligence. Which is what Adam said so much more succinctly than me while I was phrasing this, haha.

You’re right, to an extent, but I think there’s a reticence in the gaming press (and just gaming communities generally) surrounding reviewing EA titles which perhaps deprives people of an informed purchasing decision.

There’s always going to be crap coming out regardless, that much is true, but I can’t help but feel EA just has a stink about it - raking in the benefits of a full priced release with none of the associated scrutiny. Unlike a full release, it operates a lot on the hope that what has been released so far will be improved - but there are no actual guarantees.

On topic tho, I’m a sucker for sandworms and bought this anyway. I said my feelings were mixed alright?!

Oh, there absolutely is! That’s because it’s been abused. @Scotch_Lufkin asserted in another post that he felt early access makes games better, and while I have no idea if that’s true, it’s an easily abused tool that I feel has made the industry itself worse, regardless of its effect on individual games. All very subjective, of course. Like any other tool, it just depends how it’s used.

I’m not aware of anyone here saying that, so I’m not sure why you’re making that point. But I think everyone here understands how early access can be useful to some developers. Even those of us who steadfastly avoid early access games.

But, yes, it would be weird for someone to be opposed to the concept of early access. We’ve had it as long as we’ve had software. It’s called beta testing and it’s pretty important.


Yeah, this is basically my take. It’s a great tool when used properly - see any of the many enthusiastic missives from e.g. Soren Johnson on the topic. But consumer confidence has been absolutely (and rightly!) wrecked by misguided and/or shady companies abusing the tool.

Valve, of course, doesn’t see a problem they can easily programmatically solve here, so has let the situation get wildly out of hand. But hey, it’s better than Greenlight, so…win?

I think the difference between beta testing and Early Access is that beta testers get paid or at least aren’t paying.

And Early Access introduces the issue that the developer now needs to figure out who to listen to, which appears to be a problem at least as challenging as designing a game in the first place, considering how few developers use Early Access well.

From the consumer’s side, I don’t think Early Access is a problem that needs to be solved. The “problem” is also known as A Fool And His Money Are Soon Parted, which is eternal.

I feel a mild twinge of frustration when a developer touts a “release” I’m interested in which turns out to be Early Access, but somehow… I shall endure.