What does Early Access mean? It seems like this is a question that concerns both community and developers alike. A post by the DayZ developers shows the lack of understanding. We want to clarify the meaning of “Early Access” today.
Where the conflict arises: Why the meaning behind Early Access remains hidden to many is due to the different interpretations of the developer studios that use it. Some would like to simply use the program to collect more feedback for their project. Others use it as a basis for their financing and then usually blame a development stop on the lack of funds due to a lack of sales.
DayZ as a Prime Example: Misunderstanding of EA program
Notorious: DayZ developer Bohemia Interactive is a popular example of alleged abuse of the EA program. The team seems to have at least its very own definition of what this aid program stands for. When we reported about the Geo-Beta of Mini DayZ 2 a few weeks ago, we noticed one of the original text that Bohemia shared:
“Although there are some similarities for early access on the PC, the main purpose of GEO-BETA is not to fund the project (…)”
Well, that the main purpose of the program is not to create funding anyway, is mentioned by Steam owner ValvE itself. After all, who, if not the owner of the program, could better describe why the program even exists and what it should be used for.
On the one hand, it is supposed to maintain the diversity in the game industry, because Steam Greenlight and Early Access allow even inexperienced studios to develop a great game. The community eventually helps too.
What Early Access Means: Steam Early Access makes it possible to sell a game on Steam while it is still in development and to demonstrate to customers that a product should be considered “unfinished”.
Early Access means a place for games with a playable alpha or beta version that reflects the current value of the playable build, as well as for games that will evolve to eventually be released.
Publishing a game in Early Access helps set a framework for potential customers and let them know about the developer’s plans and goals prior to full release.
What Early Access doesn’t mean: Early Access isn’t by any means a source of crowdfunding the development of a product. Early Access should not be used to fund development.
If a certain number of copies are planned to be sold in order to complete the game, Steam advises that you consider beforehand what it would mean for the developer and the team if fewer copies will be sold.
Is the team ready to continue developing the game even without sales? Is it ready to look for alternative investment measures? If the answer is no, then the program should not be used. You can check yourself here!
This is the Reality of Early Access
What developers use it for: Too often we see projects whose Steam page basically only serves to elicit a purchase from customers. Those games are mostly asset flips. Other developers are hoping for full funding from the program solely based on their “cool and unique idea”.
One of many examples is the survival game “Lifeless”. Shortly after the following post, the indie developer didn’t release a single update. It wasn’t removed from Steam until just under a year later.
Steam needs to improve the funding measures
This is what ValvE has to do: Steam has to introduce a barrier so that the Early Access program can no longer be misused or misinterpreted. Employees must check every game that has been submitted.
Developers’ financial resources, as intimate as it may be, should also be presented. A bank does not allow a loan without collateral. Steam should only allow the project when the financing issue has been clearly clarified.
What the developers should do: An appeal to all creatives who plan to distribute their game on Steam. Publish an inexpensive — or even free — first version of your game. This collects your feedback and improves the game.
Nobody forbids the teams to use the money raised for further development. However, the promised features must also be included in the finished product without additional services. Early Access, and especially the players, are not your sponsor, but your portal to an outstanding gaming experience!