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Steam's 'Early Access' puts your in-progress game in front of players
Steam's 'Early Access' puts your in-progress game in front of players
March 20, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

March 20, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Business/Marketing

One of the biggest trends to emerge in game development over the past year has been a move toward involving players in the design process. One need only look at the majority of successfully crowdfunded games to see how quickly this is catching on.

Steam creator Valve is stepping up to embrace this movement with its Early Access program, which allows developers to sell their work-in-progress games to players to, in theory, receive feedback and ultimately ship a better game.

The sell for players is that they get to be the first to play new games, they get to interact directly with developers, and they get to see a game progress toward its final state. The sell for developers, obviously, is that you can foster and grow your community by giving them playable builds, and you can tweak your game early and often based on feedback.

Those with games already approved for Steam, either through Greenlight or traditional means, are encouraged to contact their Steam release team if they'd like to get in on the program. More information is available here.

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Jimmy Albright
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As if QA guys didn't already have it hard enough! :P

Thomas Bark
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Agreed, after a day at QA I actually like to play some completed games for a change ;).

In addition my thoughts about those Alphas and Betas for the public are ambivalent.
On one hand it is nice to have an early peek on what the game is going to be and it might be an indicator for the devs as to how much interest there is in their game.

On the other hand I'd guess that those estimates are rather rough and in addition, after playing the minecraft Alpha for quiet some time, I actually did not have much interest in playing the completed product anymore.

James Yee
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Yeah now we can all PAY to be QA! :)

Seriously though ALPHA funding, not sure what I think about this.... I've requested an interview with the Kerbal Space Program guys about this since I noticed they made the Early Access list as well.

Maria Jayne
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I think the concept is sound, for me, If I was going to pre order a game anyway, may aswell get a beta/alpha test out of it too. The devs get feedback from an actual customer rather than someone who just wants a free game.

You probably shouldn't look at it as paying for alpha or beta, because you're paying for the game. If the game isn't included in the price you pay, I wouldn't even entertain the idea.

My only concern is most people won't comprehend what the word alpha/beta means, in the voluntary system you could just remove the noisy ones from the testing process, but when they are customers, that becomes harder to do.

Arseniy Shved
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Maybe I got it wrong but this concept has a problem from my point of view.

Maybe it's just me, but usually work in progress has so many shortcomings, which the developer knows of and knows how those problems (or just not yet ready parts) are going to be fixed, but an ousider does not. And there are 2 alternatives here:
either deliver work-in-progress "as is" at the moment - which would lead to an ultimate confusion
or spend lots of time polishing "alfa experience" - which is a) cheating b) time-consuming.

Do not get me wrong, someday I hope to publish something via Steam, and it definetely has lots of "pros", but there is either this "con".

On the other hand, many social games (at least in my part of the universe) are shipped like half-ready and are finished after this premature release, and they do just fine, thanks to the extremely fast and precise user feedback and weekly (if not daily) updates.

Arseniy Shved
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On the second thought, it could hugely benefit the press. Not long ago there was an article which adressed problems with prewiews (

Early Access might not solve the problem entirely (devs still will have control over which content to show, if any) but it can make the preview process more transparent.

Aaron Fowler
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Does the general public really see it as QA testing? Do you really want your first impressions for a majority of your customers to be a broken experience just hiding behind the term "alpha stage"? These are your actual customers that are testing your game. Which is all well and good, but there's also a tremendous risk. Impressions will be made, regardless of how many times you state, that it's in "alpha stage, and may not reflect the final quality of the game" and those impressions will ripple into the social media and persuade others to buy your game or not.

I really don't think the general public really understands or cares what early alpha release is all about. They just see it as a way to pay upfront for the ability to play your unfinished, broken game early. And then many of them complain because your game is not working the way it's supposed to, and they take those complaints and frustrations to other potential future customers.

The fact that you have to pay for early access just makes it more confusing and frustrating for those that really don't understand what this is all about.

I know there are some exceptions that this would work really well for, but these are the games that are never "really" finished, e.g. Minecraft.

These games also have quite a bit of polish to them compared to most alpha or beta games. That's fine, because it fits the model. You could try to make the argument that it could be done if you added some polish to your unfinished product as well. But at the end of the day, you're just wasting time and resources polishing a turd, that will repel some potential customers away because they don't understand what you are really trying to do.