Welcome to our weekly feature, “Question Of The Week.” As you can tell from that entirely original title each week we pose a question to our panel and they chime in with their opinions. No one sees one another’s responses until the story is posted, so each contributors thoughts are their own. Responses are posted in no particular order.
And remember, as with all editorials, the views expressed in this editorial are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Cliqist.com.
The question of the week for the week of 7/20/14 is :
What can be done to fix Steams Early Access program?
I’m not really sure how to fix it, outside of making Early Access titles free to a select few (and, effectively, making them betas). Nobody should have to pay to playtest a game for you–playtesting is an actual job people do for real money, and it’s one of the worst jobs out there. It’s great that you get to play a game early, but you’re playing an unfinished build. You’ll get to see updates as they arise, sure, but I have too many friends that ask me to buy a game to play with them only to find out that it’s an early access title. These games shouldn’t be treated as complete products IMO–they’re incomplete, and often buggy as hell. I understand that the money earned from Early Access titles can help fund the game–and that giving players early access at all can help with discovering and fixing bugs–but surely there’s a better way than charging full-price for it. It’s like if a director released their movie to theaters, charging full price, but it wasn’t a finished product and it was just so that they could help iron out the little issues and continuity errors.
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I’ve already tackled this topic in no less than 1,000 words, but that being said, the solution is simple enough to fit here. Developers just need to stop trying to “get away with things”. Selling a 5 minute demo for $20 is unethical – that’s it. No “if’s “ands or “buts. Sell your game for what it is currently worth, not what it might be worth some day. Back before there was such a thriving indie scene on PC, developers used to pay people to do the important work of beta testing the game, and now gamers have to pay for the privilege to do the same job. There’s nothing in it for the gamer..
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I don’t think there is too much Valve can really do to “fix” Early Access because in and of itself I find nothing wrong with the system. After all, many developers out there have and still offer up alpha and beta access to early purchasers of their games regardless of its existence. Of course, when not on Steam those audience are almost always incredibly small (Minecraft being the very rare exception).
If anything, Valve could provide a warning right before purchase that Early Access games are not complete and may not be finished for a long while (if ever). This warning is already present on the store pages but it would probably help to squelch impulse buying just a little bit.
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I see very little wrong with the current state of the Early Access Program. It’s made pretty clear that the games you buy through the program are not complete, and any PC gamers should know that they’re going to get some sketchy stuff sometimes. Early Access purchase decisions should be made on what the buyer hopes the game will become one day, not what they’re getting at that moment. If you happen across a game you’ve never heard of and are thinking of buying the Early Access, you should hold off; or at least do a ton of homework on the current state of the game.
Pricing of Early Access games is a tough call. Given the deep sales that happen on Steam on a regular basis, there’s going to be plenty of situations where the Early Access version ends up costing more than the final version. That’s what happens when you pre-order buy early. And you know; I’m ok with that. More developers should limit their Early Access customer base the way Uber did with Planetary Annihilation; by charging a ton for the privilege to play the game early. $90 in the case of Planetary Annihilation.
On a final note, I will say that I have one major issue with Early Access; or rather, how developers deal with it. On Cliqist we review Early Access games. The thought is that if a developer is charging for it, and anyone can buy it, then people deserve to know whether or not it’s worth their money. As a small site I’ve grown accustomed to some developers blowing us off when we request review copies; but I’ve noticed that it happens mostly with developers that have games available via Early Access. There’s a few games we’ve been trying to cover for several months, but can’t get the time of day from the developer. Although, they’re quick to send me emails promoting price drops or new features in their Early Access game. So, promote the game for you, but we’re not allowed to tell people if it’s worth it yet?
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