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Devs never have to finish their Steam Early Access games, Valve warns

Jonathan Lester
Alpha Funding, Early Access, PC games, Steam

Devs never have to finish their Steam Early Access games, Valve warns

With so many gamers getting Early Access confused with pre-orders, Valve has amended the Steam Early Access FAQ to explain that developers aren't legally obliged to every finish their games and many never will.

VentureBeat spotted the change in wording earlier today, which originally read, "it's up to the developer to determine when they are ready to 'release'. Some developers have a concrete deadline in mind, while others will get a better sense as the development of the game progresses."

However, there's now a caveat in that "you should be aware that some teams will be unable to 'finish' their game. So you should only buy an Early Access game if you are excited about playing it in its current state."

It's likely that the recent controversy surrounding Towns lit a fire under Valve, as the tiny team abandoned the popular project while promising a sequel.

"The changes to the FAQ are intended to help set customer expectations of what may or may not happen over the course of development of an Early Access game. We frequently iterate on Steam features as we gather feedback and find areas for improvement," Valve's Doug Lombardi explained to GI.biz. "In this case, it became apparent that further clarification would help customers evaluate their potential purchase of Early Access titles. We think of Steam, Early Access, and game development as services that grow and evolve best with the involvement of customers and the community."

Early Access (or alpha funding, technically) is all the rage these days after Minecraft proved the model worked - but there's a lot to consider whether you're a gamer or developer thinking about whether to use the business model. It's all explained in our comprehensive Early Access 101 article -- don't spend what you can't afford to lose.

In completely unrelated news, our game night this week is Interstellar Marines. Yes. Completely unrelated news.

Add a comment10 comments
chieftex  Jun. 5, 2014 at 11:13

This is acceptable, if it is made CRYSTAL CLEAR that is the case when you buy.

JonLester  Jun. 5, 2014 at 11:21

Exactly - the point of Early Access is that it's a fascinating gamble that lets you support development and get closer to the development process, yet nothing is guaranteed. Valve could probably still do more to hammer the point home, though.

Doors  Jun. 5, 2014 at 13:44

Does this also mean that a dev can release early access and charge for it whilst it is developed, leave it unfinished and then essentially release a "sequel" at full price that is a slightly improved version?

JonLester  Jun. 5, 2014 at 13:50

@Doors: Yes.

Sadly that's exactly what it means (see also: Towns and StarDrive), but that's a risk that is always present in alpha-funded games. It's always imperative to exercise caution and common sense when approaching Early Access titles and remember that you're paying for access to the development cycle, not the promise of a completed game. It's very different from a pre-order.

Last edited by JonLester, Jun. 5, 2014 at 13:59
Doors  Jun. 5, 2014 at 14:12

That's sad.

Rbourne  Jun. 5, 2014 at 14:24

There's two sides to this Early access coin change IMO:

There's the side which will push players into either taking this advice and pay only if the want play the game there and then (prison architect), otherwise only invest in developers who have a track record of finishing their game. It's going to make it increasingly hard for a new developer to get their foot in the early access funding door.

Then there's the other side, which I am hoping will happen (but more than likely won't...) - People will realise that hype does not equal game commitment or quality. Whilst Aliens: Colonial Marines takes the top award for this category, it also applies to Early Access games. It's very easy to make promises of aspects in the game to get the hype (and therefore the purchases/funding), but not deliver - and sadly as with Towns, instead use that funding for other purposes (or just disappear)

Overall though, the underlying messages should be "If this goes wrong, don't come crying to us. Afterall, it was your decision".

JonLester  Jun. 5, 2014 at 14:28

You're bang on, Rbourne. The more people understand what Early Access actually means, the better. I reckon it will eventually normalise as the misconceptions clear up, much as crowd-funding did after the initial "ooh look it's a shop that lets me buy all the games I always wanted" myth wore off.

Last edited by JonLester, Jun. 5, 2014 at 14:29
Doors  Jun. 5, 2014 at 14:34

The problem I find is that the description of the early access games focuses on what the devs want the game to become rather than the current state of the project (ie the actual product you are paying for). This for me is a very fine line to mis-selling

JonLester  Jun. 5, 2014 at 16:22

@Doors: Yeah, I agree - it can be a problem but fixing it is really tricky.

In a perfect world Valve would offer impartial descriptions for Early Access content alongside the developer's own blurb, but they're not impartial, since they want to sell the content as much as the developers do. Steam is a shop at the end of the day. More to the point, they're trying to give devs as much control over their storefronts as possible.

Player feedback is currently the main arbiter of Early Access games, but even then, unscupulous studios can just make criticism go away. Plus people have to pay to deliver that feedback in the first place.

Yet, even then, we're talking about a minority here. Most developers earnestly want to create great games and are passionate about delivering on their promises - some absolutely will, some won't, some can't and a scant few have no intention of doing so.

Bleh. There's a whole series of articles in here, even without bringing the total lack of quality control into the equation. Hopefully it's teething trouble, since there's no denying that plenty of great games are already emerging.

Doors  Jun. 5, 2014 at 16:51

Yes as you say this early access malarkey is still in it's infancy and gamers, in particular pc gamers, are pretty switched on so hopefully any less scrupulous devs will get found out and won't be around for long.

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