Is Steam’s Early Access a ticking time bomb?

The Advent of Early Access

Steam introduced the Early Access program on March 20th, 2013. The introduction was heralded as a new age for indie developers. Now we could sell our games directly to our customers, doing for distribution what Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the other crowd-funding platforms had done for seed investment.

But there was a problem.

Early Access games are purchased by the public, and how many members of the public have sufficient knowledge and experience to look at an Early Access developer in order to judge whether they’re capable of completing the game as promised? The answer is not many.

Recognising this, on November 17th, 2014, Steam updated its Early Access guidelines to encourage buyers to buy Early Access games for the gameplay available now, instead of the features promised by the developers. And it stated, amongst other things, that developers should not enter Early Access if they were relying on sales through Steam to fund completion of their game.

All well and good, but that was closing the stable door after the horse had well and truly bolted.

The First 50 Games

I decided to go through the first 50 games released on Steam Early Access, according to Steam Spy, and used an initial filter of games that have not been updated for 3 months to flag a game for further study.

I put together this very simple spreadsheet based on that trawl (NB Interstellar Marines was removed to avoid a conflict of interest as I worked on that project):

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10MV_P9DCvYP9NskscKdo5vXrRDDouySSZyqit9A8y7A/edit?usp=sharing

This sheet indicates the following:

  • 20 games (40%) have not had an update in the last 3 months
  • 9 games (18%) appear to be dead
  • 3 games (6%) are confirmed either dead or removed from Steam (Dead Linger, Victory: The Age Of Racing, Centration).

It’s interesting to note that 4 games (8%) have been “mega” successes (Space Engineers, Starbound, Rust, DayZ). There is probably a strong argument to add 7 Days To Die as a 5th member of that list.

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