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How do you judge an Early Access game? It’s not finished, it’s probably buggy, almost certainly lacking content, and yet the devs want you to pay for the privilege of playing their incomplete masterpiece. Should you trust them?

That’s what the new Developer Review series is here to help with – which Early Access developers should you trust when they ask for your money?

Developer Reviews look at the studio behind the game. How are their community relations? Are they honest when describing the game they want you to buy? How long will it take to complete, and what will it be like when it gets there? These and many other factors will be looked at to arrive at a simple:

Positive – signs are good this developer can be trusted
Negative – think twice about handing your cash over, things might not work out

In its Early Access FAQ for purchasers, Valve advises:

When you buy an Early Access game, you should consider what the game is like to play right now.

Which is a great metric to use. If you buy the game now, and you get enough value out of it to justify what you paid, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s finished or not.

But our devious human brains don’t work like that, do they…?

As soon as we see a list of upcoming features for a game, we include those in the price we’re paying. So even if we’re buying a game for $4, which we enjoy playing for 50 hours, we’re not going to be satisfied until all those extra features are developed and added. Because that’s what we’re paying for, right?

And the only way of knowing if those features will be added, are if the studio – the devs – are capable of delivering what they’ve promised, and have the money to survive long enough to have the time to deliver what they’ve promised.

So really, reviews of Early Access games are only half the story. The other half, which is hardly ever touched on, is to review the developers of Early Access games. They are the deciding factor for whether those promised features will be added and a game completed.

Having worked for an Early Access developer for almost 3 years, and seen first-hand what happens when a studio runs out of money, I’ve a little bit of experience in gauging how well a developer is doing. So the new series is about studying studios and devs, looking at their development plans and funding positions, and providing feedback on how likely they are to complete their game.

The aim of the series is to find the good developers. Those studios who are, often quietly and steadily, building their game within their means and delivering the promises they’ve made to their players. It’s about giving the good guys a chance to shine through and be recognised.

The first review in the series is for CAT Interstellar, and will be released tomorrow.

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