Nearly three years after Valve rolled out Steam's Early Access program, competitor Gog.com is launching its own curated storefront dedicated to selling "games in development."
That means Early Access game developers can now potentially drum up additional sales through Gog, though the company is making a show of carefully selecting which "games in development" may be sold as such in order to assure potential customers they won't be shortchanged.
Thus, the program's launch lineup includes just five games, all of which are already for sale via Steam Early Access -- Ashes of the Singularity, Starbound, Project Zomboid, TerraTech and Curious Expeditions.
Furthermore, Gog is promising anyone who buys a "game in development" a 14-day, no-questions-asked refund policy and the option to (if they download the game through the company's Gog Galaxy client) manually opt out of game updates or roll back to an earlier update at will.
It's a far more cautious step into the waters of Early Access than Valve's initial splash (though Steam Refunds did launch last summer and seem to have worked out well for developers) and understandably so, in light of how difficult it can be to be a responsible Early Access developer.
To get a better sense of why the company decided to join the likes of Sony and Microsoft in finally following in Valve's footsteps, Gamasutra conducted the following brief back-and-forth via email with a Gog managing director Piotr Karwowsk.
How does GOG select which developers can take advantage of this option? If a developer wants to have their game considered for sale on GOG as a "game in development," what should they do?
We've always been about offering a selection of noteworthy, carefully evaluated games. In short, we're about quality over quantity. That approach is also at the very core of our take on games in development.
With games in development we have no way of judging the final product. That makes things a bit more difficult and a bit more risky — and that's why our goal is to minimize the long-term dangers by choosing the projects we think are most likely to succeed. We look at many factors when making the final call, things like the development roadmap, what the game offers to players in its current state, the developer's track record or experience where applicable and so on. We're also going to be looking at our community wishlist to pick out the games that are being requested by our most dedicated audience.
Right now, we're taking all game submissions, in development and otherwise, through our submissions page.
Why roll this feature out now, and why should developers take the time to update their work across a second platform alongside Steam Early Access?
From a customer's perspective competition is always a good thing, and as far as many developers are concerned, the old saying about keeping all eggs in one basket is just as relevant as ever.
But both arguments aside, this is the way for devs to reach a much broader audience. This doesn't just mean the GOG.com community, but also gamers who have been skeptical or wary of the entire model. Our approach, particularly with the no-questions-asked-refunds, is meant to let gamers comfortably explore new games in development and go from asking "why?" to a simple: "why not?"
Naturally, we're going to be observing the whole process very carefully, and we'll be looking for ways to make the model even better for developers and gamers alike.
Why now? Because we believe in taking our time if it means doing things right. We've had the chance to observe the market and the gaming community, to think about how we'd like to handle early access the GOG way — a way that doesn't compromise our customer-friendly philosophy — and it's only now that we feel ready to actually get it right.
Is it possible for developers to limit use of the rollback feature, if for example they feel that a prior version of their game is badly broken or inoperable?
Rollback is something of a power-user feature, so we've been taking a hands-off approach with it since day one. We won't be specifically removing any builds, but we're open to working with developers on a case-by-case basis in extreme situations — like when a major bug starts wreaking all kinds of havoc with player saves, or worse.