"I don’t want to see any regulation of Early Access—there will always be thieves and shysters who try to defraud the system, but at the start of the project these are pretty much indistinguishable from a brand new game dev who wants to take a punt on his first project."
- Introversion Software cofounder Mark Morris, in conversation with PC Gamer.
It's a new year, so let's take a fresh look at an old question: How could Steam's Early Access platform be improved?
Devs can find some food for thought in this PC Gamer feature published this week, as it includes opinions on the topic from game devs around the industry about where Early Access should go -- and how devs should use it responsibly.
The feature takes as its jumping-off point the recent launch of EarlyNinja, a nascent platform that aims to inject itself into the Early Access game dev process and parcel out payments of a game's Early Access funding to its developers when certain milestones are reached.
While some devs tell PC Gamer they'd be okay with seeing a similar sort of milestone verification system put in place for Early Access, most agree that the system doesn't need a third-party watchdog -- if anything, it needs more ways for devs to quickly communicate with fans.
"To be honest, I'm not totally against some of the things EarlyNinja was talking about," Facepunch Studios (Rust, pictured) founder Garry Newman told PC Gamer. "Having a roadmap and milestones aren't bad things, but they can't be hard coded and linked to payments. Plans are guesses, the developer still needs the opportunity to pivot if they think it's the wrong direction. It would just be nice if Steam had some of this stuff built in, so from a player's point of view they can see where the game's at, where it's going, developer track record—but in a generic way on every Early Access title."
Moreover, many of the devs consulted say that Early Access will be best improved by everyone -- devs, players, members of the media, and influencers -- being more critical about evaluating games on the platform.
"There is a feedback loop in Early Access, and I'd argue in preorders as well, where there are tangible benefits to a developer selling the possibilities of the project rather than an achievable vision," Rocketwerkz founder Dean Hall (DayZ) told PC Gamer. "Therefore we end up in a cycle of hype, release, disappointment. The community (media, consumers, and influencers) has to pick up the role publishers took in critically reviewing the achievability of Early Access projects, or we keep rewarding projects that make bold claims."
For more thoughts on the topic from Morris, Hall, Newman, and many others, check out the full article over on PC Gamer's website.