Early Access programs allow consumers to purchase games that are still in development and play them before they are officially released – in other words, they are unfinished products. Because of that, they may have playability issues (including the potential loss of save progress), may change without notice, may have their content ratings change after purchase, and may or may not be updated further or even completed. The goal of Early Access programs, however, is to assist developers by providing feedback and other data to help them finish their product.
What should I look out for?
There are a number of things to consider before purchasing a game in Early Access.
First, you should purchase Early Access games only if you are comfortable playing a game in its current state of development. Browse screenshots and watch videos and livestreams to see what the game looks like and how it plays in its current state. If you aren’t excited about it, hold off until at least the next update.
Second, look at how frequently the game is being updated and whether there is a developer roadmap. Monitor recent update announcements from the developer (whether on a store page, Twitter, etc.) and get a sense of how active the developer is. Also consider the substance of the updates – are they valuable and interesting?
Third, read professional and user reviews over time. Keep in mind that Early Access games are (or they should be) in active development, so reviews may not reflect the current status of the experience. Comparing earlier-in-time reviews with current reviews may give you a sense of how development is progressing, and whether the developer is being responsive to player feedback over-time.
Is Early Access the same as pre-purchasing?
No. When you purchase an Early Access game, you typically get immediate access to a playable game in a pre-purchase release state of development, and as it evolves. If the game receives an official release, you’ll still have access to it.
When do Early Access games get released?
Ultimately, it’s up to the developer to determine when an Early Access game is ready to move to full release. Some developers have a roadmap and a concrete deadline in mind, while others approach the process fluidly and wait until they get a better sense of player feedback as development progresses. You should be aware, however, that even some experienced teams are unable to “finish” their game. As we said earlier, only buy an Early Access game if you are excited about playing it in its current state, and only its current state.
How does VSG handle Early Access games?
VSG does not grant Early Access games special privileges, or shield them from criticism (or praise) due to the “Early Access” designation. If a game is available for purchase via a game store, VSG considers that game to have been released to the public, and will issue aggregate review scores and recommendations if the game has reached the threshold for doing so (and VSG deems it appropriate). However, VSG prefers to cover “full releases”, and rarely covers games under Early Access unless a game has garnered sufficient attention to warrant such coverage (e.g., Valheim in 2021). In those cases, VSG will attach an Early Access disclaimer to the Game Hub.