Point/Counterpoint: Developers discuss putting Early Access games on the Steam Summer Sale

By Ozzie Mejia, Jun 25, 2014 1:00pm PDT

The Steam Summer Sale is nearly halfway over and a number of games have been discounted tremendously, from classic games to more recent releases. However, the list of discount titles have also included offerings from Steam Early Access and that has caused some discussion among game developers.

Some developers fall on the side that involving Early Access games in the Steam Summer Sale is a boon to their efforts. Their product may not yet be complete, but it would help push their game's development forward. Others feel that because the product is incomplete, it should not necessarily be treated like a finished game and that sales should come later. So Shacknews is taking a look at both sides of this discussion with the help of some noteworthy developers in the gaming community that currently have a horse in the Early Access race.

Point: More buyers means more eyeballs to offer feedback

This is the most common argument laid out by those in favor of placing Early Access games on the Steam Summer Sale and for good reason. Small developers that take their game onto Steam Early Access often do so because they simply don't have the resources to pay for additional staff to test the game.

More than that, though, developers enjoy having a group of like-minded gamers like themselves to help build their product into a final state. There's something truly satisfying about having a group of die-hard fans that are there from a game's very inception.

Richard Huenink, producer for 7 Days to Die, also points out that this same group of fans can have a real hand in a game's development by pitching gameplay ideas and adjustments.

"Early Access allows customers to play the game, give feedback, and share ideas at a stage where the developers can take the feedback and get it into the game," Huenink explained to Shacknews. "I'm not talking about just bug fixes. I'm talking about real gameplay ideas and systems. The participating forum fans are like having thousands of extra designers on the team and many of these fans are really sharp. It's good for everyone involved. I don't know how many overpriced $60 titles I've bought and played for maybe one hour and had no desire to play ever again. Many of our customers have logged hundreds of hours in [7 Days to Die], which is really exciting for an alpha stage game. This game wouldn't be where it is now and wouldn't be heading where it is heading without Early Access. The fans reward the games they want to see developed further and the Steam Summer Sale has been a big indicator that customers want to see this game go a lot further."

With that in mind, Huenink adds that not participating in the Steam Summer Sale would have represented a missed opportunity. With The Fun Pimps aiming to create the best zombie game on the market, they realize that such a tall task will require as many eyeballs as possible.

That's the same kind of feeling that Robert Holtzman, PR director for Kerbal Space Program, has about Early Access games in the Steam Summer Sale. There's something to be said about a devoted audience, but the extra challenge comes in trying to grow that audience into one that will see a game's development through to the end.

"Squad's owners, Adrian Goya and Ezequiel Ayarza, try their best to make fair business decisions and respect the community that has been so integral to the growth of Kerbal Space Program," Holtzman told Shacknews. "The Steam Summer Sale, as well as other discount programs, is one the most important ways to attract new players to our game and we more gamers to play KSP. Our players greatly benefit from the continued growth of our community. KSP might be a single-player game, but it supports collaboration and it’s clear KSP is something best enjoyed with others cheering you on. New players help the spirit of our game and community thrive, which is paramount to the overall KSP experience."

Counterpoint: Sales do not necessarily lead to a better product

For some, it's hard to justify offering Early Access games for promotions, because the products simply aren't finished. In fact, many developers go into Early Access without an idea of when (or even if) their products will see a final release. That's part of the reason that Dean "Rocket" Hall was stunned to see his game, DayZ, included in the Steam Summer Sale.

But more than that, when it comes to gauging interest in a game, there's a sense that offering discounts may not be the best direction to go. After all, if audiences truly care about a game, they'll throw as much money at it as possible anyway, without the added incentive of a discount. Games like Star Citizen have proven this with all of the money it has managed to raise over the course of a year.

Rami Ismail of Vlambeer (Luftrausers, Ridiculous Fishing) believes that Steam Early Access is a genuine way to gather feedback. When it comes to his current Early Access game, Nuclear Throne, he wants that feedback from fans that are genuinely interested in his creation. He's not looking for anyone looking to simply save a buck.

"We believe Nuclear Throne on Early Access is a way to get quality feedback from gamers that care about the game," Ismail told Shacknews. "It's a way to be more transparent about development and to show people what development is really like. Nuclear Throne is not a broken or unstable game - it's functional, tested and stable. People have been enjoying the game for a long time already, even though we're still months out from development. We want people that care enough about the game to not care about the discount. If people want a discount, they can simply wait until the game is done."

Ismail counters some of the earlier arguments presented by pointing out the very best qualities of early access, including the ability to run weekly live streams of his game's development to gather player input without any additional strings.

"For us, sales and Early Access have opposite goals: sales are a way to earn money, Early Access is a way to make a better game," Ismail added. "If you want quality feedback, you look for a small group of players that really cares. That's Early Access to us."

Garry Newman (Garry's Mod) takes a similar stance. The creator of Rust believes that people should find a game organically and choose to buy it out of their own genuine desire, not because it's there for cheap. Newman is finding the value in this as he watches Rust's community of devoted players grow by the day.

"We don't want to entice people to buy [Rust]," Newman told Shacknews. "We want people to discover it and make the decision to buy it themselves, knowing full well that the game is in development and we are changing a lot of stuff. This adds the most value to us. We want a community that embraces and cooperates with the development, rather than disappointed, constantly b*tching, black holes."

However, Newman doesn't completely shoot down the opposing side, either. He does believe that Early Access sale items could be a benefit to those building massive multiplayer experiences, noting that each individual case is different.

"Maybe I'm making a multiplayer game... and no-one's that interested so my servers aren't being tested very well," Newman explains. "It makes sense to drop the price for a few days to get a few more people in to test. It's totally a decision that should be made by the developers. If they're doing something stupid the community will call them out and their reputation will suffer."


Regardless of which side each of these developers fall on in this discussion, they each acknowledge and respect each other's stances and empathize with their rationales. The common factor in everyone's statements to Shacknews is that developers have the right to do with their game as they please and they should ultimately do what they feel is best for their creation and for their audience.

Where do you fall on the subject of Steam Early Access games as sale items on the Steam Summer Sale list? Let us know in the comments below.

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