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

There's been a debate about whether Steam Early Access games should be part of the Steam Summer Sale (or any sale, for that matter), so Shacknews reached out to developers for Rust, 7 Days to Die, Kerbal Space Program, and Nuclear Throne to get both sides of this debate.

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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.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty

  • reply
    June 25, 2014 1:00 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Point/Counterpoint: Developers discuss putting Early Access games on the Steam Summer Sale.

    There's been a debate about whether Steam Early Access games should be part of the Steam Summer Sale (or any sale, for that matter), so Shacknews reached out to developers for Rust, 7 Days to Die, Kerbal Space Program, and Nuclear Throne to get both sides of this debate.

    • reply
      June 25, 2014 1:02 PM

      Along those lines of unfinished games, they had StarWars Battlefront2 on deep discount. As of may 31st of this year, the multiplayer and server based portion of that game is no longer functional.

      How ethical is it to put a game on sale that no longer functions?

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        June 25, 2014 1:14 PM

        The game functions fine but will be without an online multiplayer component, which it says directly on the store page for that item. If someone feels like that deeply discounted game is worth the price, without the multiplayer, then how is it unethical? It would be unethical if they sold it with the multiplayer listed as a feature, but didn't include it, or didn't notify potential buyers.

        For that game and others that are too old for support or no longer have it, I still play with friends through evolve, hamachi, or other VPN type network setups and enjoy them just fine that way. The single player is fun on its own as well.

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      June 25, 2014 1:20 PM

      Early access should not be included in the summer sale. We should not treat the big sales events as kickstarters.

      • reply
        June 25, 2014 1:42 PM

        Among other things, I agree with the counter point.

        The point is a logical mess.

        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.

        But you won't just have die-hard fans giving you feedback. This feedback could actually make your game change for the worse. Just think about a bunch of business men in suites who only cares about the money telling you how to make your game better.

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          June 25, 2014 9:22 PM

          It's nothing like having suits glare over you, since you can actually comfortably ignore bad ideas from the community without too much ill effect. Disagree with the suits too often, however, and they may just cut off your entire line of funding.

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          June 25, 2014 11:12 PM

          Presumably it's up to the developers to groom the feedback.

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            June 26, 2014 4:39 AM

            But instead of grooming through the fan feedback, they're grooming through a considerable amount more of other feedback too, many of them "bitching, black holes."

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        June 25, 2014 9:05 PM

        I think valve shouldn't advertise the games or include them in the sale events. I don't really blame the developers for making a grab a cash, but I would think valve wouldn't want a reputation for selling a bunch of busted ass projects that never even get finished.

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      June 25, 2014 1:55 PM

      I don't really get why Early Access gets such a bad rep just because they're not "finished" games. They're available for a price, so let discounts happen if devs are willing to offer them. Plus, it's not a secret that they're incomplete and may be buggy, so the people who complain about it as a negative need to get over it as that's part of the published description.

      Honestly, a bunch of the Early Access games I've played have better quality, design, and gameplay than a *lot* of the "AAA" titles that get released as "complete" games for $60+ nowadays.

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        June 25, 2014 2:11 PM

        "Honestly, a bunch of the Early Access games I've played have better quality, design, and gameplay than a *lot* of the "AAA" titles that get released as "complete" games for $60+ nowadays."

        Really? And that would be which Early Access Games exactly?

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          June 25, 2014 3:21 PM

          Golf Club would be the main title that springs to mind.

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          June 25, 2014 8:49 PM

          A whole lot of folks here will also say some very good things about Kerbal Space Program and Rust.

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          June 26, 2014 12:56 AM

          I'm guessing you asked this "hands-on-hip" style as if I pulled this out of my ass so....:

          Kerbal Space Program
          Prison Architect (major amazing game)
          Planetary Annihilation
          Plague, Inc (made by a fellow Shacker, invited to CDC to do a talk because of his game)
          Project Zomboid
          Wasteland 2

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            June 26, 2014 1:32 AM

            Good to see Plague Inc. on the list ;)

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      June 25, 2014 2:24 PM

      I think it's hypocritical that some early access games have outrageous buy-in prices that are justified as keeping parity with their kickstarter but then go on sale anyway.

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        June 25, 2014 3:41 PM

        I'll bite.

        Planetary Annihilation alpha launched early June 2013 for $90. Beta launched late September 2013 for $60. All Kickstarter backers (including $15 tier) got the game Nov 2013 when we did a $40 sale. Base price dropped to $50 in March 2014 after a $30 sale. Today it's still $50 base and is part of the Steam summer sale at $25. We also had a two day promoted special at $17.

        The price started high and has gone down over time. It will continue to do that. The best deal at all times has been to be a Kickstarter backer. You could never get access sooner for less money than a Kickstarter backer.

        I think that's all incredibly reasonable.

    • reply
      June 25, 2014 2:27 PM

      "Others feel that because the product is incomplete, it should not necessarily be treated like a finished game and that sales should come later."

      Then don't them on early access.

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      June 25, 2014 3:07 PM

      I'm fine with Early Access, I just don't think they should be treated like finished products. They should not get included in the Best Seller list in Steam, much less be given equal standing in the Summer Sale.

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      June 25, 2014 6:47 PM

      Wow--what a great way for a developer of a sub par game to bilk, I mean, raise more money before release a turd everyone forgets about 20 minutes later!

    • reply
      June 25, 2014 7:12 PM

      Since VALVe stated that early access games don't have to finish, I don't agree with paying for them at all now unless everyone i know is like it's worth the x it is now. I'd rather have finished products on the big sales. I feel EAGs dev could just take all your money and walk away in the end. I think Valve should have a big disclaimer on every single EAGs store page. What it says now does not state it won't be finished, just that it's not now and don't buy it unless you want to play it in this state. But EAG's aren't even cheap many times, I kinda feel robbed. I think those Dev's should be held responsible to finish the game in whatever manner they state when they offer EAG, else don't do EAG and just finish the damn thing before offering it up for sale.

      Here is a compromise, make EAG's cheap. Like a few bucks, if you don't finish the game, then no huge deal, but to offer up the game it has to be x complete. Now upon official release you have to make up the difference or whatever that the devs feel you should pay to keep playing. Up to the devs, cause some may not charge you anything for the early support. I bought rust, and it was fun, but it def needs tweaking and i've just not seen it so I feel the game was worth less than it sales for. Seems like at 20 bucks a pop, they should be able to polish that game very well.

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      June 26, 2014 12:03 AM

      I don't have a strong opinion on this either way, but I'm really happy to see the Shack putting out articles like this. Topics that take a current industry issue and examine it from multiple sides with developer input are the kinds of things I'd love to read more of, and I don't see enough on other sites. Good one, Ozzie.

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      June 26, 2014 1:47 AM

      FYI - I thought about this quite a lot for Plague Inc: Evolved which is also in early access and went on sale. Originally, I was quite unsure about it but decided to take the jump in the end.

      My logic was that game is polished, bug free and with all core gameplay features complete - it's something that I am happy to sell, have players form opinions on and put my name on.

      My main worry was that existing players would feel upset by the fact that the game was on sale but this hasn't happened - I think because a) game has been out for a while, b) the sale amount is not that high c)people expect price drops during steam summer sale and don't judge games on it

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        June 26, 2014 7:54 AM

        This brings up some questions. When do say a game is complete and is "shippable?" Many shipped games will often get post shipped updates adding content or features. Where do you draw the line and say "it's done!"

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          June 26, 2014 1:40 PM

          Heh - exactly - I don't plan on saying "its done" for Plague Inc. for a long time - regardless of early access status.