Steam’s New Early Access Program is a Tough Sell


Yesterday, Valve launched the Early Access program on Steam, whereby players can purchase games that are still in their developmental stages, long before they are officially released.  The idea is that, by purchasing these alpha builds, players can gain early access to games they find interesting, while contributing both feedback and early financing to the development teams.  It is actually a great idea, and it is the natural evolution of the Kickstarter culture in an environment where digital distribution is becoming the standard.  As Kickstarter has shown, people are already willing to fund intriguing projects with absolutely no immediate returns, other than the promise of things to come and their hearts growing three sizes that day.  Buggy and broken as these early builds may be, at least the early access to these games gives patrons some instant reward, in addition to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

When I found out about it yesterday, I set out to buy one of these games so I could share my impressions of the experience with our readers (that’s you!).  I figured that this would be as simple as picking the most promising title and clicking the purchase button, but that plan hit a little snag.  Just like Kickstarter, players must base their purchase decisions solely upon the trailers provided for these games.  However, unlike Kickstarter trailers, which display the possibilities of potential titles as they exists in some hypothetical, utopian, futurescape; Steam’s Early Access trailers have to show off games as they exist now.  As I mentioned, these are alpha builds, so the way they exist now is rough.  After watching the trailers, all of which naturally featured horribly broken and unfinished games, I just couldn’t picture myself downloading and trying out any of them.  It felt more like downloading a homework assignment than downloading a game.  Just as I tend to avoid chores, I avoided participating in this program, so my impressions will have to wait until a future game strikes my fancy.

Honestly, I feel bad for the people tasked with cutting these trailers together.  Trailers, by definition, are designed to reel people in and elicit a purchase, so they have to try to sell the positive aspects of the game.  However, with these alpha trailers, the positive aspects are often not present yet, so trying to hype up the features comes off as comedic, whether or not that was the intention.  Developers do not often use current footage to make commercial trailers for an alpha builds, and I imagine that this is the reason.  I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the text, which was in direct contrast with the action on screen.  Gnomoria’s trailer suggested an epic battle by displaying the phrase “Defend,” but that phrase was juxtaposed with a clip of several sprites dry humping each other until they disappeared.  Many of the other trailers shared a similar brand of accidental humor, as the on-screen assertions were invalidated by the actual footage from the games.

I am not saying that these games do not have promise.  I am simply saying that selling them might necessitate a different kind of trailer than that to which we are accustomed.  If I purchase any of these games, it will most likely be Prison Architect, because its trailer actually acknowledged the absurdity and controlled it.  Rather than celebrating some future grandeur whilst plastering it over a backdrop of present mediocrity, they kept it honest, which was both funny and charming.  I have included the trailer at the end of this article.  Here is my favorite quote:

“You’ll also enjoy exclusive access to game breaking bugs such as, prisoners remain in the cantina eating their lunch despite the fact that the room is on fire; prisoners take their lunch to the shower blocks, get undressed, and eat naked; loaded a save game… every prisoner now has an electric drill.”
-Introversion Software

If you are going to buy one of these games, you have to take it for what it is, and the trailers would probably be better served by openly acknowledging that.  As more games are added, I am sure something will catch my eye that I find suitable for an investment.  For now, it seems like more effort than it is worth.  Did any of the initial 12 games spark your interest?


Thomas Shamburger
Thomas is one of the original creators of "What's Jump?" As a lifelong gamer, writer, and comedian, his goal is to provide readers with humorous, entertaining, and thought-provoking perspectives on current gaming news and culture. His early career successes in the business world helped to pave the way for the site's launch in 2012. As the Editor in Chief of "What's Jump?" he combines his passions for gaming, writing, entrepreneurship, and comedy.
Thomas Shamburger
Thomas Shamburger

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