As much as I frequently feel that I have little-to-no time to do much of anything these days, I still somehow find time to play computer games. Even if it’s just an hour snatched while having dinner, or late on Friday night, I do enjoy playing games. It’s nice to do something that’s not dayjob work or creative work for a little while, and keeps my brain fresh for the next bout of work!

One thing that I’ve been noticing recently on Steam is the proliferation of ‘Early Access’ games. For the uninitiated, this allows developers to put up for sale a version of a game that is not yet complete, with the promise of a finished product and the chance for players to get the game ahead of time and contribute feedback.

I have to say that the recent flood of ‘Early Acces’ games alarms me. Whatever happened to the notion of working on a product, refining it and polishing it as best you can before releasing it to your audience? It strikes me that Early Access games remove a lot of the drive to ensure quality from developers; Indeed, the overall effect of having such a plethora of games in the Early Access phase in a marketplace is that of a construction site, a rugged, uneven ground full of half-baked ideas. It results in the growth of a ‘beta culture’, where nothing is truly finished because there is no real PRESSURE to finish.

On the flip side, there is something to be said for getting players (and their money) involved as soon as possible: For switched-on, dedicated developers, it presents an opportunity to enhance their products based on actual comments from a very wide segment of their audience. It allows them to achieve a potentially higher level of quality assurance, by testing their software out in the field, actual real-world conditions. It allows them to pull in some cash early on, to help stretch what might be very limited resources, something that could be the difference between life-and-death for small, but talented startups.

I think, as with most things, it is about acceptable compromise: I would hate to see the opportunity offered by Early Access schemes gone, costing small developers the chance for better funding and feedback. However, they must have a product with legs, first; I don’t want to fund just any old garbace. It would certainly do well for Steam et al to do some stronger filtering before permitting developers to put up their products for Early Access. Additionally, I’m not massively keen on large, well-established companies muscling in on the Early Access segment; They should have sufficient resource themselves to pursue more traditional methods of quality assurance and funding.

To sum: Online marketplaces must be more discriminating about the products they wish to offer us at beta stage, but should definitely make the facility available to those who will make the most of it.

Good examples I can think of are Starbound and Kerbal Space Program. Go play them, they’re awesome!

Anyway, enjoy today’s page, and I’ll see you all on Friday! Toodlepip!