When Valve first launched Steam’s Early Access program in March 2013, the idea was for developers to sell “unfinished” games to players early so that those players could experience a raw beta as the game worked through development and was on its way to a ‘full release’. In practice, the vast majority of games participating in the Early Access system have yet to reach that full release finish line.
In an analysis published on GamesIndustry International, Patrick Walker of game research firm EEDAR points out that only 25 percent of the 334 Early Access games posted to Steam through October 2014 were released as full games after that. That statistic can be a bit misleading, as it includes many games that have only launched as Early Access in recent months. Even when you look at games that have been available through Early Access for a year or more, according to Walker’s numbers, more than half have yet to make the jump to a full release.
This isn’t exactly news to anyone who’s paid attention to how Early Access has been used in the wild. In June, Valve changed its Early Access FAQ to explicitly note that “some teams can’t ‘finish’ their game. So only buy an Early Access game if you’re excited about playing it in its current state.”
However, that warning is not a license for developers to sell unfinished games indefinitely. In September, Valve stopped selling Early Access dinosaur games The pounding country on Steam after developers failed to provide development updates for months. In May, Earth: Year 2066 was pulled from Steam for similar reasons.
Despite the relatively small number of completed games resulting from Early Access projects, the program continues to grow. There have been an average of 25 Early Access games launched on Steam each month this year, compared to just ten Early Access games per month in 2013. Apparently, developers like the idea of selling games that may never be finished long before they are finished.