Steam has finally come out to warn their paying customers of the very real possibility, that the early access title they purchase might never become a finished product, and what they might purchase today might still be a broken, dysfunctional piece of shit a year from now. They notify their customers that they should indeed not base their decision to purchase something on what the shady developer claims their magnum opus will one hypothetical day be, but rather on what you see there and then.
Of course the obvious problem is that the paying customer cannot always clearly see what they are going to get for their money. It seems to be entirely up to the developer how much info they give out on the current build, and some shady bastards can simply misrepresent their product and its level of completeness. Some developers are very active and honest in the representation of their alphas, with bug reporting and game-play videos, while others of course just dick you about, for example see Earth: Year 2066.
Early access can be a nice idea, giving a boost to small, passionate studios that can help them get their ideas out making money, and turn someone’s dream from impossible to potential. Of course the flip side is that it also creates a whole world of opportunity for peripherally legal, shady bags of anal extract. The concept itself seems very flexible for developers, possibly excessively so. It becomes very difficult to monitor and quality control early access title development, since the threshold seems to be pathetically low to enter Steam market, and when the 19.99€ product is a dirty tennis sock full of week-old wank, it’s easy to pull out the alpha-build card. So, were I a twat with a programming course certificate and a crippling sense of hatred towards people and video-gaming in general, it would be far too easy to shit out a barely functional game using creative commons assets and make insanely hyped-up promises about my coming masterpiece, push it over the Steam threshold and then sit on my arse eating pies and posting made up bug-fixes every six weeks, while witless plebs would throw money at me and patiently wait for the next build.
There doesn’t seem to be too many ways to know what is a nasty little scam, and what is the real shit, apart from finding out from other players, who are braver or have more disposable income than you. There are the user comments, blogs and let’s play videos, but is consumer protection really something that should rely so heavily on the players themselves? I heard about some small, vocal band of nerds suggesting that early access titles should be required to provide a possibility of a free demo, which to me would be a fucking welcome idea, since the current model seems to be analogous to sticking your hand in a bag, which might be full of broken glass and pedophilia, or might be kind of awesome. Either way, Steam early access in its current form seems to invite shady bullshit, and to me it’s kind of fucked that this warning is a passing little note in the FAQ section, and not a big warning pop-up on the product page itself.