The Playbook - Tips for launching into Early Access

The Playbook - Tips for launching into Early Access

Steam's Early Access has become one of the most divisive means of releasing your game.

Sure, it has its perks. Consumers get their hands on your product earlier. They help you develop and improve the project, as well as potentially becoming your biggest advocates. And, there's the nice side effect of developers getting cash in their pocket.

But it does have its risks. Many projects have entered Early Access only never to exit. Consumers have been burned by developers just looking to make a quick buck often with cheaply made games built from free engine assets.

All of this is to say that Early Access can be a fantastic way of releasing your game if you do it right. We've spoken to some of the developers who have used the business model so that they can share their insight and experiences. 

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Henrique Olifiers, Bossa Studios

    Henrique Olifiers, Bossa Studios logo

    Commercially, studios are looking at it as two chances to launch a game; on Early Access and out of Early Access. It's a bit sad - I want games to come to Early Access much earlier. If you are playing something like Oxygen Not Included, when you launch the game there's a massive splash screen explaining that the game is in Early Access and isn't done. There will be bugs, it will break, and you click okay to get past that. Then, on the main menu, there is a development log with all the updates and information about patches. On the bottom, there's something telling you when the next update is going to come .All that is to circumvent the expectation players have - that in Early Access, everything should work. So what's the point of Early Access? I find that we are losing something by now allowing games to go on Early Access very rough and allowing the community to experience that and work with that without being super critical of the pace, or when a feature you wanted didn't make it. There are always reasons.

    Full interview here

  • 2 Brendan Greene, PUBG Corp

    Brendan Greene, PUBG Corp logo

    Early Access has had a bit of a hard go of it recently, because there have been a lot of games that have entered it and not come out of it, then there are games that are in it that people expect not to come out of it but I know they will. That's why we've been so open about our development because as a consumer, knowing how games are made is like magic. Giving an insight into how games are made for the consumer is something that I've wanted to do and we have done since we started development of Battlegrounds. People have this lack of understanding about how long it takes to make games; titles like DayZ and H1Z1 where they're working with their own propietry engines. It takes so much longer to do things than us because we use Unreal which is super flexible and powerful.

     Full interview here

  • 3 Dan Marshall, Size Five Games

    Dan Marshall, Size Five Games logo

    You have to be so careful putting a game in Early Access. The thing is it's a funding model as well as a marketing model. Getting that balance between funding and marketing right is astonishingly difficult. You need the money and you need to promote it but it's an odd thing. 

    Full interview here

  • 4 Anthony Castoro, Daybreak Game Company

    Anthony Castoro, Daybreak Game Company logo

    There are two parts of going into Early Access and developing this way that have tension with each other. One is to really be true to your vision and communicate that vision but believe in it and have conviction. The other, which can conflict with that is really listening to the audience and be transparent and be open about what it is that you are doing. Sometimes, the audience may feel differently about what your vision for the game is, but I think if you are true to yourself and you communicate with the audience about what it is you are doing and why, that's where the magic happens. 

    Full interview here

  • 5 Steve Filby, Motion Twin

    Steve Filby, Motion Twin  logo

    We had a bit of an internal battle over Early Access; I wanted to do it and they were really against it. Theirs was a kneejerk reaction about Early Access being full of crap or having a stigma. My argument was to look at what all these other games have done wrong and right in Early Access. It's about approaching the game as a professional development studio. We put out what we considered to be the core of the gameplay in a very polished state, missing half of the game. But we knew that the core of the game was all there. People respected that - they saw that it looked almost like a finished game. It wasn't finished - not even close - but people jumped on board with that. That was part of the strategy right from the beginning. The trick is to respect your community, follow through on your promises and don't oversell what you're doing. Also keep your community informed as to what you are doing.

    Full interview here

  • 6 Garry Newman, Facepunch

    Garry Newman, Facepunch logo

    I would avoid Early Access like the plague. It's tempting to start a project and throw it in Early Access and develop it alongside the community. Over the years I've come to decide that it's a pretty optimistic way to work. There's no real exit strategy if things go wrong. If no-one buys it do you still have to finish it? If you abandon it do you give money back?

    I love the idea of letting people pay to access our work in progress prototypes. But that lack of exit strategy is just going to make us feel compelled to work on stuff that isn't going to work, or be shitty to the people who joined.

    Full interview here

  • 7 Howard Philpott, Bulkhead Interactive

    Howard Philpott, Bulkhead Interactive logo

    You have to have a finished game. Observing the industry. Play your product and if it's broken in any way or if you're going to try and monetise too early in horrible ways that are gameplay changing, people don't like that. You have to make sure it's a polished game.

    Full interview here

  • 8 Stuart Morton, The Irregular Corporation

    Stuart Morton, The Irregular Corporation logo

    Early Access - certainly in my experience - isn't something we'd aim to do by choice. We try and avoid it where we can. Particularly with this kind of stuff and space, community feedback is really important. We got to the point with PC Building Simulator where we had such a big community already building around it who were so eager to play it that we figured we'd just get it to a point where it was pretty robust; most of the core features were there which is what we did. We had done as much testing as we could to make sure it was as polished as we could make it and thought we could release it as it is now and users would be able to get ten or 20 hours of gameplay out of it. It was solid. Our thinking was to get people into the game, get them invested early and just start giving us feedback. With any Early Access game you think you'll take a hit from people not wanting to touch an Early Access game, which I suspect is still the case with this, but there'll be a good number of people who don't want to go near it because it's Early Access. That's fine. We're only looking at a short Early Access period. Ideally, we want to be out by the summer; three or four months maximum, was always the plan. It's very early days so it's hard to know where it'll go and what interest there'll be in a few months time. We're pretty hopeful that once it gets out of Early Access the audience will only broaden.

    Full interview here

  • 9 Zach Barth, Zachtronics

    Zach Barth, Zachtronics logo

    For us, when we put Early Access on something, it says: 'This is a game that we are comfortable releasing, which means it's almost finished, but it's not finished' and that's important because if people have feedback, compliments, complaints, stuff they want to see more of, or stuff they want us to add to it, they can feel comfortable telling us that and we're open to that and we want to hear that and we want to incorporate that into the game to make it better.

    At some point when we think we've pulled in all the good feedback and the stuff we can do with the time we've been allocated to the game, then we have released it. That's how you know that it's done. It's not that we don't want to hear your feedback, it's more that that period of taking user feedback and using it to heavily modify the game is over. We just use it as two words that we can use to communicate that to people. For the most part, people get it. There's sometimes confusion as to the quality level, but our fans have learnt after four games this way that you don't have to feel stupid buying an Early Access Zachtronics game on Day One because it's not going to be bug-riddled and poorly-designed. It's the game we would have released if it was ten years ago and Early Access wasn't a thing. It's worked out well.

    Full interview here

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.