Valve’s Early Access program has been a big hit, spawning several successes as varied as Day Z to Kerbal Space Program. Something that hasn’t really been discussed enough though is how few of the Early Access games make it all the way to a full release. Luckily, EEDAR’s Head of Insights and Analytics, Patrick Walker, looked into it and published his findings on GamesIndustry.biz. (EEDAR is an industry group focusing on market research and data analysis.)
“Only 25% of the Early Access titles released have been released as full games,” Walker states. And while this may be skewed due to more recent Early Access offerings, the data suggests that isn’t the case. “Of the 9 games that kicked off the Early Access program in March 2013 over 18 months ago, only 3, or 33%, have been released as full games.” Granted, Early Access is still relatively young, and no one knows how the program will develop or if those numbers will improve. But at the very least, that so few titles are fully realized suggests that it may be better for the consumer to hold off on a game until it gets its final release. Especially when you consider that the “average price of an Early Access game […] is approximately $1 more than the full game release” (though this varies significantly by genre).
The full article is worth the read, and the graphs do a decent job at driving the point home that, despite its popularity, Early Access hasn’t been particularly successful at converting works-in-progress to finished games. I wish though that this study would have looked more into why that is the case. Anecdotally, I’ve read before that some developers get overwhelmed with bug reports during Early Access, not realizing the commitment that takes. These fears have prevented at least one developer from going for it, although that same developer is now embracing the service because of its all-important funding potential. Meanwhile, other developers have had to abandon Early Access because it wasn’t providing enough money. But again, that’s just anecdotal; the best analysis would be if someone interviewed developers of failed/ongoing Early Access campaigns to learn what the top factor(s) was in preventing titles from graduating the program.