Sony and Microsoft implementing a Steam-esque service on both consoles is a real possibility. Recently both Microsoft and Sony have been asked by numerous developers to add a early access service, similar to what Steam already does. The fact that both consoles are mulling over early access means that if one was to go with it, the other would follow suit. So how should it be implemented if early access on consoles becomes a reality?
Before we start, it is important to know what early access is. Steam has a page for it but does not really provide a great explanation of what is truly is, it is more of a flowery statement if anything. Early access is a video game funding model that allows consumers to pay for games in early stages of development and that money helps the developers finish the game. It shares some similarities to kickstarter, although in early access you get, well “access” to the game and it is available to the consumer. Early access is like a type of donation where the consumers gives money to the developers to become beta tester. The money given is supposed to be used to improve the game.
With the news of developers wanting early access on consoles, a cynical person might think “Of course they do, they just want to get paid up front. If the game turns out to be complete rubbish, well to bad, already paid.” Beta’s and Alpha’s used to be free.” While it is true that alphas, betas, and demo were and are still free, early access is suppose to help finish the game. There have been numerous examples of well run early access titles, like Minecraft and Space Engineers, but it can be abused. A game can stay in early access for years and sometimes they might not even deliver. It is a risky endeavor for the consumer; there is a fine line between a broken game and a game that is still adding features. In theory, early access is a good idea, but there needs to be some rules that Sony and Microsoft should set up so that it does not end up as a complete mess.
Some of the rules could be: The games should be playable and lacking game breaking and crash causing bugs that occur regularly. Think of the Battlefield 4 debacle and how unfinished and unplayable that game was. A game like that should not even be available for early access where people would have to pay, which makes it worst that EA decided to just launch the game the way it was.
Another rule could be that early access should be priced relative to the content in the game at the current state of purchase. If the game is in really early development it should be priced accordingly. Once more features are set in, then it could go up, but only to a reasonable price. The max a game should be in pricing should be at $20.
The most important thing for Microsoft and Sony to do is to hold developers accountable. The blue box on Steam when it comes to early access games are impractical. Often there is no useful information that is posted there. There needs to be more detailed information on the state of the game up front and the consumer needs to be aware that buying a game on early access is mainly there to help the game developers. The information needs to be accurate and updated constantly. The mission statement would also be there to let the consumer know what the goal is and how the final version would look like. The game website would have detailed charts and posts where it states what features are in, missing, and when it is planned to be implemented. That way consumers would know of the bugs and glitches before playing the game.
The trend of seeing early access games on consoles might soon be here. Microsoft and Sony would need to hold developers accountable with the development of the game. Giving detail information to the consumers is key, and will be what keeps early access from becoming a bad business practice that exploits its consumers. Ideally no one would abuse early access, but it happens. With a good guideline it should stop developers from selling a promise that is not kept and it will inform people of what they are getting themselves into when buying early access games.