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Steam Early Access is confusing but worthwhile, says Mercenary Kings studio

Steam Early Access can be confusing. Not because there's anything inherently wrong with the system—that's a debate for another time and place—but because everyone has different expectations, and the potential for disappointment is high. Yet Jean-Francois Major of Tribute Games, the developer of Mercenary Kings , says that despite the many difficulties involved with the process, it's a net positive in the long run.

Major told VentureBeat that confusion does seem to reign supreme, among gamers, the media, and even pirates, all of whom have their own, sometimes conflicting expectations and priorities. It's even tricky business on the development side, because it's easy to underestimate the amount of work involved in improving a game while simultaneously finishing it. But in the end, he said it's a worthwhile effort that pays off for everyone.

"We've had valuable feedback from gamers," he said. "I doubt the game would have progressed this fast without all those bug reports and feedback posts." That progression includes the decision to let fans get in on localization efforts, inspired by an unauthorized Chinese version of the game. Word of mouth has helped a lot, too.

"It seems like the further along we get, the more players talk about our game and educate others that this is not simply a Metal Slug," Major said. "So that should really help with our official launch."

There's some good stuff on Early Access, and some bad stuff , and some stuff that's probably best described as "creatively odd," but overall I'm not really a fan. Mostly I don't like the idea of charging gamers for the opportunity to serve as testers, but there's also a near-complete lack of quality control, typically excused by the fact that these games are pre-release and thus not subject to the same standards as a completed project. That's a point that sometimes seems to go over gamers' heads, and that's problematic.

But while not every developer is going to make such good use of Early Access, those who do go a long way toward making up for those who don't—even though I still think that a little bit of oversight would go a long way toward legitimizing the system.

Andy Chalk
Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.