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The Epic Games Store isn't clear enough about early access games

(Image credit: FJRD Games)

Among Trees is a gorgeous survival game, but it's also very buggy and a little boring. In the hour or so I've played, it's crashed several times, and all I've really done is wander aimlessly through the forest around my cabin, picking up resources and avoiding the occasional bear. It's pretty but, at this stage, there's little else that makes it worth playing. That's not unusual for unfinished sandbox games; already the developers have a roadmap of cool ideas and interesting features

My problem is that the Epic Games Store communicates almost nothing about the state of the project. Looking at the store page for Among Trees, you can't easily tell that it's an early access game at all. The only mention is under the logo just below the trailer. It's not mentioned in the overview of the game or its features, its hardware specifications, or the 'About Game' section, or during the checkout process.

The only thing marking Among Trees as early access is a tiny banner in its logo. (Image credit: Epic Games Store)

For a comparison, take a look at any one of Steam's Early Access games, like the recently released Satisfactory (which is also on the Epic Store). Aside from the trailer and screenshots, one of the biggest elements on the page is a big blue banner informing customers that this game is Early Access. More importantly, though, it explains what Steam's Early Access program is and then reveals a questionnaire filled out by the developers that explains why they chose to release their game on Early Access, how long it'll take to finish the game, what the differences may be at release, what the game looks like now, how the community is involved, and whether the price will change once the full version is released.

All of that is information I'd like to know before buying a game before its official 'release.' To be fair, some of the early access games on the Epic Store do share that information—it's just so hidden that it might as well not exist. For example, Satisfactory and Hades have early access FAQs similar to what you'd find on Steam, but they can only be accessed by clicking a tiny link in the menu at the top of the screen. Given that each of these questionnaires is formatted differently and half of Epic's early access games don't have one, it's clear this isn't a uniform requirement. It should be, though.

One of the first things you'll see about an Early Access game on Steam is links to information about the program and questionnaire from the developer. (Image credit: Valve)

If the Epic Games Store is going to continue selling early access games like Among Trees, it needs to offer buyers way more information.

Part of what makes Steam's Early Access program work is that it's standardized and made a prominent feature on each game's store page. By requiring every Early Access developer to explain its vision, capabilities, and intentions, Steam is upfront about the risks and implies that things can go awry. And aside from what the developers have to say about their game, user reviews and forums can be helpful in determining if a game's stint in Steam Early Access is going poorly. 

Epic Games doesn't even explain what early access means. That's a big problem when, as of March of last year, 85 million people were using the Epic Store and 40 percent of them didn't have Steam. That's roughly 34 million people who might not be familiar with what early access is and why it's a risk. I wouldn't be surprised if a less-informed customer mistook an "early access" banner as some kind of promotion or missed it altogether. If that happened, they'd have no idea that Among Trees is incredibly early in development until they hit the in-game disclaimer. They can request a refund if it's not what they expected, but why make it confusing?

It's great that a few developers have gone the extra mile to add an early access FAQ, but Epic shouldn't place the burden of explaining how early access works on them. There should be mandatory and prominently displayed notices that explain what early access is and how the developers intend to use it.

Early access games like Among Trees have become a basic part of PC gaming. Steam's Early Access program has helped birth some cherished classics like Don't Starve, Subnautica, and Kerbal Space Program. It's also created just as many controversies. Early Access games have been abandoned altogether, developers have sold expansions before the base game was even done, or games have pivoted wildly from the original, promised vision. 

Expectations are different when you buy an early access game, and the label can be applied very differently by different developers. If the Epic Games Store is going to continue selling early access games like Among Trees, it needs to offer buyers way more information about the particular situation of each of its unfinished games. 

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.