Early Access has become a very popular method for releasing games, and it's not hard to understand why: Developers can make money on their games while still developing and shaping them based on feedback from their audience. But it's not an unqualified success, as thus far only one-quarter of games put out on Early Access have been given a full release.
The GamesIndustry report, by EEDAR Head of Insights and Analytics Patrick Walker, acknowledges that the percentage could be weighed down by recent Early Access releases that simply haven't had time to be developed into a state of full readiness. But the percentage of Early Access titles from 2013 that have made it to full launch isn't much better, standing at less than 42 percent, and of the first nine games to appear on Early Access when it debuted in March 2013, only three have been released as full games.
"While there are clearly many benefits to an Early Access model, there is also the possibility of a broken promise to the consumer. This is not unlike other models in the games industry, such as crowdfunding through Kickstarter or selling a DLC Season Pass, where the consumer pays up front for promised content," Walker wrote. "A notable difference between those particular models and Steam's Early Access program is the lack of a firm release window; on Early Access, a game could theoretically stay in development and be sold to consumers indefinitely, whereas a Season Pass is rolled out within a specific time frame and all Kickstarter projects are presented with an estimated 'delivery date'."
The report also noted that, on average, Early Access releases on Steam actually cost more than full release games. Walker wrote that Steam hasn't taken any heat for these relatively dismal numbers, and has in fact actually legitimized the idea of paying to beta test games. But it also suggests that it could become an issue if the trend of excessively long Early Access periods, or abandoned Early Access releases, continues.