Steam's Early Access system should run on a different set of rules to the rest of the store.
That's according to the creator of Offworld Trading Company Soren Johnson, who has argued that players should not be able to claim refunds on Early Access titles, or leave reviews.
We want a special type of consumer, one who is excited about seeing behind the curtain, contributing critical feedback, and seeing the game evolve,” he said in a Gamasutra post-mortem. We have met these types of players over and over again online; they inspire us with their passion and patience while we work hard to build the best game possible for them.
These players are priceless, and Early Access would be the best place to find them if Steam is willing to do the work to guide player expectations.”
Of reviews, Johnson argued that while the system is fine for full releases, the benefits are not applicable to games that are still in development.
What exact purpose does an Early Access review serve when stating that the game is not ready? The game's presence on Early Access is an explicit statement that the game is not ready,” he insisted.
The existence of user reviews argues that Early Access games should be judged and evaluated the way the normal games are, which is simply not true. If the team is serious about iterative development, Early Access games can and should take wild swings in quality during development; the fear of negative user reviews encourages developer to sit comfortably on local maximas.
Removing user reviews should also send a clear message to consumers that they are taking a risk by buying the product; the goal is not to trick people by removing reviews but to sell to less people, the ones who are onboard with experiencing an unfinished product.”
Johnson would also like Early Access games to be unlisted on Steam. This, he argues, would allow such titles to reap the benefits of a Steam presence – community support, Steamworks, sales – without unnecessarily increasing exposure to a fan base that does perhaps not understand the implications of Early Access.
The developer would also oppose sale discounts on Early Access titles.