The gamble that is Steam Early Access has been demonstrated in numbers.
EEDAR's head of insights and analytics Patrick Walker has on Games Industry said that only 25 per cent of Early Access have ever gone on to receive a full Steam release. This is as true for games released in 2013 as it is those released in 2014.
In fact, of the nine games that launched Steam's Early Access service back in March 2013 only three of them – or one third – were ever released as full games.
Of the 103 Early Access games released in 2013 just 43 have subsequently received a full release. In 2014 so far that ratio stands at 231-to-48.
While there are clearly many benefits to an Early Access model, there is also the possibility of a broken promise to the consumer,” Walker said. 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.
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'.
EEDAR's data also shows that the number of Early Access releases appears to be in decline, dropping from its peak of 39 titles in July 2014 to 24 in October, although this is still ahead of every month prior to March 2014.
In June Steam updated its Early Access T&Cs to warn buyers that paying for a game in no way guarantees they will ever receive the final product.