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Steam’s Early Access program allows publishers to sell their unfinished games to consumers while they’re still in development, and it’s a program that has gamers on the fence. Consumers have a good reason to be hesitant, but it seems that Steam is finally starting to take action against developers who fail to continually work on their projects, although it doesn’t seem very aggressive.

The Stomping Land, an ambitious multi-player survival game in which you survive in a world inhabited by dinosaurs, is the latest in a line of Early Access flops. After two months of zero contact and no updates, Steam has removed the ability for consumers to buy in to their game, but has not mentioned anything about possibly giving consumers a refund.

According to Kotaku, the last update for The Stomping Land released in June, but afterwards the game’s developers were completely silent about the lack of updates thereafter. They’ve completely ignored consumer inquiries on their message board, and their public relations representative eventually posted that his contract expired on May 31st, but continued to work with the project as a labor of love. He finally called it quits in July due to the lack of developer communication and his unwillingness to string consumers along.

Now that Steam is showing that they will take action against developers who do not continue to regularly work on their projects, do you have any renewed faith in the Early Access program? In my opinion, this isn’t punishment enough. Sure, consumers know the risks when they buy an Early Access game, but this kind of behavior from the developer deserves much harsher punishment than just removing the game from Steam.

I honestly feel that Steam should force them to issue refunds to anyone who forked over $24.99 to support the game, as they completely failed to communicate with those consumers, even after they successfully raised over $114,000.00 on Kickstarter to help fund its development. It’s definitely a step in the right direction by Steam, but removing the game doesn’t help the consumers who’ve already paid for it.

Bio Card Brad

Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and on again/off again WoW player that favors roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.

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Written by CheapBossAttack

Freelance games writer for cheapbossattack.com and news monkey at switchplayer.net. Podcast contributor at counterattackgames.com. Sewer-dwelling console heathen that mostly dabbles in RPGs, adventure, and horror games. I have a passion for game reviews, horror, and cats, but my blog is purely game focused. Follow me on Twitter @cheapbossattack.

14 comments

  1. I think refunds would be appropriate.
    I like that Steam is taking measures to hold developers accountable.
    I personally think Early Access is too much of a risk generally. A successful example would be Betrayer, where the developers regularly communicate with gamers and actually incorporate gamer suggestions into their game updates.
    However, I think we all too often see games that are in early access for a year or more. Then you get games like this one or Towns, which demonstrate clearly why Early Access is too risky unless you have a lot of dispoible income to throw at the developers.
    Plus, all those early access sales mean less sales upon full release. which I imagine hurts developers a bit since those early access sales presumably go into further development of the game through to full release, and so they dont really see profit off of them (or shouldnt anyway).
    Just a few thoughts on the topic anyway.

    1. I genuinely like the idea of Early Access, but at this point the only people at risk are the actual consumers. It’s set up in such a way that allows lazy devs to half-ass a product, cash in on sales, and just call it quits any time they want without any sort of financial backlash. If Steam had a set of rules in place to protect both parties, I’d be a little more inclined to not skip by an interesting game just because I see it’s Early Access. Minimum requirements from devs, like small deadlines, community interaction, constant updates, etc., isn’t asking for much.

      I’m curious to see how sales play out, since Early Access is so new. You bring up a great point that since developers are using the Early Access sales funds to continue developing their games, once the game is finally finished, will it sell enough to becoming financially successful?

  2. The refund idea is a fine idea in some cases, such as when the game is a broken unplayable mess and is clearly a scam, but I don’t think it should be universal. I think a better system would be a buyer beware system where it clearly states that something may go wrong in development and you may lose your money. It’s just the nature of the beast.

  3. I see this as an issue as well. I think that people who have commented so far make decent claims but it probably comes down to a matter of legality. However, Steam has no legal obligation to fight developers that fail to work on or complete an early access game. If they did fight to get refunds it would be strictly on the behalf of the users. If they try to make it contractual that developers fulfill promises to users who purchase early access it may discourage scams but it will also discourage independent developers from using this method.

    1. I definitely see both sides, but I think there needs to be some sort of way for Steam to protect their consumers as much as they protect developers entering Early Access. There has to be some middle ground somewhere.

      1. It may have to come in the form of a contract of products offered. As part of the approval process to get a game sold as early access they would have to provide a basic timeline or minimum effort contract. It would cut out some devs that have commitment fears but it would help protect the users who may purchase the game. It could just mean they need to increase the requirements for getting into Steam as early access. Requirements may include amount of successful games already completed, paying an early access fee to Steam as “insurance”. The second would be smart as it would act as a way to make sure they are serious and Steam can use that to help reimburse users if the game fails.

      2. I really like the second idea, actually. The point of early access is to allow consumers to purchase an unfinished game and play it as it develops, while voluntarily assisting by keeping the developer updated on any sort of balance tweaks and glitches they come across. If a dev is serious about making a game to begin with, they shouldn’t have commitment fears at all.

  4. I personally think the money from early access should not be made available to the developers.
    Steam should hold it, and let the dev know how much is in there, but should not allow devs to touch it (except maybe in only extreme circumstance, like 1% of the time). Dangling the rewards in front of them and prompting them to get things done.

      1. It’s a solid idea, but the purpose of early access is to help independent developers who would generally not be able to afford funding further development alongside beta-testing. I *do* think the carrot is dangled in front of their face far too much, and having Steam only allow them to dip in to the funds in a moment of crisis until the game is completed would definitely put a spark under their ass to finish their products.

  5. Gamer’s have got the whole the “early access/kickstarter” wrong. While it may not have the same checks and balances as a financial institution, and I agree it can be open to scams, it does share a common model to its financial brother.

    Gamer’s have gotten it into their heads that backing these initiatives (which I still think is a great idea if done properly and lets face it there have been so many successes of games moving out of kickstarter/early access to fully realized products but the media doesn’t like to report on those because there isn’t much of a story to report because these days everybody just wants to hear the “bad news” we are not interested in any good news because its boring).

    These kinds of initiatives need to be viewed as an investment. Like I would invest in certain funds in the hopes to turn a profit, I have also watched those investments nosedive where I have lost almost all the value of the money I put in. Same thing applies here. Sometimes it can yield a positive and sometimes it can yield a loss. That is the nature of investing. Where did gamers get it in their head that investment = guaranteed profit. Come on guys!

    Gamers need to educate themselves and move away from this thought that “early access/kickstarter” means cheap games. Like you would with investment funds you need to educate yourself by studying the market and choosing the best that are showing the right potential. If you invest in something that fails well then tough shit – thats the nature of investing. You win some/You loose some. But this might be asking bit much from the community because the mindset is often juvenile with no cooking clue how investments and business actually works.

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