Reasons why some games on Steam Early Access fail

Petri Pekkarinen Written by Petri Pekkarinen

For the past few days I’ve been scouring literally hundreds of PC games and their Steam Store pages. I have used Steam Spy to gather lists with different tags and then sort and/or trim them whenever I was looking for something specific.

The last thing I went through was a long list of games that have been released on Early Access, starting from titles that have the least sales. After looking through some basic info of a little less than 200 titles I started to figure out main reasons why games on Early Access might have failed. Of course failure and success are relative, but it was still pretty easy to see whether the game, its developers and whatever little community it would have were still going forward. Things I reviewed on each title were:

  • Sales (owners according to Steam Spy)
  • How long has the game been on Early Access
  • User score
  • Feedback (ratio of positive and negative feedback and key points from those comments)
  • Trailer(s) (especially how accurately they reflected the game itself)
  • Marketing efforts (a quick overview on the game’s online presence through the links provided + some googling)

Around 180 games on the initial list have sold less than 5000 copies, which for some indie games is not necessarily considered a failure. Among those games were also titles that had been released recently and showed great potential in terms of user score, feedback and active updates from the devs, so they were obviously left off the list. And I am definitely not saying that any single game on that list is doomed as a failure forever. I am just drawing conclusions on games that show no real potential in development or sales growth in their current state. There were many great looking titles that deserve to be finished and released as complete titles. Anyway, with the key points listed above I was able to make the following conclusions on why some games on Steam Early Access fail.

 

ABANDONED PROJECT

This information usually comes best from user reviews. Players who have bought the game previously are posting or editing their existing about the game being dead for a while. There can be many reasons why developers might abandon a project: lack of funds, time or motivation. Some developers have clearly entered Early Access in hopes of quick cash, and the players are usually able to sense it pretty easily. There are games still on Early Access after a year or even two with no updates from the developers in a long time. It’s just too bad that the refund policy was introduced only recently.

FAKE OR MISLEADING TRAILER

Either a clear scam or a trailer showing promising footage of an otherwise broken game. Usually the user comments reveal that the developers seem to have no intentions on fixing the game or adding new content. This shouldn’t be a problem any longer as refunds became possible. It’s just sad to see that there are hundreds or thousands of gamers that have been mislead into buying utter rubbish.

DEVELOPERS ARE NOT LISTENING TO PLAYERS

Some developers seem to have crystal clear vision for their game. Very often the players have been screaming for a bug fix or a specific feature that would make the game so much better, just to receive a patch with half a dozen features that no one really wants and possibly a few more bugs. In these cases the “we are entering Early Access so that the community can give us feedback and be closer to the development etc etc…” promise is usually right there, but it’s just a something they thought needs to be said, it seems. Players accept the many flaws and missing features of Early Access games when the whole process is done right; when the devs are listening and also open about their decisions. However, players are quick to abandon a project that doesn’t deliver on promises. Understandably, gamers don’t want to be purely wallets. They want to be heard and in the best case see their idea or suggestion somehow end up in the game.

GAME BREAKING BUGS

Even the greatest game concepts and Early Access titles lose their charm if they remain unplayable for too long. Most players buying Early Access titles are very patient and forgiving, but with some games it’s clear that even the most loyal couldn’t wait forever. Even if the game is not fun at first, it can be fixed with the help of a small dedicated player community. But if a game crashes within minutes for most players or is a mess of several complicated features with none of them working properly it’s hard to keep people on board. In these cases some players are thoughtful enough to write reviews like “This game has great potential, but in this state it is unplayable and you should not buy the game. However, if you wan’t to support the developers and help them execute their great vision, then you should buy this. Otherwise, wait (and hope!) for the final release.”

NO MARKETING

Early Access isn’t about making money but building a community and improving the game. This still needs marketing, maybe even more than a finished game.  Only a fraction of the people buying a game end up writing a review or giving any feedback. So there needs to be a decent amount of paying & playing users to get enough relevant feedback. Especially MMOs and other multiplayer titles seem to face a problem with low sales: it’s hard to enjoy even a perfectly crafted game if there is no one else playing. If the comment section fills up with “I’d love to play this game, but there are no players, never!” won’t make hitting the purchase button any more tempting.

MAKING A GAME NO ONE WANTS TO PLAY

This goes also for any complete games released without any Early Access or similar phase. If a developer is making a game that does not have even the smallest niche interest of players, they are just doing an art project or a tech demo. Or if they are making just a copy of a successful game (intentionally or just not knowing it) with no original ideas or anything new to offer to initially interested gamers, then they are out of luck. Again, the players are best to spot this if a developer fails to see the facts. And they are sure to mention it if some other game in that genre already entertains them better.

 

With these findings it’s much easier to continue researching the games that have been or are on their way to become great success stories. With Gunnheim we are currently considering entering Early Access in the near future. We will surely keep these in mind whenever we end up releasing the first version on Steam, because we truly wish for feedback and a steadily growing group of people that want to perfect the game with us.