Early Access releases are becoming more and more common - almost routine - but that's not necessarily a good thing. "Scam" release Earth: Year 2066 was hauled off Steam for misleading customers and taking their money. And while that's an extreme case - and there are also many good Early Access games - there are enough milder examples of developers not quite delivering what fans who paid them believed they would, to make Early Access a concern.
It's against that backdrop that I raised the topic with Marcin Iwinski, co-founder of CD Projekt, the company that established and owns popular retro-game download shop GOG. He's considering Early Access, he said, but there are a couple of things GOG would have to change first.
"We're obviously looking at it," he begun. "As you know our concept is different; first of all it's DRM-free and second it's curated. I'm often very lost in a lot of stores - apps being my example today. Or even Steam. I don't know what's happening; there's hundreds of releases a month, and I really believe - and our community's clearly showing that - there is a place for a platform which is choosing the stuff.
"With the approach that Steam has they decided not to, and it's fine, it works extremely well for them and some developers, but it has threats like the one of bad Early Access games. And it's tempting, it's really tempting: you're a developer and you can get to Early Access and charge 40-whatever for your game, for your non-working alpha. And they're pocketing immediately.
"We would definitely consider it," he said, "but again it would be the GOG way. It would have to be curated and, we believe - we are always saying this very openly - we are responsible in front of the gamer for what they're buying on GOG."
"Consumers should have an option to opt out if they're really unhappy still"
With the specific example of Earth: Year 2066, Iwinski thinks Valve refunded people out of its own pocket. And that's nice, that's Valve. But what happens if an online store doesn't have the desire or the facilities to do that? Is the customer simply left out of pocket?
That's one of the key issues for Iwinski in GOG offering Early Access games.
"If you would do it, it would have to have some kind of protection," he believes, "because consumers are coming, they are seeing certain promise. Of course it's like 'hey it's alpha', but the little devil inside your head is saying 'ooh I want to play, it looks so cool in the screens', and you don't know that [you will be] unhappy.
"If you're unhappy and they're constantly updating it, that's fine, but if you're unhappy and they just took your money and ran away like typical hit and run... There is somebody who has to be on the hook for it, and I really think this should be the case.
"Definitely not every game should be permitted," he added, "and consumers should have an option to opt out if they're really unhappy. It can be done better still. [Steam] were the first to do it so big kudos for this one; a lot of developers - I was talking to some and they're really happy with it. But the good ones! It's always the good ones.
"Ultimately the market will rule out the greedy thieving ones."