Why devs should treat Early Access game launch almost like full 1.0 release

Developers sometimes think of Early Access as an opportunity to warm up the audience and complete the game before the release of the 1.0 version. As discoverability expert Simon Carless points out, this mindset usually doesn’t work in practice.

Early Access vs. full launch — why devs should treat them equally

Carless opened up about the Early Access vs. 1.0 launch issue in the latest episode of the GameDiscoverCo newsletter.

Getting straight to the point, “for the purposes of marketing and planning, basically pretend that the ‘EA tag’ doesn’t exist. Because that’s what most players do!” Carless also added that developers should be realistic about a possible sales spike after the release of the 1.0 version, especially “if streamers & wishlists aren’t scaling.”

The bottom line is that game creators should treat Early Access and a 1.0 release equally. But here are a few more points to prove it:

  • Early Access games should be complete enough, both content- and gameplay-wise, to grab the core audience’s attention and make them want to support developers;
  • If streamers or other influencers don’t like your game during the Early Access period, the full release probably won’t change their minds;
  • A lot of marketing work, including free demos, should be done even before Early Access launch, so you can have many wishlists and attract the core audience;
  • Players expect a lot of discounts and updates during Early Access, so this period is an opportunity for developers to convert their first core fans into sales (waiting until the full release might be a bad idea);
  • A 1.0 release is unlikely to provide any significant discoverability advantages compared to Early Access (“There’s no ‘magic 1.0 algorithm bullet’ on Steam — EA and non-EA titles are treated pretty similarly,” Carless explains);
  • According to experienced indie dev Jake Birkett, that’s why Early Access should be treated “more like a glorified sale event”;

Just a slight increase in reviews for Brace Yourself’s city builder Industries Of Titan — as Carless pointed out, this is true for most games coming out of EA

  • 95% of Early Access games will see a slight spike in reviews and sales after the full release, but that won’t magically bring in tons of new players for their creators and skyrocket their revenue;
  • Of course, there are exceptions in the market (especially EA titles from well-established teams), but in general, developers should worry about their projects’ discoverability, sales, and other stuff long before a 1.0 release.
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