For the thousands of Steam users out there, there are hundreds of game developers looking to get money into their digital bankbooks through the steadily growing mode known as Early Access (EA). Perhaps we get so busy gaming and playing this game called Life that we rarely stop to reflect on just how successful Early Access can be for some developers.
There are a number of articles bemoaning the state of Early Access, and others that give fascinating detail on the gauntlet that developers must endure. This article will take a brief snapshot of the top five Early Access games on Steam right now and share what they have in common. Future gaming gurus, take heed!
The Data: In the Steam interface, anyone can go to Store > Stats to find out the top 99 games by Player Count. We used these numbers as well as information found on each game’s Store Page to inform our findings.
Here are the top five Early Access games, shown by their rank on Steam Stats:
Number 3: ARK: Survival Evolved
Number 11: Rust
Number 19: Unturned
Number 26: H1Z1: King of the Kill
Number 42: Factorio
But other than just knowing what these games are, what can we learn from them? Turns out, we can learn quite a few things.
1. Great reviews do not guarantee great sales.
Odd but true. The lowest-ranked Indie game on our list is The Forest, which has 90% positive reviews but sold a fraction of the top-ranked Early Access ARK: Survival Evolved.
2. Multiplayer brings out the worst in gamers, but also their wallets!
The four top-ranked EA games offer multiplayer action. Some include co-op as well, but generally these games involve bringing pain to the gamers on your server.
3. Games do get better with age, like a fine wine.
Only one of the top-ranked EA games (H1Z1: King of the Kill) was released in this calendar year. Rust is indeed getting rusty, as it was originally released on December 11, 2013.
4. Cross-platform brings home the bacon.
Only H1Z1 does not offer Mac and Linux versions along with the PC. Every other game on this list does. It seems that these smaller companies want to reach the widest audience.
5. Early Access does not mean “unknown, small-budget indie team”.
Daybreak Game Company (developer of H1Z1) owns several big-name games, including the Everquest Franchise and DC Universe Online. Facepunch Studios (developer of Rust) owns the highly popular Garry’s Mod. Clearly there is something attractive about the Early Access model that makes financial sense to the big players in the industry.
What does this teach us about Early Access?
To get to the top in Steam rankings, a team needs to develop a game that is both multiplayer and multi-platform. The creators need to keep updating the game with feedback from the community; some of the top-ranked games have had hundreds of patches and bug fixes. Ultimately, it is tough to create a game that pleases everybody, so focus on the final product and prove the naysayers wrong.