It is the year 2014, and the concept of Early Access has gone from outlier to institution. I'm hardly even surprised anymore when a game is announced one day and then I can play it the next. I can only imagine that Super Early Access will come next, with developers sending us napkin doodles and hastily scrawled out brainstorms they had while on the toilet. For now, though, the likes of Steam and Desura may soon have some company. GOG seems to have come down with its own case of alphamania, though it's utterly adamant that it plans on doing things The GOG Way.
Eurogamer asked CD Projekt head - and therefore, proxy GOG co-founder - Marcin Iwinski if the DRM-free storefront might get in on the ground floor of the trend of letting gamers get in on the ground floor. He replied with optimism, but noted that GOG standards wouldn't be any more lax just because games aren't "done" yet.
"We're obviously looking at it. 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."
Iwinski's hypothetical solution, then, would be to ensure that consumers can get a refund no matter what - at least, in cases where a game is unsatisfactory and updates infrequently/not at all.
So it'd be a double-safeguard, essentially. You'd get GOG's curation and then, were that to fail, a guarantee that you wouldn't be stuck with an ever-drooping frown and an emaciated piggy bank.
It's a pretty idealistic way of looking at the situation, but I can't fault GOG and CDP for wanting to do things right. While it's easy to write off Early Access as a sketchy proposition, it's also helped a lot of games get better - and some get off the ground in the first place. So long as there are people around who insist on quality and commitment to finished games - whether that's storefronts or fans - then things will likely get better. Or at the very least, outright scams will continue to be a rarity, not something you come to dread like mines in a minefield. We'll see, though. Early Access might be the new flavor of the week, but it's still in relative infancy. Here's hoping it grows into something good.