Steam Early Access is for games that are unfinished and in beta. Or alpha. Or games that are finished but need a little bit of testing before the developers feel comfortable saying that. Or for games where the developers have run out of money and need the extra funding to keep going. Games that are broken outright, games that are updated regularly, games that might never be finished. Indie games. Mainstream games. Games by Ubisoft that first launched into beta in 2012. Games like Ghost Recon Online.
The free-to-play shooter has been in beta since launch and available only through uPlay thus far, but is joining Steam's Early Access service this Spring. If you live in Canada, it's already there, which makes Ubisoft the first major publisher to get involved with Early Access.
Here's the launch trailer from August 2012:
I haven't played it since shortly after launch, but at the time Ghost Recon Online was a solid first-person shooter with some interesting ideas. Those mostly revolved around its unusual array of scifi weaponry, which coupled the genre-typical submachineguns with things like microwave rays which could be used to discourage camping. It was an interesting take on a Counter-Strikey formula, but hamstrung at the time by the embryonic uPlay and by its own launcher and installer.
Hopefully - presumably - those things have been fixed since, as an Ubisoft game coming to Steam doesn't normally mean it leaves their proprietary systems behind. In any case, if Early Access is a way of stalling certain types of players from getting involved while any teething issues with the new release are fixed, I guess that's a good thing.
As the Early Access service becomes more varied, I wish there was a uniform way for the games that use it to communicate their current condition to players. A progress bar on each game's store page showing an estimate of the percentage of development complete would be useful for customers trying to make purchasing decisions. I don't begrudge any game their spot on the service, but right now there's no at-a-glance method to differentiate between Ghost Recon Online - a wholly functional, two-years-in-beta, essentially feature-complete game - and something earlier in its development like the promising Maia.
I've reached out to Ubisoft to ask for more detail about using the service.