Early Access: Good or Bad?
Early Access has become a very controversial topic in the video game industry. Should developers be releasing unfinished games with only a promise that they will complete them? Some gamers have had nasty experiences involving the developer taking their money and completely cutting ties with the game. Does Early Access encourage such a practice?
First off, nobody is forcing anyone to spend money on an Early Access game. Buying an Early Access game is entirely up to the consumer and whether or not they want to aid in the game's development. But how exactly does buying a game early aid in the development? One, the money helps the developer stay in business. Two, the customer can send bug reports and other error reports, essentially testing it for them. They can also give other bits of feedback, positive or negative, that will help the developer make decisions about the game's future development goals. Many gamers forget this aspect of Early Access. By buying the game early, it's understood that you will essentially be aiding in development. Don't want to send it bug reports and feedback? Early Access probably isn't for you then.
However, there have been many reports of developers abandoning projects and taking the money with them. The rules of Early Access permit this. There is no coming after the developer if they decide to pull something janky like this. It seems like a pretty straightforward racket to any prospective con-man. Promise a game with a ton of innovative features, ask 20 bucks for it, sell a few thousand copies, and laugh all the way to the bank. Early Access promotes this kind of behavior and thinking. If dishonest developers can't be legally held liable for any breaking of promises, what do they have to lose?
However, how would one be held legally accountable for something like this? You aren't developing the game fast enough, so now you're getting sued? Or, you haven't been doing weekly updates like you said, time for jail!
Ultimately, I believe it's up to the consumer to use his or her intuition.
See a developer with a history of making good games? It's probably safe to buy an Early Access title from them. See a random developer nobody's heard of promising some incredible experience by next week? Probably best to avoid buying from them. Overall, Early Access has its benefits and drawbacks. To an honest developer, it can help aid in the development of the game and building of one's reputation and renown in the gaming industry. On the other hand, its lack of a legal framework encourages dishonesty among people looking to make a quick buck.
Check out the Early Access FAQ on Steam for more info.