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Ex Valve dev says Steam Early Access doesn’t work for PC game launches

A former Valve, Half-Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead dev explains why Steam Early Access can work against the creators of new PC games.

Half-Life 2 dev Steam Early Access: A scientist in glasses, Gordon Freeman from Valve FPS game Half-Life 2

Steam Early Access seems extremely helpful for developers, especially if they’re launching a brand-new game and want to get a pre-emptive sense of players’ reactions. You launch an in-progress build. You make some useful cash selling to your most ardent fans. You use their feedback to iterate and improve the game before the 1.0 launch. However, in some cases Steam Early Access may be detrimental to PC game-makers – at least, that’s what one veteran Valve dev, whose credits include Half-Life 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead, and CSGO, argues.

Slay the Spire, Subnautica, Vampire Survivors – some of the best-loved games of the modern era started life on Steam Early Access. Chet Faliszek, founder of Stray Bombay, and previously of Valve, the Half-Life 2 episodes, Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead, also has a game in Early Access, co-op shooter The Anacrusis.

A multiplayer game in the vein of L4D, it launches in full on Tuesday December 5, after already earning a ‘mostly positive’ rating from initial adopters. However, Faliszek says that he will not use Steam Early Access again, and that for future projects, “it will be closed beta all the way.”

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“I think one of the reasons I will never do Early Access again is how player counts are seen by Steam and then downwind by the community,” Faliszek explains. “SteamDB will say we have one player yesterday – we have 10,000. Some crossplay, sure, but also some [of how] they get counted for small games.

“And that stat gets thrown out every time we do an update, any time anyone mentions us. There is some small number of people on Steam who just instantly want to post ‘dead game’ and then state a stat sheet from SteamDB, not just on our game, but any game that is under the threshold for the real numbers to be counted, and instead a number is synthesized on bad data and always amazingly low.”

Faliszek says that player count data, for smaller games in Steam Early Access, can impede developers as they try to increase their fanbase ahead of a full 1.0 launch. If a game is perceived as ‘dead,’ owing to reported figures, would-be players are less likely to try the game for themselves – especially if it’s driven by multiplayer.

“The reality of us growing – bringing in more players – is lost on that, and works against smaller developers trying to use the Early Access ecosystem for how it was designed, and for us working towards our December 5 launch,” Faliszek says. “For future projects, it will be closed beta all the way.”

Half-Life 2 Steam Early Access: A comment from a Valve and Half-Life developer about Steam Early Access

SteamDB founder Pavel Djundik has since responded to Faliszek in a post on X (formerly Twitter) to clarify that player numbers featured on SteamDB come directly from the Steam API, meaning “there is no interpolation” regardless of a game’s player count. He also clarifies that SteamDB shows the number of concurrent players, not daily players.

Inspired by Left 4 Dead, Faliszek’s new game The Anacrusis sees four-player teams combat increasingly tough aliens and monsters as they cooperate to survive aboard a stylized, ‘70s, retro-futuristic spaceship. Faliszek has recently discussed his work on Left 4 Dead, explaining how the legendary zombie shooter was “such a broken thing” when it launched in 2008.

If you’re a big Left 4 Dead fan, or want to try something else as we wait for The Anacrusis, check out some of the best FPS games. You can also get the best co-op games on PC.

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