It turns out buying a game before launch may not be the best bet, at least in the short term.
Patrick Walker is the head of insights and analytics at EEDAR, a group that digs into the data behind the video game industry. Walker has written an article about the reality of the Early Access program on SteamWhile games like DayZ and Planetary Annihilation may have found great success on the platform, the reality is that most games released on Early Access haven't seen release, according to the historical data on the service.
"In fact, since the launch of the program, only 25 percent of the Early Access titles released have been released as full games. And while some of this low release percentage could be explained by recent Early Access releases, Early Access titles from 2013 do not have a significantly higher full game release percentage," he wrote. "Case in point, of the nine games that kicked off the Early Access program in March 2013 over 18 months ago, only three, or 33 percent, have been released as full games."
The article is filled with much more data, and it's worth a full read. There has been some backlash against services like Kickstarter, while Early Access hasn't seen as much criticism, despite the low number of games leaving the service to be released as finished products.
It's also early in the life of the Early Access program, and these numbers could improve with time. Game development, as always, remains a risky bet; purchasing unfinished works in progress merely increases that risk in some ways.
"Thus far, Early Access has not received as much negative attention as these similar business models. Quite the opposite, as the Steam Early Access program has provided a legitimacy to paid beta programs outside of Steam," Walker stated. "However, it will be interesting to see if this becomes an issue for consumers if the current trend of Early Access games spending a long time in development (or never reaching release) continues."