Early Access Games on Steam

Common for games to be 2.5 years in Early Access with the majority from Indie developers at three price points: Free, $9.99, $19.99
By Kay Bros with Peggy Twardowski


A client recently asked us how long they should plan for their game to be in Early Access, which led to the following analysis.

This is a quick snapshot of Steam games currently in Early Access as of early July 2021. It is a pool of 709 games with above 30,000 owners as estimated by SteamSpy and released since 2015 (about 10% of our total dataset). We did not include adult games and games tagged or titled Demo, Beta, Mod and/or Test Server. This dataset does include a dozen games in Early Access that are currently unable to be downloaded but which still have active Steam pages.

There is a distinct trend in genres that utilize Early Access. Keeping in mind that a developer can choose more than one genre, 553 of 709 games currently in Early Access were tagged Indie, followed by Action with 394 and Simulation with 276. The genres Episodic and Short were not represented at all. As our database focuses on Steam apps with the “Game” box ticked, we discarded approximately a dozen development tools and tutorials that were mislabeled.

The volume trends hold even if we remove all the games that entered Early Access in 2020 and 2021. No one genre received a recent popularity boost in the last two years.

The average listing time of all 709 games currently in Early Access is 30 months, with a median of 25 months. To check that recent entries to Early Access were not significantly decreasing the average, we took out all games released in 2020 and 2021. Out of the 436 games released before 2020, the average listing time is 43 months, with a median of 40.

Breaking down each significant genre’s average listing time (again, keeping in mind that Steam allows games to be in multiple genres) was somewhat surprising. While most fall under the Indie umbrella, there is a fairly uniform distribution, and one might expect more variance by genre from the overall average of 30 months. For example, one might expect Strategy to spend the longest in Early Access to test multiple balance iterations, but it has not only the shortest average time but also the shortest median. Racing and Sports are not mathematical outliers, but their very low number of games compared to other genres makes it difficult to draw interesting conclusions about their average listing time.

The ranges in the above graph do not overlap. For example, the first bin contains all games released between zero and six months ago, but not games released six months and one day ago. The second bin contains all games released between six months and one day ago and 12 months, and so on and so forth.

Looking at the overall distribution of games in Early Access, there’s a healthy crop of new games. Twenty-eight percent of the population was released in the last 12 months, and 58% falls within the 30-month overall average.

For context, Free/Free to Play games that are not in Early Access make up 24% of our dataset but 32% of games in Early Access. The next two common prices are ~$9.99 and ~$19.99, with 54% of all Early Access games and 63% of all non-Early Access games priced between $0.99 and $19.99. Eighty-six percent of Early Access developers do not price above $19.99, reflecting the game’s unfinished state and the long process to releasing a polished final game. These general trends hold true for the 180 games that entered Early Access in 2020.

We did not track pricing over time; for example, the common practice of slowly raising an Early Access game’s price as it gets closer to exiting Early Access. This pricing data is a snapshot of a moment in time in the Early Access ecosystem.

The genre tags Episodic and Short were not represented at all in Early Access; the genre tags Massively Multiplayer, Sports, and Racing games enter the genre with low frequency; and the most common combinations of genre are Indie + Action and Indie + Simulation. To answer our client’s question, it would be reasonable for a game to be in Early Access for two and a half years, and the common price points are Free/Free to Play, $9.99 USD, or $19.99 USD.

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