While once most common in online games, where "beta" tests are vital to configuring servers for launch, pre-release testing (often called "Early Access") has become increasingly common. It is generally accepted that because of their premature nature, such tests may contain show-stopping bugs. Still, such tests are generally well-received, giving players a chance to check out a game prior to release and giving developers essential feedback. On the other hand, the practice has been criticized for a number of reasons, most relating to uncertainty about what stage of development it is acceptable to enter early access in.
Access to early versions of video-games has become a common reward for video-game projects pledge-funded through crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter. In such cases, early access to the project is typically limited to higher-paying backer tiers.
Steam Early Access
Steam first experimented with early access in 2011 with a Steam release of 1...2...3... Kick It!, as part of the Portal 2 ARG. An official system for early access titles was later introduced on March 20, 2013, featuring an initial slate of 12 titles. Somewhat unusual for the time, Steam Early Access allows developers to require players to purchase a game prior to playing it in early access, although this approach has now become common. As with elsewhere, Steam's implementation has garnered criticism due to a perception of it allowing developers to release "unfinished" games, such as with Kick It!, which stopped receiving updates in 2014 before being removed from sale in 2021.