Microsoft took no time revealing the juiciest bits of Xbox info at its E3 media briefing this morning. Besides backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 titles, a new controller with swappable inputs, and a host of exclusive titles, the company announced Xbox Game Preview, its answer to paid game preview programs on PC like Steam Early Access.
Xbox Game Preview “lets gamers buy and play a selection of games while they’re still in development,” said Chris Charla, head of Microsoft’s self-publishing platform ID@Xbox. Basically, you’ll be able to fund a game’s development by shelling out for an early, unfinished version of it. “[You] can wait and see how development progresses,” Charla said. In recognition of the perils of such a system, though, Microsoft’s taking a slightly different tact with Xbox Game Preview than programs that’ve come before it. Every game in the program has a trial so you can make “an educated decision” before buying, said Charla.
Xbox Game Preview is launching with a handful of titles that are currently a part of Steam Early Access, such as Hinterland’s The Long Dark and Elite: Dangerous, today. Shelter and DayZ are coming months. Developers can apply for access starting this afternoon.
Early access to in-development games isn’t the only longtime PC feature heading to the Xbox One. Bethesda exec Todd Howard announced that select player-created Fallout 4 mods would make the jump to console, and Microsoft’s Phil Spencer announced last week that PC virtual reality headset Oculus would support Xbox One game streaming.
Valve’s Early Access program has had its fair share of controversy — it was forced to offer refunds after developer Killing Day Studios released Early Access title Earth: Year 2066 to backers in an unplayable state, and studio Double Fine made headlines when it stopped work on crowdfunded Spacebase DF-9 — but it’s also resulted in a few incredible successes. Valve updated the rules and guidelines of Steam Early Access to mitigate future failures, but has long urged game creators not to “make specific promises about future events” around development.
It’s unclear how that opaqueness will sit with console gamers, many of whom have become accustomed to relatively high levels of quality control. Xbox Game Preview’s walled garden and trail system appear to be attempts to get ahead of any potential issues, but implementation will be key. How stable must games be before they’re granted Xbox Game Preview status? Will trials comprise a small portion of games, like a demo, or timed access? Those are vital questions we’re hoping to have Microsoft answer in the coming days.