itch.io introduces its own answer to Steam Early Access: Refinery

News
May 13, 2016 by Kris Ligman

The new developer tools allow games on the alternative distribution service to playtest early builds with the community.

Today is the last day of 'itch.io week,' a five-day event in which Steam alternative itch.io rolled out a number of cool new features, including an app version for its platform. itch.io saved its biggest announcement for today, however: a new suite of tools intended to balance the player accessibility of Steam's Early Access program with better controls for developers. It's called Refinery.

"We've heard of bad Early Access releases because the developers just wanted to get playtesting and start building a community -- this is the problem we're trying to solve," says Chris Dwyer, a company representative. "The toolset enable developers to set explicit control in how people can buy and interact with their game during the most critical time of development: preparing for final launch."

When it comes to how people download games online, Steam is the number one destination for both players and publishers alike. But in recent years, more and more independent developers have turned to itch.io as their primary platform. While it would be disingenuous to call itch a "rival" for Steam -- the power differential there is just too huge -- among a certain set of indies, artists and budding first-timers, it's just as if not more important.

Also important, if you're a small-time developer, is being able to get useful, consistent feedback while testing your game. So that's the extreme short version of what Refinery does: it lets developers tailor who gets pre-launch access to a game. It takes one of the glaring, persistent issues with Early Access -- that players don't always consider what they're buying is an unfinished project -- and delineates it more clearly.

itch.io has already soft-launched Refinery's features with a small handful of games, including Overland. As of today, the toolset is available to all developers. You can read more about Refinery here.