itch.io has launched Refinery, a toolset it promises will allow indie studios to conduct early game releases with the flexibility to set their own terms.
If this sounds like a shot at Steam Early Access, that probably isn’t a coincidence.
“Early access ‘programs’ have long been an issue for developers looking to get feedback and build communities around their in-development games,” itch said in press correspondence. “They have overly competitive environments, sometimes hostile and unwelcoming communities and non-existent sales model flexibility. For games releasing in these ‘programs’ just to get playtesting and grow, it’s a disaster.”
The solution, itch leadership believes, is to give studios the freedom to customize the distribution model of a game’s limited release.
“Whether that comes in the form of an open paid alpha with limited keys or a closed beta playtest with select testers, the toolset allows a developer to customize their program,” said a representative via email. “The toolset allows for limited key quantities, tiered purchases, digital rewards, private playtesting, and community forums embedded right on their customized game pages.”
In addition, itch announced five upcoming indie games that will utilize the Refinery toolset for limited release purposes, including Overland, Manifold Garden, Jenny LeClue, hackmud, and GoNNER. There appears to be no word yet on the nature of those releases, but each should give players and developers a unique look at the capabilities of the Refinery system.
itch.io week began Monday the 9th and wraps up today. The event revealed other features such as support for studios to hold sales, create product bundles, and utilize The Widget, which will allow developers to easily embed itch promotion and purchase information about their games on other sites.
itch also made recent headlines when the official itch.io desktop app appeared on Steam Greenlight on April Fools Day. The listing was not a joke, but a fully functional client, which Steam subsequently blocked.
Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based comedy writer and game developer with bylines at Weekly Humorist, Fanbyte, Slackjaw, End of the Bench Sports, and more. He’s the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.