Have you ever wanted to be a video game tester? I mean, playing all those new games before anyone else just seems like the best job in the world (except for writing about games that is!). Well if you’re a Steam user, then today is your lucky day.

Valve seems to have been making all sorts of exciting and innovative new announcements for their hugely successful Steam platform over the last several months. First there was the Greenlight program, and then there was the public release of Big Picture mode. Now today, we see the launch of the latest in line of awesome technologies to have you put those Steam gift cards to use: the Early Access program.

Gamers who are interested in the Early Access program will be able to purchase select games in varying stages of development, and can start playing them right then and there. As a gamer, Early Access allows you to be the first to play fun and original new games as they develop, as well as give feedback and report bugs to the developers themselves. As a developer, you can connect with your community, update your games as often as you like, and cut some developmental costs by having real gamers become your bug testers. So it’s almost like a glorified beta test, where you pay for all the beta phases and the final finished product right up front. Of course, the release dates and the frequency of title updates will depend largely on each developer’s production schedule, but the Early Access program will allow PC and Mac gamers to be there every step of the way!

Valve has made it clear that purchasing an Early Access game is much different from pre-purchasing a regular game on the Steam client, as you’ll be able to download it and play the game right away. There are currently 12 titles on Steam that offer Early Access privileges, and you can get started right away on your pre-release gaming by visiting the Early Access homepage on Steam. There’s a gorgeous The Cave-esque sidescrolling platform adventure called Under the Ocean, and the alpha release of the hugely anticipated FPS Arma III. Oh, and let’s not forget something called Drunken Robot Pornography that I’m sure will rank high on everyone’s Early Access wish lists. Yeah, I’m not going to even touch that one.

So what do you think of Steam’s Early Access program? Would you prefer to play new games sooner in an unfinished state, or would you rather wait it out for the final, finished product? Be sure to let us know in the replies!