Investing in Steam's Early Access games can be risky. Accidents can happen, developers can abandon their projects, or games can turn out to be a lot different from the original vision. Now, according to a report, Valve is allegedly updating its Early Access guidelines to combat this.
Parts of what's apparently the new version of Valve's Early Access documentation were recently posted by Giant Bomb, who claims to have confirmed its existence with "several developers". According to Giant Bomb, the document now includes a clarified definition of Early Access, along with a set of rules and guidelines. The definition says:
"Steam Early Access is a way to invite customers to get involved with your game as you develop, so that you can get the feedback you need to make better informed product decisions and to ensure the best outcome for your customers and fans. When you launch a game in Steam Early Access, there is an expectation by customers that you will continue development to a point where you have what you consider a 'finished' game. We know that nobody can predict the future, and circumstances frequently change, which may result in a game failing to reach a 'finished' state, or may fail to meet customer expectations in some other way. We work hard to make sure this risk is communicated clearly to customers, but we also ask that developers follow a set of rules that are intended to help inform customers and set proper expectations when purchasing your game."
There are also three new rules which Early Access games must follow. Per Giant Bomb's report, these are:
- Early Access games must be named as such when keys for them are distributed on other websites to make sure customers know what they're buying into
- Developers should not make "specific promises about future events" so that customers will buy a game based on what it offers now, instead of what it may or may not offer in the future
- For the sake of consistency, Early Access games must be released on Steam at the same time as on other online stores, and their price on Steam cannot be higher than it is elsewhere
Finally, there's also apparently a general set of guidelines, intended to improve the Early access program for gamers and developers alike:
" Don't launch in Early Access if you can't afford to develop with very few or no sales.
There is no guarantee that your game will sell as many units as you anticipate. If you are counting on selling a specific number of units to survive and complete your game, then you need to think carefully about what it would mean for you or your team if you don't sell that many units. Are you willing to continue developing the game without any sales? Are you willing to seek other forms of investment?
Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game.
For example, if you know your updates during Early Access will break save files or make the customer start over with building something, make sure you say that up front. And say this everywhere you sell your Steam keys.
Don't launch in Early Access without a playable game.
If you have a tech demo, but not much gameplay yet, then it's probably too early to launch in Early Access. If you are trying to test out a concept and haven't yet figured out what players are going to do in your game that makes it fun, then it's probably too early. You might want to start by giving out keys to select fans and getting input from a smaller and focused group of users before you post your title to Early Access. At a bare minimum, you will need a video that shows in-game gameplay of what it looks like to play the game. Even if you are asking customers for feedback on changing the gameplay, customers need something to start with in order to give informed feedback and suggestions.
Don't launch in Early Access if you are done with development.
If you have all your gameplay defined already and are just looking for final bug testing, then Early Access isn't the right place for that. You'll probably just want to send out some keys to fans or do more internal playtesting. Early Access is intended as a place where customers can have impact on the game."
Needless to say, if true, this is a welcome change in attitude from Valve. Early Access can be a gamble at times but it has lead to the creation of some great games and vibrant communities, like in the case of Kerbal Space Program, DayZ, or Starbound.
While these new measures sound great, they're not officially confirmed. We're reaching out to Valve and will update this post should there be any news.
Update: Doug Lombardi of Valve has confirmed that the policy changes listed above are genuine. Here's to more quality Early Access games.