Valve issues new Steam Early Access rules and guidelines for developers

Recognizing that Steam Early Access is no longer what they intended to be, Valve have issued stricter guidelines and rules that all developers must follow. These rules have been set in place in order to make sure that games promoted and funded through the Early Access program are playable and offer value to gamers who pay for them. Moreover, developers must continue to work on these games until they can be considered finished and ready for launch. While a lot of people are willing to pay for a game that’s in alpha or beta, they naturally expect the game to eventually come out. In short, the final product must be worth the money invested by the gamers who helped fund the development process via the Steam Early Access program. According to a report by Giant Bomb, Valve stated that:

“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.”

Valve asks developer to clearly label their games as being in Early Access. This sounds pretty intuitive, but the truth is that some developers have sold Steam keys  in the past to people who weren’t aware of what Early Access is and Valve wants to avoid any further confusion. Moreover, the company also asks developers to mention the current state of their project and to avoid “specific promises about future events.” This rule is in place so that developers refrain from promising that their game might end up having various features at some point in the future. “For example, there is no way you can know exactly when the game will be finished, that the game will be finished, or that planned future additions will definitely happen,” Valve says. “Do not ask your customers to bet on the future of your game. Customers should be buying your game based on its current state, not on promises of a future that may or may not be realized.” As for the new guidelines, they are as follows:

  • 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.