Valve Tightens Up Guidelines For Steam Early Access Titles

by Mike Futter on Nov 21, 2014 at 11:49 AM

As developers explore new business and development models, one that has become a growing favorite is “early access.” While Steam’s offerings of titles that aren’t fully released isn’t unique or original, the platform has become synonymous with the practice.

Yesterday, Giant Bomb reported that changes were made to the Steam Early Access. Valve confirmed to us updated rules for developers seeking to distribute games using this mechanism and provided the full text of the notification.

These are broken up into firm rules and guidelines that serve as suggestions for operating under the program. The new strictures are designed to provide transparency and honesty about the Early Access model.

1. You must include Steam Early Access branding and information about the current state of your game on any third-party sites where you are distributing Steam keys for your Early Access game.

We work really hard to make sure that customers understand what they are buying when they get an Early Access title on Steam. 

But we've seen that many of these titles are sold as keys on other websites where there is no explanation of what Early Access is or what the current state of your product is now versus what you hope to achieve. As a result, we are now requiring developer to include the Steam Early Access branding as well as information on the current state of your game and a link to the Steam Early Access FAQ on any site where you are selling Steam keys for your Early Access title. You should also include the Early Access questions that you answered when setting up your Steam page. 

2. Do not make specific promises about future events.

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. 

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. 

3. Steam Early Access titles need to be available to customers through Steam.

If Valve is enabling your Early Access game we expect you to have the Early Access game available for sale on the Steam store. Do not offer it for sale on Steam any later than you offer it anywhere else. 

4. Don't overcharge Steam customers.

We expect Steam customers to get a price for the Early Access game no higher than they are offered on any other service or website. Please make sure that’s the case.

Valve’s guidelines, while suggestions, seek to reduce the chance that games will stall out before release. Valve recommends openness about new builds and whether they will impact previous save states, and the right timing for launching in Early Access.

Developers are urged not to launch before there is an actual game. Tech demos are considered too early.

On the other side, if a game is released, Early Access is the wrong model. The program should not be used for bug testing.

Of particular note is Valve’s clarification about financial realities. Early Access should not be used as a way to fund the rest of the development exclusively. In other words, developers should be able to complete the game without reaching a sales threshold prior to release.

“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,” Valve writes. “Are you willing to continue developing the game without any sales? Are you willing to seek other forms of investment?”

We’ve reached out to Valve with follow-up questions about the new rules, particularly the fourth entry about price parity. Currently there are some free-to-play games available via Early Access that require some kind of purchase to gain access. 

In these cases, it is not unheard of for a game to be available without purchase through another channel. We’ll update should we receive clarification from Valve. 

[Source: Giant Bomb]


Our Take
Any step towards transparency, especially when consumers are taking a gamble with developers, is a move in the right direction. I continue to be skeptical of Early Access, though I want to be clear that there are developers doing it right. The most we can ask when buying an unfinished game is a fair representation of the risks and challenges.