Valve has issued new rules and guidelines to developers regarding its Steam Early Access program, in a bid to help protect consumers from investing in risky projects.
Documentation of those guidelines is not available publicly, but GameSpot’s sister site Giant Bomb has obtained a copy and has outlined the key changes.
The new guidelines come months after Valve decided to remove a game, Earth: Year 2066, from its Early Access program after suggesting that it was being marketed with disingenuous promises about its quality. The corporation then offered refunds to those who bought it.
Early Access allows gamers to purchase games before their completion and, in some cases, help developers with feedback along the way.
However, Valve is now telling game creators that they need to be clearer in the sales pitch, making it clear that Early Access games are not the finished article.
The corporation says: “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.”
Developers are also being asked to refrain from “specific promises about future events,” meaning that assurances about unfinished features, or merely prospective ones, should not be at the heart of a game’s marketing.
The company writes: “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.”
Pasted below is a key section from the documentation, written by Valve, which specifies rules that developers must follow:
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.”