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What Steam’s new Early Access guidelines mean for developers

Posted by Tyler Colp on November 21, 2014 | Jump to 0 comments

Eight months after launching Steam Early Access, Valve is refining its purpose and introducing new rules and guidelines to developers.

Most of the rules require developers to be more practical and transparent about describing their games, which will hopefully lead to less disasters.

According to a report from Giant Bomb and a source who asked not to be named because of their obligation to an NDA, here are the changes broken down.

Early Access, according to Valve’s new but familiar description, is about community-driven development and up-front transparency from the developer.

“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,” the company wrote.

Valve recognizes the risk of promises in game development and said it asks developers to “follow a set of rules that are intended to help inform customers and set proper expectations when purchasing your game.”

Those rules are as follows:

Developers must always define their games as early access

Many developers will sell their games on their own website as well as the Early Access page. As part of Valve’s new rules, they must call their game early access and describe what state it’s in anywhere else they decide to sell it.

This will hopefully make it clear to people what kind of game they’re buying even if it’s outside Steam’s marketplace.

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Developers can’t promise features that aren’t in the game yet

Valve wants you to buy an Early Access game based on its current state. It said developers are no longer allowed to boast about upcoming features to their game.

This is a pretty big change, considering many Early Access games list what features will be coming as a selling point. This will likely make descriptions more concrete about what the game currently is, at the cost of the scope of it being more vague.

Developers have to be consistent with Steam

Valve won’t allow developers to sell their Early Access game before Steam or cheaper than Steam. They also must be consistent with their sales.

This means that Steam will never be at a disadvantage to other outlets selling the game.

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Developers shouldn’t rely on Early Access sales

This one is pretty simple. Valve said that developers shouldn’t rely on how many copies of their games sells on the service, since there’s no guarantee how well it will perform. It tells developers to ask themselves if they can work on the game without enough sales and if there are other ways they could fund development before going to Early Access.

Developers need to bring a working game to Early Access

This one is a little harder to define, given the lackadaisical way we throw around words like “alpha” and “beta”. Valve tells developers that they need to have a working game with more content than a tech demo on Early Access. It wants developers to at least include a video of how the game plays on their page.

“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,” Valve wrote.

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Developers can’t use Early Access for bug testing

Valve wants Early Access to be about community-driven development, not bug testing. It doesn’t want developers to release nearly complete games on the service just to deal with little technical issues.

“Early Access is intended as a place where customers can have impact on the game,” it reiterated.

Early Access is rapidly growing with Steam. These changes, while still open for risk, help define what Early Access is and isn’t for. Let’s hope we’ll get less broken or abandoned games and more products from the intended developer-consumer development cycle.

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