Valve is trying to reign in its Early Access program, which lets games be sold to customers long before they're finished. According to Giant Bomb, developers have received new rules and guidelines designed to make the program more transparent—and to ensure it's being used in the right way. Here's a summary of the requirements:
- Early Access games sold outside of Steam must be advertised as such. Valve says many are "sold as keys on other websites where there is no explanation of what Early Access is."
- Pricing for Early Access games must be no higher on Steam than on other storefronts. Also, Early Access games must be available on Steam at the same time they appear on other services.
- Developers should steer clear of making "specific promises about future events." Early Access games should be sold based on their current state, "not on promises of a future that may or may not be realized."
That last item sounds more like a recommendation than a requirement, but Giant Bomb separates it from the series of guidelines reportedly issued by Valve. Speaking of which...
- Developers should avoid Early Access if they can't survive with "very few or no sales" or if they're unwilling to seek other sources of investment.
- Early Access games should be in a playable state; "at the bare minimum," developers should be able to show videos of in-game action.
- Early Access is not for beta-testing finished titles. Valve wants early players to be able to be able to help shape the game as it's developed.
- Expectations should be set properly "everywhere" developers discuss their game.
The rules and recommendations seem fairly reasonable, and I'm surprised some of them weren't part of the program when Early Access was introduced. Selling games that are still in development is still a fairly new concept, though. The new guidelines should ensure consumers have a better sense of what they're getting into when buying an Early Access title. They also paint a clearer picture of what Valve is trying to achieve with Early Access, which is to let gamers be engaged in the developement process rather thank simply bankrolling it.