While far from perfect, I’m glad the program exists
Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek reported last Thursday that a new set of rules and guidelines for Steam Early Access has been issued to developers in an effort to further define what it means to be involved with the program.
Valve states 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.”
In June of this year, we reported that Valve had updated its FAQ regarding the program, warning consumers that some titles may never release in full. To put this in perspective, Games Industry International states that only 25% of all Early Access titles have released as a full game.
Rules for Early Access:
- Titles must be specifically branded as being in “Early Access” when Steam keys are being distributed off-site and to avoid “specific promises about future events.”
Valve offers the example that “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.”
- Early Access launch schedules and pricing must be consistent on all storefronts and websites that the title is available, i.e. developers cannot charge more on Steam than they’re charging elsewhere.
“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.”
Guidelines for Early Access:
- Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales.
- Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game.
- Don’t launch in Early Access without a playable game.
- Don’t launch in Early Access if you are done with development.
While I adore Early Access, it definitely has room for improvement. Rules and guidelines like these may take some of the guesswork out of the program for the consumer and offer some much-needed guidance for developers interested in pursuing the program.
In closing, I’ll offer my rule of thumb when it comes to purchasing titles in Early Access: If you’re not willing to accept the risks involved with buying into an unfinished product, don’t purchase at all. You need to be prepared to accept the title as-is with no real expectations beyond that. If you’re looking for a product that is 100% guaranteed to be feature complete, wait until the title releases in 1.0 and maybe read some reviews to see if the finished product is a good fit for you.
Steam Early Access is a wonderful way for gamers to get involved with the sometimes mysterious process of games development, but it doesn’t come without risk. If you’re willing to put some of your hard-earned cash on the line, the rewards are plentiful. Games like Broforce, Nuclear Throne, and Assault Android Cactus are superb examples of the program at its best, but these are the exceptions, not the rule. As the old saying goes, caveat emptor.