Valve has updated the developer guidelines for games hoping to take advantage of Steam's Early Access functionality, in an apparent attempt to restore consumer confidence following some high-profile failures.
Early Access was introduced to Steam as a means for gamers to support their favourite developers and for developers to fund the final stretch of a game's development. Where crowd-funding services like Kickstarter allow 'backers' to fund development from little more than an idea, Early Access required at least an alpha-level playable prototype. This prototype would then be provided via the Steam digital distribution service, and players who liked the concept could buy access; once access was bought, they would automatically receive updates as the game progressed along with its finished version when ready for retail launch.
It's a neat concept, but one that has had a few high-profile failures. In June the company was forced to add a warning that Early Access games might never be finished
following games like Earth: Year 2066
being pulled for apparent misselling by its developers. An even bigger-scale mess-up came as the result of DoubleFine abandoning development of Spacebase DF-9, despite having recouped its investment in just two weeks
, claiming that the Early Access cash it received wasn't enough to finish the game and instead choosing to call an incomplete build of the title 'Version 1.0.'
Now, gaming site GiantBomb
has noted that Valve has updated the Early Access guidelines presented to developers in an attempt to prevent any more mess-ups. Under the new rules, developers are told to clearly mark a title as Early Access when distributing keys outside of Steam, not promise future features that may not ever make it into the game - DoubleFine take note, here - and provide consistency of pricing and availability between Steam and other distribution methods like direct sales and crowd-funding pledges.
The new page also include less-strict 'guidelines' for developers, which tells developers not to launch Early Access titles unless they can afford to fund development with few to no sales, to manage expectations appropriately, not to launch in Early Access without a playable game - tech demos need not apply - and not to use Early Access as a pre-release 'teaser' for finished titles. Developers found to be breaking the rules or falling far short of Valve's new guidelines will likely be asked to leave the Early Access ecosystem.