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Valve tightens rules on Early Access

Demands more transparency from developers, avoidance of promises about the finished product

Valve has taken further steps in regulating Steam Early Access, setting out new rules and guidelines for developers interested in using the service.

Early Access has been an incubator for a number of interesting projects since it launched in 2013, but as this year has progressed the number of cautionary tales has grown ever larger. Now, according to a number of developers in contact with Giant Bomb, Valve is attempting to address those issues with more clarity on how the service should be approached.

In general, the new rules focus on developers making sure consumers know that the game is still in development, and to avoid making promises regarding the final product.

The simplest manifestation of this is the requirement that all Steam keys are marked as "Early Access" regardless of where they're sold - a practice Valve has spotted on third-party websites. Vale also requires developers to launch on Early Access at the same time, and at the same price, as on any other service or website.

The most problematic new rule for developers - but arguably the most important going forward - is a prohibition on making, "specific promises about future events."

"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 realised."

Beyond these rules, Valve also offered what amounts to friendly advice, some guidelines that developers may want to consider before they launch on Early Access. They are:

  • 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.

Valve altered the language it uses to explain Early Access back in June, when it added a caveat in its terms and conditions warning users that some games on the service would never be finished. This echoes similar problems related to unfinished projects on Kickstarter.

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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