Valve has tightened the restrictions and guidelines for developers who intend to market their game using Steam Early Access.
The updated restrictions, first reported by Gamesport's sister site GiantBomb, state that Early Access is designed to "be a place for games that are in a playable alpha or beta state, are worth the current value of the playable build, and the developer plans to continue to develop for release".
These tightened rules come after a number of High-profile cases have hit the Early Access - some of questionable quality - others never seing any updates post launch. While some games like Starbound or Rust have seen a lot of success using the program, there have been many other titles that seemed to take advantage of the low-to-now restriction system.
Most notably, Earth: Year 2066, which has been accused of misleading customers with inaccurate claims on the Product Page. Last month Broken Age developer Double Fine halted the work done on SpaceBase DF-9, because the game was no longer generating enough money to justify the investment. In the end the developer provided a free copy of its dungeon-crawler Hack 'n' Slash alongside SpaceBase DF-9 and viceversa.
The new rules impose several requirements, such as games no longer being branded as Early Access if the developer is distributing keys on any other sites, therefore preventing customers from purchasing unfinished titles.
Below there is a section added from the documentation, written by Valve, particularly 4 new guidelines developers must follow:
"Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales."
There is no guarantee that your game will sell as many units as you anticipate. If you are counting on selling a specific number of units to survive and complete your game, then you need to think carefully about what it would mean for you or your team if you don't sell that many units. Are you willing to continue developing the game without any sales? Are you willing to seek other forms of investment?
"Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game."
For example, if you know your updates during Early Access will break save files or make the customer start over with building something, make sure you say that up front. And say this everywhere you sell your Steam keys.
"Don't launch in Early Access without a playable game."
If you have a tech demo, but not much gameplay yet, then it’s probably too early to launch in Early Access. 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. You might want to start by giving out keys to select fans and getting input from a smaller and focused group of users before you post your title to Early Access. At a bare minimum, you will need a video that shows in-game gameplay of what it looks like to play the game. Even if you are asking customers for feedback on changing the gameplay, customers need something to start with in order to give informed feedback and suggestions.
"Don't launch in Early Access if you are done with development."
If you have all your gameplay defined already and are just looking for final bug testing, then Early Access isn’t the right place for that. You’ll probably just want to send out some keys to fans or do more internal playtesting. Early Access is intended as a place where customers can have impact on the game."