Developers looking to use the Early Access program on Steam need to adhere to stricter rules.
Valve are bidding to help protect customers from dodgy Early Access games, and they've issued a new document to developers about Early Access, addressing some concerns.
The news comes by way of a GiantBomb article, and in it they state several developers have confirmed the new guidelines Valve are imposing.
Valve open in the documents by explaining what Early Access is:
"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."
Valve have issued a set of rules which must be adhered to also, which are non-negotiable. They include devs having to clearly brand their game as Early Access if they're selling keys off-site, and they also need to stop over-promising on what they will deliver. "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," stated Valve.
Finally, Valve state that the price customers pay for Early Access to the games must be the same across all websites the keys are being distributed on.
The guidelines Valve mention include asking devs not to go down the Early Access route if they can't actually afford development without any sales of their game, as well as informing customers of the exact state the product is currently in before they purchase. I've laid out the guidelines stated by Valve for you below:
"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."