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Valve changing Early Access to avoid backer exploitation

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Steam’s Early Access program has managed to earn itself a bad name over the years, thanks to a few terrible projects that have sucked fans dry and delivered only broken promises. It has made backing a game a far more complex and risky decision to make – a fact that Valve is incredibly unhappy about. That’s why they’re changing Early Access and making it far more strict for potential developers.

Valve is cracking down on Early Access developers, lying down some new rules and guidelines to make communication between them and their paying fans far more effective. That’s the core of the issue really, with some developers making promises they can’t keep, failing to adequately mark their games as prototypes and sometimes trying to outright bamboozle customers altogether.

Valve is saying no more, and some of their new should help mitigate some of the financial risk fans face. Developers must now avoid talking about features that don’t exist yet. This makes the vision for the game more vague, but prevents empty promise from being made.

“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.”

Valve also wants to force a form of launch parity for Early Access, forcing developers to launch on Steam at the same time, and at the same price, as anywhere else. This will most likely be the toughest pill for developers to swallow, with many only migration to Steam after some success 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.”

The rest are quick bullet points that probably should’ve been part of the rules from the start, considering how logical they seem.

  • 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.

These should help minimize the risk of investing in unfinished games, but it won’t abolish it altogether. There are still going to be games that burn backers, but hopefully these new rules help communicate issues earlier. Early Access is a vague and imperfect model still, but Valve doesn’t want to give up on it just yet.

Last Updated: November 21, 2014

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