Valve Software, owners of the Steam PC gaming platform, have just released new Early Access guidelines to developers in a bid to prevent Early Access games from failing and gamers becoming irate because of unrealistic expectations.

Early Access is a way for developers to sell games that are still in development through Steam, earning them some cash while they finish up the game and getting interested gamers involved in the game’s development. That’s what Valve has been trying to achieve but the reality has proved a little different.

Some games fail outright by not reaching a point where they’re ready for a full commercial release, while others simply don’t deliver on promised features and, as a result, gamers who’ve “invested” in some Early Access games have understandably felt wronged.

That’s because some developers have approached Early Access as a quick cash grab, when they’re not actually in a position to finish the game or even implement all of the features they’ve promised. Earth: Year 2066, Spacebase DF-9 are two notable examples of Early Access games that failed to deliver on promises; Earth: Year 2066 was such a colossal failure – both in terms of overall playability and undelivered features – that it was even removed from Steam and gamers refunded.

As you might imagine, the programme has earned itself a rather poor reputation in some quarters and so Valve is doing what it can to stop these sorts of disappointments from happening by tweaking the Early Access guidelines.

Giant Bomb posted a long, detailed report on exactly how it has changed, and why. Managing expectations appears high on the list of priorities, and Valve has outlined what developers could and should do to avoid leading gamers down the garden path.

These two points are the most critical:

“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.

Other guidelines are more about good business practices and common sense. If you just have a tech demo, for example or if you’re done with development and just want some bug testers to help you iron out the last few remaining wrinkles, Early Access isn’t for you. That sort of thing.

Have you bought an Early Access game and been disappointed with the final outcome? Let us know below.

[Source – Giantbomb]
Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.