Valve Change Early Access Rules: ‘Do Not Make Promises’

Valve have sent game creators updated rules for releasing games through Steam Early Access. The service, which allows devs and publishers to sell games before they’re finished, is both or alternately a useful method of funding risky game ideas and a maligned method of delaying criticism and profiting from promises. Valve obviously want to cut down on that, as the new rules state that creators should “not make specific promises about future events.”

The rules were sent to us by several developers, as well as Giant Bomb. Here’s the full, most relevant rule change:

Do not make 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 realized.

A set of guidelines – as distinct from rules – were also outlined in the update, which further suggests that creators “Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales.” I imagine that, if followed, this guideline would cut down on the number of games released through the service by about 95%.

While there have been few outright disasters released through the Steam’s Early Access store – and those that were clearly iffy were removed and their customers refunded – there have been many instances of developers promising features or release dates that they then failed to deliver on. Most recently this happened in the case of Spacebase DF-9, Double Fine’s Dwarf Fortress-but-in-space game which had its feature list significantly slashed before a final release.

Of course, these are problems that exist outside of Steam’s Early Access program as well. They’re shortcomings that are obviously a natural consequence of the unpredictable game development process, but it’s significant that Valve are now taking a more explicit stance on how Early Access games should be advertised. At the time of writing, many Early Access games listed on Steam still sell themselves on the basis of what’s to come rather than what’s already in the game. Given the extremely early state many games are released in, one wonders who is going to continue buying barebones open world survival games when those promises start to disappear.

The other rules were all straightforward and pre-existing, but here are the guidelines in full, since it’s all relevant to how Early Access games should be presented by their creators, both within and without Steam:

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.

I’m glad that the standards expected for Early Access are being more clearly defined, though I’m not sure that any number of guidelines will ever remove the reasonable expectation that ‘Early Access’ games will one day be more than they are upon their initial release. What constitutes ‘finished’ is ambiguous, but it seems the very name of the service carries innate promises which sometimes will not be met.

63 Comments

  1. Jalan says:

    I wish they’d gone to such lengths concerning Shovelware Arena… I mean, Greenlight.

    It is a bit sad that they had to create these guidelines in the first place, but fantastic to finally have them otherwise.

    • unimural says:

      The way I read this was: We’re going to make sure we can keep selling whatever anyone wants to release as Early Access, and we take no responsibility over anything.

      And please note, Spacebase DF-9 adheres to this rule change and these guidelines perfectly. Spacebase made no specific promises, the game was playable from launch and was developed for a year with the early access sales. In what way would Spacebase DF-9 be problematic under these guidelines?

      The way I see it, most people shouldn’t buy Early Access games and most games shouldn’t be released as Early Access. Valve is just washing its hands from the mess.

      In the interest of disclosure, I bought Spacebase DF-9. Early on I felt the direction wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Eventually I did play it a few hours. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but I can’t quite understand the hate either.

  2. KestrelPi says:

    Why do people keep reporting that Double Fine made promises about DF-9?

    They were very clear on their feature list that it was a maximal list of things that “might possibly” make it into the game but it was unlikely that they all would and how much of it did would depend on how long their finances allowed them to continue.

    I think they made some pretty big mistakes on that project (among them launching too early and being too reliant on sustained sales to get the game to a place where they could expect such sales) but none of them were to do with making promises they couldn’t keep. They were errors in judgement.

    • BisonHero says:

      Yeah, DF-9 played out pretty much exactly how I expected it would. They were going to add as many features to it as they could, but unless it magically attained Dwarf Fortress levels of a cult following, it was never going to have the continued sales to justify like 2 or 3 years of development. It’s development ended a LITTLE earlier than I would’ve guessed, but like, c’mon, anyone who thought that all of those pie-in-the-sky features were gonna make it in the game was a fool.

      • KestrelPi says:

        Well, actually, I ran some numbers on that back when the discussion was fresher, and I think this also isn’t quite right.

        I remember figuring out that in order to sustain 2 years of development, then DF-9 would have to have been a pretty small fraction as successful as Prison Architecht.

        Even using pessimistic numbers, the amount they’d need to sell in order to fund the game for quite some time was actually pretty low. It would have had to have been a modest success (according to the team size and the numbers Schafer recently quoted as the cost to employ someone at DF, and sales after Valve’s cut and taxes and accounting for Steam Sales and so forth).

        My guess is that it failed to even meet their lowest end estimates of how they expected it to do – it didn’t just sell poorly, it flopped. Perhaps their low end estimates were too high, then, but I don’t think they were beyond reason.

        The question, of course, of whether it was in a state to release early access on the first version, is legit.

        • Rizlar says:

          If they had released a full game that looked good I would have jumped on it! It seems like a lot of early access business is driven by players thinking ‘ooh I get to play this game early’ rather than the more realistic ‘ooh I get to buy into an unfinished game that will hopefully turn out to be something good’. I dunno, it seems like Valve clarifying these ideas is as much for the players’ benefit as the devs’.

          Your original point is important though – it sounds like DF never actually promised anything, even if their optimistic vision of ongoing development never happened. Smith, you slanderous hack!

          • KestrelPi says:

            Yeah, I think that any Valve clarifying what early access is both for devs and for players is probably a good mood.

            Re: my Spacebase experience, I don’t think there’s a single person who isn’t disappointed, or doesn’t have legit criticism of where DF went wrong with the project. It’s a bummer.

            Still, I judge failings by ability to learn from them: After they learned the drawbacks of keeping a lot of info about Broken Age secret, they developed Massive Chalice completely out in the open, without any backer-only information. That has seemed to have gone very well.

            Further with Massive Chalice, they did use Early Access again (which actually surprised me), but have done so this time when the game is much nearer to a complete state and does not require extra funding to get there. The result is that backers, when they heard about this, were delighted to know that the game had at least 4-5 months to go, because the feedback has already been so good. I know some people don’t trust that, but the maths works out. This game is on budget and has been from the start.

            I don’t think Double Fine is incapable of error, but anyone who asserts they haven’t learned from them just hasn’t been paying attention.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          I was under the impression that despite the title referencing Dwarf Fortress, that Prison Architect was kind-of more what they had in mind all along.

      • eggy toast says:

        1- they repaid a massive 6 figure loan, and then said sales were anemic and the left over money was insufficient, where they clearly could have waited, and re-invested the first wave of sales into further development, *especially* if this was to be the main or only funding stream for the project

        2- it is flat out predatory behavior to promise that a list of features will be included and completely omit that they will not in fact be done if sales targets are not met. That is deliberately misleading customers.

        • KestrelPi says:

          Again, they didn’t “promise that a list of features will be included and completely omit that they will not in fact be done if sales targets are not met.”

          They literally said:

          * These features “might possibly” make it into the game
          * How many did would depend on continued interest in the game
          * They would have to make “hard decisions” on what makes it in.

          They said ALL of that at the top of the very first version of the list. Here’s a direct quote:

          “Spacebase DF-9 is a detailed simulation game, and we’re constantly improving and adding to it. Because space contains everything, there’s an almost infinite number of things we could add to the game! Because we have limited time and resources, we have to make hard choices about what’s important. Below is a giant list of all the things we might possibly do at some point. Nothing on this list is carved in stone, and we can’t promise any date for when it might go into the game. ”

          Elsewhere, they said that they’d keep developing as long as there was interest in the game. Read: as long as it was financially sustainable.

          • eightohnine says:

            I understand your vigorous stance in these comments, defending what DF said about the game. I really do. And I think you are right. Right in the way that if the whole case would go before court, the judge would instantly dismiss all the whiners, citing the project description that has been there from the get-go and never ever promised anything at all. So no foul for DF and eggs for the angry mob.

            But… that’s exactly where I think DF did wrong. And where the contempt stems from. While I do actually believe DF never planned a malicious bait&switch, they obviously knew how they needed to lure in potential backers. They knew how to honey-coat the project in a way that it would have gamers throwing cash at their screens. And even if most backers understood what “might possibly” and “hard choices” mean in terms of the feature-list, one could honestly assume that if “Awesome Feature A” doesn’t make it into the game then at least “Awesome Feature B” would. That’s a gamble most backers where willing to take. But in the end neither awesome feature made it in. Yes, they delivered a space station builder, so promises where indeed kept. The framework is there, the basics are down, the presentation is charismatic, but the gameplay is lame. Seriously, if DF had gone “old-school” ignoring the crowd-funding route and developing the game on traditional financial risk, then releasing a version 1.0 to the public in its current form… the reviews would have torn them to shreds and the financial damage would have been severe.

            They never promised us a triple-A title. And again going to court, they would easily have walked free with delivering far less than the current state of the game. Also, as much as I like DF, Schafer and friends, I know they are a business, they don’t run on goodwill and back rubs, but on hard cash. That’s exactly where they tweaked the projects description and snuck away the “money-decides-all” aspect in PR-talk like in the exact paragraph you quote above. That’s where they shifted their financial risk onto the backers. And now they get an out, leaving behind a husk of a game and a huge pile of frustration. This may have been a clever move business-wise. But it doesn’t show appreciation towards the community.

        • valrus says:

          I don’t think they could have waited, actually; I don’t think it was a loan such that you borrow money and pay it back later no matter what. I think it’s more of a development grant, in exchange for a certain schedule of percentages of future sales. Those sales have to include pre-launch sales, or else it’d be a sucker’s bet on the part of the funder. The funder can estimate how many people will be willing to buy, but not whether enough buyers will hold off until whatever counts as “launch” for something like this.

          If the percentage schedules only start at launch, that would have been a serious disincentive for Double Fine to ever consider it finished — if that were the case, yeah, Double Fine absolutely should have put their sales back into development, for as long as possible, and hope that 100% of sales come before launch.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        The pitch wasn’t that they needed sales to continue development. The pitch was that it WILL BE in development for years.

        • KestrelPi says:

          No, they never set a timescale for development either. They definitely said they’d -like- to develop it for years, but only ever in the context of ‘best case scenario.’ When asked about it, their answer was always along the lines of “we don’t know, but obviously we’d like to keep this going long-term.”

          • Bishop says:

            I’ll take your word for it that somewhere they said the right things and covered their back, but with so many people ****ed off and so many confused over what the future of it would be, they clearly didn’t communicate any of this effectively. You’re in the minority from what I’ve seen, even if you’re right.

          • KestrelPi says:

            Yes, communication was undoubtedly an issue – and of course I’ve never denied that some quite bad mistakes were made. I just think that we shouldn’t mischaracterise what they were.

    • wyrm4701 says:

      You’re describing it as though DF released a playable, complete game. They did not. It’s not that some features didn’t make it in, it’s that the comparatively few that did are buggy and incomplete – what few mechanics do work require other, absent mechanics to even approximate the game they sold. This is because they abandoned development of the game, and from the way it plays, they did this very early in it’s production. They abandoned it pretty much right after assuring customers that they wouldn’t do that exact thing, and they even put it on sale, pretending it was still in active, long-term development. I’m sure their motives are fascinating and will elicit my sympathy, but providing context does not change the poor treatment of their customers.

      • KestrelPi says:

        Well firstly, I don’t think I described the game at all. I described what they actually promised, which it turned out was that ‘some of this stuff might possibly make it and it’ll all depend.’

        As for the game, I’ve played it. I think it’s an okay little base builder, and yeah, kinda buggy, but they’re still supporting it – there’s a new patch coming soon in fact, according to the forums, and there have already been a few post-release patches. It’s not the incredibly sprawling and deep simulation that we hoped it would eventually become, and it’s never going to be a favourite of mine, but it is a game. I actually think it has its charms, and I certainly think it’s better off released than entirely scrapped.

        • Cataclysm says:

          The majority of STEAM reviews for Spacebase DF-9 kinda say the opposite- that its like an early alpha that was completely abandoned by its developers after taking funders money and pissing off. They say its an unplayable mess.

        • Baines says:

          Double Fine did put the game on sale when they knew it was about to get axed, without warning customers that they were buying into an almost dead game. Double Fine even put out a quick succession of patches to make it look like the game was still being actively developed, when previously updates had been coming at a much slower than promised pace.

          Right before that burst, development had been so slow that people were asking on Double Fine’s forums whether the game had been dropped, only to be assured that the title was still being actively worked on and actively implying that the title had a secure future. Again, that was not long at all before Double Fine announced that the game was ending development.

    • eggy toast says:

      Please don’t spread un-true information defending a company who continues to use predatory practices.

      They said that they would not stop adding features until they were out of ideas for features, and then cut ~50% of the features they said had already named.

      • KestrelPi says:

        Um, no they didn’t. They literally said here’s a bunch of stuff that “might possibly” make it into the game, but they’d likely have to make “hard decisions” about what makes it into the game and it would depend on continued interest in the project. I’m not pulling that out of nowhere, this is what they said.

        • eggy toast says:

          LMAO at you trying this hard to defend someone doing such an obvious bait and switch

          If you don’t have stock in Double Fine, then go back and play Psychonauts without the nostalgia glasses on, realize that the best Double Fine game ever was only mediocre and the rest are worst, and stop being an apologist for sneaky assholes who are documentedly terrible at their jobs.

          • RobF says:

            How is it an obvious bait and switch if, err, they were fairly up front about a) stuff likely not being able to go in b) development could only continue whilst sales were on the up?

            It was a very obvious (and hopefully lessons learned) lack of appropriate communication on the final legs, that’s for definite, but I’m not getting aboard the I-HATE-DOUBLE-FINE choo choo over this when it’s a good 50% internet getting its knickers in a twist and making everything sound much worse than it is, sorry.

          • Shadow says:

            Well, if you read the actual promises, you’ll indeed find there’s not many. They’d add all these features maybe possibly hopefully if they could and sales supported development, because they seemed to have little to no actual budget. It’s easy to realize in hindsight (and wasn’t particularly hard to tell at the time) that they were essentially asking people to gamble on their behalf. It’s irresponsible and more than questionable.

            The promises weren’t explicit, but they were there: whatever they sold they did thanks to the good faith people had in them and the future of the game, since they were supposedly reputable devs and the plan was sound at first glance. The promised feature list was long, and despite the disclaimer saying that they only “might” have implemented such things, one would assume the company was prepared to deliver a fair chunk of them. It’s only reasonable to expect a reasonable product.

            But they were selling a future that would never come, and having but a minimal budget, they knew it far better than they let their customers know.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    On the one hand, the “no promises” rule seems like a bit of a step in the wrong direction — my general feeling (which I think is fairly widely shared) has been that games are staying in Early Access way too long with too little development and need to have some sort of actual timeline to completion. More promises, and being held to those promises, not fewer.

    On the other hand, if they stop promising things, maybe people will stop buying based on promises and start actually buying based on what the game is right here and now, which seems to be their intent. So while I’m not sure if it’s really the right way to go about it, at least it’ll resolve some of the usual complaints about Early Access.

    Also, good on them for basically saying “this isn’t Kickstarter; don’t throw stuff on here if you’re not willing to tough it out”. The best crowdfund-from-scratch model these days seems to be Kickstarter (or equivalent) to gauge interest and get your seed cash, then Early Access for extra trickle-funding and for the people who missed the Kickstarter. The worst is just throwing a niche product on Early Access, not getting enough sales, and leaving buyers in the lurch. It’s good to see them encouraging more of the former, less of the latter. (Of course, whether it’ll have any effect is another matter.)

    • gwathdring says:

      My concern is that the “don’t make promises” thing has the wrong angle. It’s more … “you are responsible for what you claim to sell your customer, not what you actually give your customer; if you make promises you can’t keep, it’s your ass on the line. Don’t do it.”

      The way it’s worded is less pro-consumer and more anti-idiocy. Which isn’t … bad exactly but I’d rather it be more explicitly pro-consumer.

      • Baboonanza says:

        I think the problem with that approach is that Valve is fairly limited in what they can do after the fact. They can de-list the game and black ball the developer but at that point the damage has been done already. Additionally it would put them in the position of having to judge whether games have lived up to their promises which is clearly not a duty they want (and who can blame them).

        This is about managing user expectations for early access games and setting up guidelines that can potentially be used to prevent mistakes being made.

        Frankly they should just put a massive red warning on every early access page saying something like ‘Whatever the developer says, if you buy and early access game there is no guarantee of any future development. Buyer beware.’

        • Baines says:

          The “no promises” part is basically Valve telling other developers to follow Valve’s own policy of silence. It is what Valve believes works for them, even though Valve’s policy of silence has contributed greatly to the growing backlash against Valve.

          It is also the wash-our-hands of responsibility approach that Valve has increasingly favored over recent years. Valve doesn’t want to do any of the daily work running their store. They don’t like to take action against publishers and developers. They’ve sided with publishers against users in the past, and added sections to the Steam user agreement that reduce user rights and options. And Valve has tried to minimize their legal responsibility, on the off chance a customer ever does try to take a publisher to court for selling a game under false pretenses.

          • epeternally says:

            “growing backlash against Valve”

            Oh so I’m not the only one noticing this. Unfortunately the only way anyone is ever going to be able to compete with Steam is if they hack out the licensing to give copies of games on their service to Steam owners, but it definitely has been my observation that even the most devout 1000+ game account users seem to be fast becoming disillusioned with Steam. Between the flawed store redesign, buggy trainwreck of a client, unspeakable failures of basic GUI design, and notoriously heinous customer support, there’s not exactly a lot to like about it. Other than being where people have established libraries, which is where they get people. You can hate Valve/Steam all you want, but unless you want to lose all of your games you have no choice but to keep using it.

            And that doesn’t even touching on frustrations with the total failure to deliver SteamOS and the Steam controller in a complete and timely manner, and ever increasing enmity toward Valve’s staunch refusal to offer any information about what they have in development at any given time.

      • Archonsod says:

        Valve and pro-consumer don’t exactly go together.

  4. wyrm4701 says:

    It’s nice to see that Valve is breaking it’s silence and attempting to address Early Access issues, but this is… kind of an empty gesture. It’s basically another entreaty for developers to play nice with the system, when what’s really needed is some notion of consequence for failing to do so. Because some developers are publicly failing to play nice, and it’s quickly eroding confidence in Early Access.

    So far, though, the only way for a dev to be held to account requires them to shoot their mouths off and threaten Gabe Newell – that earned a quick and decisive response, and is unlikely to happen again in a hurry. These updated guidelines send a very different message. It’s a weak response to a recurring problem, and it’s just confirming that customers should avoid dealing with Early Access at all costs. It appears to be what Valve’s trying to do.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I’m not sure I fully agree. I mean, I /do/ agree that there needs to be consequences however I think this is a necessary first step. Valve need to have the rules in place before they can enforce them.

      However, I am not entirely sure where I stand on the content of the rules.

    • RobF says:

      There’s a split between rules and guidelines here which is worth noting. The rules, developers absolutely have to stick to in order to use the Early Access program. These do have consequences, as in a developer will not be able to use the Early Access program if they break them. And then there’s the guidelines which are more “best practices”.

      I don’t expect previous or existing titles to be grandfathered in but it does give Valve something to fall back on if/when something goes awry.

    • Geebs says:

      “Hey developers, your pals Valve here. We were perfectly happy with hosting unfinished games and making out like bandits on the proceeds while we could still pretend that it’s all about ‘allowing customers to get involved in the development process’.

      However, after the latest round of high profile disasters, we’ve realised that you guys are making us look bad. Here’s some friendly guidelines which will allow us to distance ourselves from your inevitable failure while still getting paid. Good luck!”

      • Hex says:

        “However, after the latest round of high profile disasters, we’ve realised that you guys are generating a lot of work for our one-man customer support department. Please stop.”

        FTFY

      • epeternally says:

        Inevitable failure is on point. There’s a lot of complaining about early access being anti-consumer, and deservedly so, but it’s a terrible system for developers as well. They’re putting themselves in a position where they have to deliver the final version of their beta / alpha game, even if their early access sales are negligible and they don’t have the resources to do the required years of development. If they fail to do so, or don’t do so to the general satisfaction of the community, they will be functionally blacklisted from indie development. And if early access reviews are bad, even once they get the finished game out the door their sales will probably be negligible. I don’t know many people who will buy a game with less than 90% positive reviews unless they’re deeply intrigued by it and it’s cheap. Early access only works if you have outside funding, and let’s face it most of these people don’t, or if you’re game sells a respectable number of units steadily over the course of two years. The odds of that are… minuscule. And, to add insult to injury, you probably had to bundle your game to get it through Greenlight, so most of the people who own your early access game and will ruin your life if it isn’t completed, as promised, and good? Probably paid all of $.25 for it. Isn’t early access grand?

  5. mukuste says:

    Lex Braben?

  6. RayEllis says:

    This is actually a bad thing.

    Instead of a developer saying “The game, when finished, will have an offline, single player mode”, they will instead say “The game, when finished, will hopefully have an offline, single player mode”

    In other words, they’ll be vague about, but couch their words so that a casual inspection will excite and interest the unwary.

    The big issue, of course, will be that by “not promising” things, but still listing them, they’ll be able to churn out games that are horribly feature incomplete. And when people complain they can simply say…

    “We never promised those features…”

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Yeah, I feel somewhat similar. As a consumer, I suppose I feel like I might be getting short changed here with reliable devs downgrading promised features to possible features.

      But at the same time, this is not the same as a pre-order, this is funding. They are selling access to the game as it stands now and it will be subject to change.

      We all know that game development is a complex process and planned features should certainly be subject to change. One you reach the pre-order stage, where you are actually selling the finished product, then your advertised features shouldn’t change. Prior to that? I think it would be foolish for devs to promise any features that are not absolutely core or already implemented. Intended features subject to change should be sufficient.

      I think on balance I am happy with the rules, which draw a clear line as to what a customer can expect for their money (the game as it stands now) and what a developer should and should not be promising. It appears to me to encourage devs to delay Early Access until vital features are already implemented – so as not to mislead us. I am happy with that because it does mean we can make more informed decisions about what we are buying based on what is already present.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Agreed. Bad move. Right idea, on paper, but it leaves a loophole a mile wide in terms of how to word your advertising for your game.

      Frankly, if this is something Valve is concerned about, I think its time Valve wrote the disclaimer and stuck it on ever Early Access page. The same disclaimer, on every page. I also think that the duration of a game’s stint in Early Access should be included in that disclaimer and visible on the Buy page, as well. Doing this would at least cover Valve.

      Though frankly, the system will always be abused. By someone. What Early Access really needs, is a time limit. If your game has been in this state for 24 months, its time to either release, or face the consequences of not being able to do so. This would encourage people to not release into Early Access until they had a game built and needed to test, as opposed to launching with barely-there Alphas they cannot possibly finish in 24 months.

      • RobF says:

        “This would encourage people to not release into Early Access until they had a game built and needed to test, as opposed to launching with barely-there Alphas they cannot possibly finish in 24 months.”

        Or, they could do what they have done and say “don’t release your game as a barely there alpha” which seems like a far simpler solution to me.

      • Baines says:

        The new rules don’t really do anything against some of the shovelware Unity scam games currently on Steam, like Air Control, the fish pop-up book, Slaughtering Grounds, or Grass Simulator.

        Valve isn’t trying to ‘fix’ Steam with these new rules. Valve is just trying to ditch any responsibility for when a developer/publisher fails to deliver what they’ve promised. With the new rules, Valve can simply sit back after the fact and either tell a developer “Look, you violated Steam’s rules, so eat the consequences yourself. (We’ll still happily carry your next title for our 30% cut though.)” or tell a customer “Look, you were warned about buying games in Early Access state. You were never promised a functional title, so you aren’t getting a refund.”

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          “Look, you were warned about buying games in Early Access state. You were never promised a functional title, so you aren’t getting a refund.”

          Yes, this is them giving that warning (sort of). I see that as a good thing.

          If you want to know what you’re getting, you should not buy games before they’re released and have had proper reviews.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      You should be assuming that’s the case anyway. Early access isn’t buying a finished game, it’s funding the development of a project, with access to it’s current state.

      If you dislike the risk, don’t buy Early access games.

    • Shadow says:

      Instead of a developer saying “The game, when finished, will have an offline, single player mode”, they will instead say “The game, when finished, will hopefully have an offline, single player mode”

      How’s that a bad thing? They’re forced to treat uncertainty as such, as opposed to dressing it up as certainty. If there’s reasonable doubt a given feature will ever be developed, then they should state so. Sure, they might word it in a way it might still fool a superficial reader (i.e. DF-9), but it’s better than a promise whose falsehood no deeper reader can detect.

  7. LordOfPain says:

    Valve says don’t make promises?

    They should know, right! Because I’m pretty sure they promised they’d release something a few years ago that they’ve brushed under the rug ever since…

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Ricochet 2.

    • sweerd says:

      Yeah, but you haven’t paid for it yet, right?

      • Stellar Duck says:

        I remember that guy around the release of the Duke Nukem game that shouldn’t exist who had a chit from Gamestop from 1998 or whatever for a preorder of said game.

  8. Synesthesia says:

    This sounds like a sensible step in the right direction. Progress!

  9. Baines says:

    Isn’t the “no specific promises” thing incompatible with the whole Steam-approved Early Access label?

    With the idea that you must sell your game based on its current state, and without the ability to promise future updates (as covered by the text for the new rule against specific promises), there is no real difference between ‘Early Access’ and regular retail release.

    If the ‘Early Access’ label is to have any meaning, then its mere presence automatically brings a promise that a game will see future updates, which means Early Access itself violates Valve’s new rules governing Early Access titles.

  10. Joshua Northey says:

    Really the problem with Early Access is all the stupid consumers who believe marketing hype. If people were just a little discerning developers would have to work a lot harder to earn EA sales. Instead you have untrustworthy developers A B and C with little track record of keeping projects on time and on budget getting tons of sales.

    • Cantisque says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way. You should buy a game for what it is, not what it might become. A fairly basic, but effective principle. In this day and age, it’s not difficult to find information on a game and whether or not it’s worth spending money on.

  11. SkittleDiddler says:

    And how many devs are going to be taken to task when they start ignoring these new rules? Seems like “death” threats are the only way to get Valve’s reactions these days.

  12. Voqar says:

    As much as I wish Valve would employ any measure of quality control, I really only see this as “CYA” and something they can point to when articles come out saying only 25% of early access games go live (and/or in response of that article).

    Valve makes money on every sale regardless of whether games are pure garbage or not. Steam’s latest update was all about pouring on even more marketing and ways to try to get people to buy games (with moves like making it more clicks to get to forums outside of your own library). Providing value to players outside of generating more sales is not Valve’s thing.

    Any player with a clue knows buying an early access game is a risk. Buyer beware. Valve can’t stop players from being fools any more than they can be sure some random developer will put out a good game.

  13. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I’ve been thinking about this early access scam for some time now. Looking at my EA games 90% were wasted credits. At least Valve aknowledges indirectly there’s a problem somewhere as they get their share of dirty money.
    When someone developes software for a client say SAP they make a plan what features will be there at what time in a contract. The stuff written on a description in an online store is also some kind of contract like when I sell a green T-shirt online but only ship half of it there’s trouble.
    It’s really not different with software at all in a professional context only game devs consider themselves as “artists” so they don’t have to fullfill client contracts and players think it’s normal. Maybe a few are also artists and geniuses but they’re also craftsmen.
    Store page should read what features are there and what features are scheduled to be implemented on a time schedule. If requirements are not met those items would appear red (= overdue) or green if met.

    nov 2014: 3 playable characters -done
    jan-feb 2015: implement player inventory -50% finished
    jun-jul 2015: weather system -0% finished

    So no longer releasing one new item to craft every month (Windborne for example) or presumed “bug fixes” to pretend you’re working on the game.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      nov 2014: 3 playable characters -done
      jan-feb 2015: implement player inventory -50% finished
      jun-jul 2015: weather system -0% finished

      That’s not the kind of game Valve wants on Early Access:

      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.

      For many games, your plan doesn’t leave room for that. To make a clear roadmap, you need to know the road ahead. If you’re travelling in unknown land, following only the stars and your compass, an unexpected river or mountain is part of the deal. The important thing is that the ones throwing money at the project know what they’re paying for. It is not the same thing as buying a finished game, or commissioning custom database software (which is a known problem). If you’d be upset by failure to live up to promises (implied or otherwise) about the future, you should stay away from Early Access.

      Why can’t it be that simple?

      • epeternally says:

        If you don’t have a clear roadmap for your game, complete with design documents, you shouldn’t be selling alpha access to it. If your ideas aren’t even that concrete, Kickstarter is a far more appropriate approach. An early access game absolutely should be a known problem. We’re not paying for a developer to follow their dreams, we’re paying for access to where their game and the expectation that it will expand over time in a set direction. Both where their game is and where their game is going absolutely should be known quantities to within some margin of error. I’m more forgiving about exact timetables, though I can definitely see how being able to see the progress of development to date would be a boon to potential purchasers, but the basics of what the game is and what the planned development roadmap looks like are things that should certainly exist and be available to prospective investors.

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          Then don’t pay them.

          That’d make you happier, and would be a better way of teaching the developers than shouting angrily on the internet.

  14. rexx.sabotage says:

    Alright, how many people here actually own Spacebase DF9 and have played it recently? Please, raise your hands.

    Okay, everyone else, there’s the exit, have a nice day.

    I can easily sink a day into that game and enjoy it. I feel that it is a complete enough game and that I got my money’s worth. All this drama-mongering is misguided.

  15. Shuck says:

    “Do not make promises”
    Well, duh. Not making promises you weren’t sure you could keep was clearly best practices, even if it wasn’t written in stone. I do wonder if this new list of rules won’t kill Early Access, though. Depending on how they’re enforcing it, “do not make promises” could mean you’re just selling an unfinished game, unable to describe your plans for what it will become. “Don’t launch in Early Access if you can’t afford to develop with very few or no sales” not only removes one of the main reasons many developers are chucking games on E.A., but how many developers are going to make a game available that way, get no sales and continue to waste development money on a game in which there’s clearly no interest? And who decides when the game is finished? Those rules seem to butt up against “don’t release a finished game” – don’t release the game too early, but don’t be too far along, either.
    It seems like, ideally, the Early Access program was meant to work the way Minecraft’s release did, or as a single-player game version of how MMOs get made in Korea – developers use a small amount of resources to throw together a bare-bones game, put it out to generate some revenue and determine player interest; that indicates if you should – and provides the funds to – continue development. That’s not going to work for a lot of games, especially if people are seeing it as a pre-order system, and considering the price/gameplay expectations people now have.

  16. daver4470 says:

    Can I weigh in on a little pet peeve here?

    Please do not refer to something as a “bait and switch” if you do not understand what a bait & switch deception is.

    Starbase DF-9 is not, by any definition, a “bait and switch”. A bait and switch is where a product is offered — usually at a very low price — to entice the customer into the vendor’s premises. When the customer arrives, they find that the offered product is “sold” or “out of stock”… but this more expensive alternative is readily available, why don’t you buy that instead? The “switch” is to something more expensive; something the customer would not have normally bought.

    To be frank, you’d never do a bait & switch on a $20 game like DF-9. Bait & switch typically only works on expensive items or items with a high necessity factor. The customer has to have a strong disincentive to not shop around and find a better deal, whether that’s because of a desire to not waste the amount of time already put into the purchasing decision, or the lack of time to put additional effort into it. Which is why you see B&S practiced with car dealers, appliance dealers, etc. – things where many people will just say “well, I’m here already, and I’m going to buy something even if it’s not what I came for.” Or things like cigarettes, where you need your jones and will pay the $1 extra per pack that you could have avoided by going somewhere else.

    Bait and switch is NOT promising something and not delivering it. That’s a fundamental failure of contract, not a marketing fraud issue. Bait and switch IS promising something and then moving you into something more expensive. Please note the difference. Thank you!