That Early Access game you got on the Steam digital distribution service may be in development for a while after you buy it. In fact, it might not get finished at all. And game publisher Valve is now being clear about that fact.
The Early Access portal — which enables Steam customers to buy games still in early development — has seen some remarkable successes. Just look at the open-world zombie game DayZ, which made $5.1 million in its first 24 hours. Until recently, the FAQ for the Early Access portal implied that all games in the program would progress to full release.
The FAQ now has a clear statement included that says the opposite. It reads: “You should be aware that some teams will be unable to ‘finish’ their game. So you should only buy an Early Access game if you are excited about playing it in its current state.”
You can read the full investigation into Early Access which sparked this news story here. We talk to developers whose projects have stalled and look into the rights of Early Access customers.
Valve has also altered a second section of the FAQ that also talked about ‘release’ to reflect this change of tack. It now reads: “You keep access to the game, even if [emphasis GameBeat’s — Ed.] the game later moves from Early Access into fully released.”
This significant change of wording can be seen in the screenshots below:
GamesBeat reached out to Valve about these changes to the FAQ. Doug Lombardi, the director of marketing, gave us the following statement:
“The changes to the FAQ are intended to help set customer expectations of what may or may not happen over the course of development of an Early Access game. We frequently iterate on Steam features as we gather feedback and find areas for improvement.
“In this case, it became apparent that further clarification would help customers evaluate their potential purchase of Early Access titles. We think of Steam, Early Access, and game development as services that grow and evolve best with the involvement of customers and the community.”
Prior to this change, GamesBeat spoke to lawyer Jesse Saivar, a partner at Greenburg Glusker who works in intellectual property and trademark law, about the Early Access program.
He pointed out that Valve needed to be sure “that they’re not doing anything that would be deceiving consumers,” in order to stay on the right side of the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors “unfair and deceptive practices.”
He looked at the existing Early Access FAQ as it appeared in May and concluded that, while Valve was probably putting in enough warnings about Early Access purchases, the paragraph titled “Is this the same as pre-purchasing a game?” seemed to imply that all Early Access games would reach a final release stage. This might have given scope for Steam customers to complain to the FTC if they felt that an Early Access project cheated them out of their money.
“That one paragraph is the most problematic,” Saivar said. “Of everything they have in here, that’s the one that seems to imply it’s going to be released. It doesn’t ever say there’s a chance it may never be released. It kind of implies it could be a long time until it’s released.”
We approached Valve to get comment on Saivar’s thoughts but did not receive a response.
So it was with great interest that we saw the Early Access FAQs change so dramatically when we checked in earlier today. It’s almost as if Valve responded directly to our earlier question by changing the way it describes Early Access to its customers.
Whatever the reason for the change, Valve is now giving consumers a clearer picture of what they are getting with Early Access, but it represents a significant shift in position. No longer can customers buy into Early Access with the assumption that they are eventually getting a finished product. In fact, you have no way of telling when any of the projects on Early Access will reach completion, if indeed they do.