Valve lays out new rules and guidelines for Early Access developers

Twenty months after it started, Valve’s experiment in letting developers sell unfinished games through its Steam Early Access program continues to evolve. Giant Bomb reports that the distribution service has sent a new set of rules and guidelines to Early Access developers about how they should market and position their games.

The most important new rule might be the requirement that developers clearly communicate a game’s unfinished status wherever Steam keys are sold outside of Valve’s storefront. As Valve notes, “We’ve seen that many of these titles are sold as keys on other websites where there is no explanation of what Early Access is or what the current state of your product is now versus what you hope to achieve.” This extends to setting proper expectations for the project “everywhere you talk about your game,” Valve says.

Early Access developers must also avoid “specific promises about future events,” such as when a game will be finished or what features are planned for future updates. “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 writes.

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GOG rolls out Linux support with over 50 games, many on sale

While Valve and its Steam distribution platform have been pushing Linux as the future of PC gaming for a long while now, the folks at online store GOG have contented themselves with PC and Mac software. That situation changed today, as GOG (formerly Good Old Games) announced support for Linux, offering over 50 titles for DRM-free download.

GOG’s list of available Linux titles is unsurprisingly dominated by indie titles and overlaps somewhat with the more robust list of nearly 600 Linux titles on Steam. But GOG is promoting nearly two dozen titles that are being offered on Linux for the first time through GOG, after the site says it “personally ushered [them] one by one into the welcoming embrace of Linux gamers” with “special builds prepared by our team.” That list of new-to-Linux titles on GOG includes some well-remembered, big-name classics like FlatOut (and FlatOut 2), Rise of the Triad, Sid Meier’s Pirates, and Sid Meier’s Colonization (not to mention Duke Nukem 3D, which was previously available on Linux).

Users who buy a Linux-compatible game from GOG will be able to download their games as distro-independent tar.gz archives and/or as DEB installers that will work on Ubuntu or Mint. For games compatible with multiple operating systems, one purchase gives access to all versions.

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Client files mysteriously show an analog stick on mock-up Steam controller

When Valve first unveiled its prototype for a handheld video game controller last September, the most striking thing about it, from a modern design perspective, was the complete lack of analog joysticks. It’s an omission that remained even after Valve updated the controller prototype to include more traditional digital button placement.

So it’s quite interesting that the latest version of the official Steam beta client includes the above image, showing a version of the Steam controller with an analog stick where the directional buttons used to be.

The file seems to have been first spotted by an enterprising member of the forums, but we’ve confirmed that anyone with access to the PC version of Steam’s latest beta client update should have this file on their hard drive (if you’ve updated the beta, it should be in [Steam directory]\tenfoot\resource\images\library\alpha_conroller_lines_d0g.png in case you want to confirm for yourself; we haven’t checked the Mac and Linux clients yet). The file on our system, which appears to be an overlay for some sort of controller configuration or help menu, was created on May 19 and modified to the current analog-stick-sporting version on July 16.

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Sony, Microsoft mulling “Early Access” game sales on consoles

While Steam’s year-long experiment with selling unfinished games through its “Early Access” program has had its share of issues, it’s hard to understate the impact it has had on the way PC games are developed, marketed, and sold, with games like Day Z and Rust becoming best sellers before they’re even finished. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by console developers or by Sony and Microsoft, both of which have been hinting they might introduce their own “Early Access” style programs for their consoles soon.

In a recent interview with Gamasutra, Sony Publisher and Developer Relations VP Adam Boyes said finding a smart way to give players access to games that aren’t finished yet is “one of the massive conversations we have internally.” One of the major barriers, he said, is making the development state of the game clear to potential purchasers. “We don’t want somebody to stumble across that title and expect a full product, and have a negative experience.”

Boyes went on to say that Sony is working out guidelines for just how early a game can be before being offered to PlayStation customers. “We obviously have our tech requirement checklist that people have to adhere to,” Boyes said. “So we’re internally discussing, what does that list look like? What are the caveats? Stuff like this. So it’s still a project that a lot of minds are considering. No details yet, but it’s something on the top of my mind every day.”

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Sony: We were “dancing in the aisles” when Microsoft announced $499 Xbox One

By the time E3 2014 rolled around earlier this month, the original $499 price point for the Xbox One was already ancient history. Still, sitting down with Sony Head of Worldwide Studios America Scott Rohde at the show, I couldn’t help asking how he felt when he first heard that the PlayStation 4 was going to launch $100 cheaper than its nearest competition.

“I’m not gonna lie. I remember exactly where I was,” Rohde told Ars. “We were in press conference rehearsals last year. We had a feeling they were going to come in at $499, but we weren’t sure. So yeah, we were dancing in the aisles and high-fiving. It was great. Anyone that came in on an interview, it didn’t matter what the question was, I could always just answer it with $399. It was the answer to every question.”

The process to get to that moment started way back in 2008, when Sony started work on the PS4 hardware design with a $399 price point firmly in its sights, Rohde said, echoing similar sentiments from Sony Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida. The focus on the lower price point was the result of hard-earned lessons from the previous hardware generation, he said.

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PSA: Steam’s annual summer sale now live

The Steam online gaming store’s annual summer sale went live on Thursday, marking the fifth summer that Steam has encouraged fans to open their wallets and hide from the sun with deeply discounted games.

The sale is set to run until June 30, and it includes a mix of daily deals and eight-hour “flash” sales. It has kicked off with a righteous collection of hits at over 75 percent off, including crafting-survival curio (and well-known Ars timesink) Don’t Starve, a two-game pack of XCom’s recent strategy and first-person offerings, and the epic, story-driven Witcher 2. The day’s first flash sale includes Hotline Miami marked down to an itsy-bitsy $1.49—which we’d call a no-brainer purchase if you’ve yet to smash 8-bit mafiosos in that game.

As in recent sales, Valve has included a site-wide crafting competition in which purchases and in-game actions earn Steam customers a bunch of virtual trading cards. Players can use those cards to craft in-game items for games like Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, Path of Exile, and many more. Players can also now join Steam teams to combine efforts and, you know, get more hats.

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GOG looks to out-Steam Steam with optional, DRM-free Galaxy platform

Good Old Games (GOG), the online outfit best known for offering downloadable, DRM-free versions of hundreds of classic PC titles, seems set to take on Valve and its Steam platform more directly with today’s announcement of GOG Galaxy, an optional platform that aims to provide all the benefits of a centralized game launcher without many of the headaches of current platform options.

As teased in a somewhat vague “vision” trailer for the upcoming service, GOG Galaxy promises to offer convenient features like a centralized launcher, automated game updates, and chat between players without the more onerous requirements of services like Steam, UPlay, Origin, etc. That means games using Galaxy will be DRM-free, with no need for online activation or an Internet connection to play single-player. “Your game will always launch,” as the trailer puts it. You supposedly don’t even have to create a GOG Galaxy account to use the service unless you want to share your in-game achievements with friends. GOG goes so far as to call it “the optional client.”

The trailer also sells Galaxy as a way to avoid being locked in to a certain provider for online game functions. “We strongly believe that you should be free to play together with all your friends without any third-party client apps or accounts required.” That’s a fine idea, but it’s a bit hard to envision it working without the cooperation of other publishers and PC platform makers, who often seem quite content to lock players into their own walled garden servers for online gameplay.

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Valve warning: Steam “Early Access” games may never be finished

Since its introduction just over a year ago, Valve’s Steam Early Access program has ballooned into a bona fide game development phenomenon, with over 200 games currently being sold to customers in early forms that are sometimes far from finished. Now, Valve is noting specifically that those games may never actually be completed, and it warns customers to purchase Early Access games assuming that they may remain in their current state.

As VentureBeat first noticed, Valve has quietly updated the language in its Early Access FAQ to note that games in the program may never see a “final” release. “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,” the new FAQ reads. The new wording also notes that you will retain access to the game “even if the game later moves from Early Access into fully released.” The FAQ previously just said you’d keep the game “as it evolves up and through ‘release,'” implying that a final version was on the way in all cases.

In a statement to VentureBeat, Valve’s Doug Lombardi said the wording changes were “intended to help set customer expectations of what may or may not happen over the course of development of an Early Access game,” believing that “further clarification would help customers evaluate their potential purchase of Early Access titles.” But VentureBeat thinks that the new language may tighten up Valve’s legal obligation not to deceive consumers about what exactly they’re buying into with Early Access.

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