Valve have announced Steam Playtest is in beta, a way to allow developers to publicly playtest their games without keys.
As detailed in their announcement, while demos and release-override beta Steam keys are used, Steam Playtest will allow publishers and developers to host public playtests “without having to manage keys or external mailing lists.”
The system also boasts control over how many players will get access, when more can be added, when testing begins, and when it concludes. To the player, when they are able to sign-up to a playtest, they simply click the button on the game’s store page, much like downloading or buying the game.
Developers can then see how long that list of sign-ups are, including those already in playtesting, waiting for access, and manually sent invitations. Developers can then deactivate the playtest invitations, removing the sign-up option from the store page, and the playtested game from players’ libraries.
The game downloading is handled in a similar manner to demos; so ownership and playtime are separate from the full game, and users who only played the playtest cannot write a review for the full and final game unless they own it.
The program is currently in beta, and will be free to use when launched. However, the free-to-play Total War: Elysium is currently using the program, and players can request access now. Developers and publishers can contact Steam if they are planning to conduct a playtest, along with the data they hope to collect.
Finally, Steam makes mentions these playtests are not a replacement for Steam Early Access. “[Steam Playtest] doesn’t support commerce or monetization,” Steam explain, “and is not a replacement for Steam Early Access. You could even use Steam Playtest prior to, or alongside, Early Access.”
The clarity was likely made as one criticism levied at Early Access programs is the notion of players “paying to playtest for the developer;” as oppose to early access as the game is being developed, or being able to influence the game as it develops.
A launch for Steam Playtest was not mentioned at this time. The full documentation can be found here.
Image: Steam (accessed via the Steam Client program)