Steam Playtest is a new initiative by Valve that allows developers to tap the community for playtesters. Previously, Steam was limited to just demos and Steam Early Access, neither of which quite fill this role. While it is in beta, the concept behind Steam Playtest looks promising.
Steam Playtest fills the gap between demo and Early Access
Announced through the Steamworks community section on November 4, 2020, The Steam Team outlined how Steam Playtest will work. The post highlights the fact that, presently, if a developer wants to get their in-development game into the hands of a player, it needs to be either through a demo or through Steam Early Access. Steam Playtest will instead allow devs to recruit more playtesters without the need of managing keys or mailing lists.
The post goes on to show an example of how this works on the backend for developers as well as what potential Playtest players see on the store page. Players will be able to click a Request Access link, which will place them in a pool of potential participants.
For the developer, they are shown how many participants have access, how many players are waiting for access, and how many invites the dev has manually sent out. There is then an option to add more players to the playtest pool via a simple input.
This will no doubt aid those developers that aren’t quite ready to release into Steam Early Access but otherwise desire a larger testing pool than they currently have access to.
While this does look like a positive feature for developers, there is the concern that players will begin to expect free access instead of paying to join an Early Access build of the game. On the flipside, for the player it means not handing over cash for a game that is in development, only for it to be abandoned.
The Steam announcement does make note that Steam Playtest is not a replacement for Steam Early Access. In fact, Playtest can be used alongside Early Access. With this addition, there looks to be even more options now for how developers want to deliver their games, which also allows them to be more accurate and help set player expectations.