Steam has served as a digital game store on PC for many years, but managing test groups, demos and reviews has generally relied on a system of demos and key distribution that leaves plenty of holes for scammers and other bad actors. Meanwhile, other platforms like mobile devices have testing suites or beta test access built right into the distribution system.
Now Valve has launched Steam Playtest, so that developers can invite people and control access directly via the Steam store page for their game. This lets developers easily see how many people are interested in testing a title, distribute the game, and deactivate it when a test is over.
Valve writes that this isn’t meant to replace Early Access beta testing, and can even be used alongside it, but unlike Early Access, this feature is free to use for developers and customers and doesn’t support sales. A Playtest game doesn’t include things like reviews, progress toward achievements or time played under the Steam Refund policy.
The Playtest tools are in beta themselves, and SteamDB trackers noticed the initial trials back in July. As Pavel Djundik noted then, the code for Playtest has been around since 2015, even though it’s just now launching. Of course, now Valve is facing competition on PC from the Epic Game Store, which may provide some additional encouragement to finish up features game makers and players have been asking for. Last year Valve finally revamped its game library, and now it’s addressing testing, so what’s next?
Developers can sign up to try the feature out on Steam, and players who want to see how it all works can try to join a Playtest right now, for Total War: Elysium.