Valve has just announced Steam Playtest, a new tool built into Steam that lets game developers invite players to test their games, without the need to generate, manage, and distribute beta keys. Using Playtest, developers will be able to add signups to their games’ store pages and activate a testing period at the click of a button right in Steam.
Most games go through various stages of testing prior to release – some are handled by internal quality assurance teams, others go through open or closed beta phases, and still others iterate development through Early Access. Inviting in players from the public can often generate data and turn up remaining bugs much faster than a small internal Q&A team can, and so playtesting is often an important tool for developers.
On Steam, however, that’s traditionally meant going through the process of generating beta keys and managing some system of distributing them to players who want to try the game early. It can mean a significant amount of work for the studio, and Steam Playtest is designed to cut down on that figure.
“Steam Playtest is a new feature built right into Steam, allowing you to invite players to test your game without having to manage keys or external mailing lists”, Valve explains in the post introducing the new tools. After enabling signups, developers can then set a number of participants and then grant access to them through Steamworks, adding more players as the need arises.
Steam Playtests use a separate appID from the game itself, which is similar to how Steam handles demos. Players who participate in the Playtest don’t add a copy of the game to their libraries, and the feature won’t compete with Steam Wishlist numbers for the game itself. Players who participate in playtests will not be able to write reviews for the main game.
Playtest won’t be replacing any existing features on Steam, like Early Access – in fact, developers will have the ability to run Playtests in conjunction with Early Access. Valve says the tools don’t support commerce or additional monetization – they’re just there to make it easier for developers to manage public testing, which is great.
Steam Playtest is itself still in beta, and if you’re a developer interested in participating, you can sign up using Valve’s contact form. There’s more information available in the the the full documentation here, and if you’d like to check out some of the best free Steam games out there, just follow that link.