Valve acknowledges the recent Early Access abuse, and has put down some ground rules to clarify its proper use.
So Steam's Early Access program has had some success stories, and some other, not-so-successful-stories, and has established itself as a kind of wild west of alpha video game development. No one quite knows what to expect when buying an early access game, as some are seemingly stuck in "alpha" indefinitely, and others get pulled from the store before their full release for various reasons. Valve has acknowledged the problem, and has tightened its guidelines on what clarifies as "Early Access."
First up, developers must clearly advertise if their game is "Early Access," even if it is being sold on outlets other than Steam, such as Green Man Gaming. Prices must be uniform across all platforms, and developers must launch on other platforms at the same time that they launch on Steam. Pretty simple.
Next, it gets a bit tricky. Developers are no longer allowed to make "specific promises about future events." Valve clarifies: "There is no way you can know exactly when the game will be finished, that the game will be finished, or that planned future additions will definitely happen. Do not ask your customers to bet on the future of your game."
"Customers should be buying your game based on its current state, not on promises of a future that may or may not be realized."
Finally, while not technically rules, Valve released a set of "guidelines" for developers thinking about going Early Access. To summarize:
- Don't launch in Early Access if you can't afford to develop with very few or no sales.
- Make sure you set expectations properly everywhere you talk about your game.
- Don't launch in Early Access without a playable game.
- Don't launch in Early Access if you are done with development.
Source: Giant Bomb