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In brief: Have you always wanted to lend an extra pair of hands to the developers behind some of your most anticipated upcoming games? Starting today, you finally can – in select PC titles, anyway. Valve today unveiled "Steam Playtest," a new, official tool that lets developers host "Playtest" signups on their games' store pages, allowing players to register their interest and apply to gain limited early access.
Notably, this system differs from both Early Access and review keys that many journalists and influencers get. In both of those cases, individuals are usually gaining access to a full, permanent copy of the game that will remain in their library forever.
This often means it's possible to write reviews for the game on Steam, and it renders wishlist entries useless.
With Playtest, you are not getting a full copy of the game, but rather, limited-time access that can be revoked at a developer's whim. According to Steam, the back-end download-and-play experience is similar to how it handles Demos, so ownership stats and playtime will be kept separate from the main branch of the game.
With all of this in mind, it's also worth noting that Playtests cannot be commercialized. Developers cannot charge for them, and it is not a replacement for Early Access. "You could even use Steam Playtest prior to, or alongside, Early Access," the Steam team writes in a blog post.
Developers can begin applying to host a Playtest for their game today, but since the tool is still in beta, they'll have to do so by manually contacting Valve right here.