Valve is in the process of adding a new feature to steam that makes it easier for users to playtest games.
Steam Playtest allows devs to have people test out their games in Steam without the use of a beta key.
In practice, a ‘request access’ button will be added to the listing of a game. Prospective testers will then be added to a queue. Here’s an example of what it will look like from a Steam Community blog post:
Devs will have full control over who is able to playtest their games and can even manually invite players. They will also be able to see how many people have access, how many are waiting in the queue and how many have been invited.
Devs will also decide when the testing phase begins and ends. The playtest button will be removed from the store listing once sign ups have been deactivated.
Playtest isn’t replacing steam keys or early access
Valve has stated in the Playtest documentation that this new functionality is not replacing steam keys.
“For years, developers have used free Steam features to run their own closed betas, by granting access via Steam keys,” the page reads.
“That path isn’t going away; you can still run a closed beta with free ‘release override’ Steam keys if it’s best for your game or your community.”
The documentation also has a walk through on how to set up Playtest for your games.
And if you were concerned about Early Access disappearing, fear not. Playtest is a completely different feature. In fact, Valve has said a game listing can be in Early Access as well as have Playtest toggled on.
At the present time the playtest feature is in beta and it seems like only a handful of games are running the button, such as Total War: Elysium, Iron Conflict and Prodeus. Devs can sign their games up here.