So Vanguard is shutting down, SWG is long dead (RIP Tempest), SWTOR was not the droid I was looking for, LOTRO is an endless series of gear grinds for an always resetting endgame. Time for beta testing. There are 3 of them right now that I'm committed to not discussing and I'm swimming in bug reports, forum debates, and endless notes on legal pads.
The great thing about a beta test is that it's raw and there's a great chance of getting stuck somewhere random and/or breaking the game. Few things are as satisfying as submitting a bug report with the words "completely nonfunctional" in the title. I do consider it my end goal to leave a beta confident that I have gotten as close to destroying the game as possible.
However, there have been changes in the beta experience over the last few years and I'm not having the same focused, higher path experiences that I used to savor. Here's what's happening. Why it’s happening is another matter and perhaps you can clue me in after reading this post.
1. The chat has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of endless reams of global chat about skill build differences that had a 2% impact on dps vs a 3% impact on crowd control. Now we have barrens chat in beta, with the whole range of pointless, attention seeking drivel that comes along with it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a great fan of attention seeking chat posts. I still remember fondly long lists of suggested ingame item changes from one fellow that all involved an amorous cowbell. But when chat becomes filled with posts that expound on detailed violence for shock value and/or the all caps declarations of sexual prowess and/or the attack another player endlessly for no apparent reason and/or public chat snogging and/or etc, etc, there's that sad feeling of knowing it's time to shut off the general chat channel as if I'm actually playing a released game. Betas used to be the last bastion of the amazing players - a haven for insane, smart, witty players that could kick my butt irl just by looking at me ingame. I have always been the token squishycore in beta that makes sure to take a look at the fluff of the game but now even attempting to discuss the merits of various mounts in chat turns into a low imagination level frenzy of sexual reference. Yes, I can see how that might happen even in a highbrow crowd but I miss worthwhile, challenging general beta chat.
2. The percentage of "players there to actually beta test" vs. "players there to play the game for free before anyone else" has shifted. There seem to be more folks in the betas that expect the game to be flawless and consistent as opposed to the beta tester types that understand that the game’s an unfinished product. There's a lot of flailing & dismay now in forums and in chat. One beta reset some skill points and you would have thought the sky had fallen. People flailed about in endless forum posts of "woe is me I haz no pointz!" and it took a number of repeated "it's a beta, it's part of beta to have your character wiped, your skills reset, the quests change, the xp change, your levels change." posts before people backed away muttering to sulk in corners. Perhaps the Free 2 Play universe that mmo’s are existing in now has made a whole strata of folks that think it’s their birthright to play a game and they are owed something by deigning to play. Even when it’s a beta and they’re actually there to test the game.
3. The games themselves seem somehow out of balance in a new and different way. This first showed up for me back when I was beta testing Aion. I was enamored with the option of flight, yes, but there was also this odd feeling that the parts did not add up to a whole when it came to relationships between the classes and fighting as a group. The xp/effort ratios seemed off – the focus of the game seemed to be on easy, rapid, solo leveling then a grind endgame for gear. Things felt odd and there was a wave of players that insisted that solo play to level then a grind for endgame group play abilities/gear was the normal way things are done in game. Gone were the joyful wipes as low level groups trying to work out between class balances in a beta. The hours spent in voice chat switching around armor and trading items until everyone had what they needed to bravely face a completely bugged boss faded away, replaced with me looking at my inventory and choosing the looted items with the one stat assigned to the class I was testing. The nuanced skills of different classes have merged into static builds that are endlessly repeated and lest you missed it above, leveling got so fast! People leveling in days, ripping through entire game content in weeks. The games that are in beta now have a range of issues related to class and leveling balance and it’s my hope that my constant harping will shift them into a more durable, interactive game.
I love being a beta tester and I’m great at destroying unfinished game mechanics. But I want better balance in the games I’m testing – I want them to last 5 years, not 5 months. And I want better testers with me in a beta. Solid, focused players that know it’s all about the big picture and while beta is a privilege it’s also a huge amount of work that they’re willing to do well.
I’m getting dangerously close to just building a game myself so that I can experience the joy of beta testing it with like minded people until it’s broken.