It's no news - well, at least to the geek empire that is MMO gaming - that beta testing is now a big part of the marketing of online gaming. That's all good I suppose, as companies save production costs by having potential customers test their product before it's launch and help cut down on overall QA costs. They've even taken it to the next level by offering beta keys as "prizes" and letting the fortunate few get to see their astounding game of awesomeness before a few other people.
The most recent travesty in this ongoing string of events is our beloved Age of Conan, who has taken one step away from "Rough, gritty, mature MMO" into "Genuine Display of Asshattery" by CHARGING people for a CHANCE to enter their sacred "Open Beta Test".
I feel that I've failed in my part to try and right this horrible wrong. As a blogger, each article I write gets roughly 5,000 unique views through my partner sites Guildcafe.com and MMORPG.com - more for controversial articles (like this one) and less for huggy-feely stuff. Anyway, if I would have been "quick on the gun" and urged people not to throw their money at a bitch-ass company like Fileplanet, I might have saved a few of my readers some cash.
Anyway, you heard that right. Pay for a subscription at the worst site on the Internets - Fileplanet - and you have a CHANCE to test our product! Fuck yeah! Can I pay you guys to come mow your lawn also? Who the hell needs to pay to download shit anyway? Here's a tip: use Google. Nothing - and I mean nothing - is exclusively available on Fileplanet or any other site; except, that is, apparently paying to test someone's software for them.
Oh, and if you pay for a Fileplanet subscription, you probably pay for porn also. While I can appreciate a persons love for hard to find midget porn, under no circumstances should any rational person give money to Fileplanet to download stuff that you can download somewhere else. It's not like they magically coat their files with some sort of digital-crack that makes the files on their site somehow better. What, you give them money for speed? Look, if you have to drop 50$ a year so your COD4 demo downloads in 27 minutes instead of 40, perhaps you should re-evaluate your priorities.
(disclaimer: I know a lot of people, and my readers, pay Fileplanet for some strange reason. I don't know why, but you do. I'm sorry if I offended you, but I don't like Fileplanet. They are evil. This is an opinion of course, try not to get too upset.)
So, now that I've made plenty of enemies by mocking their payment to download stuffs on the intarwebs, I'll continue. Somewhere, sometime - something went wrong. Back in my days, while I was walking 10 feet uphill each day to play Ultima Online on a 56k modem - beta testing sucked. Not much has changed since then, actually - beta testing still sucks for the end user. Sure, the company thinks it's all great and stuff, but they want you to spend your time testing their product for you. So, what's the lure?
The lure has come to us thanks to the sociopath community that is online gaming. Apparently, a large group of people on the internets that take online gaming very seriously would like every advantage offered to them when presented a new Game and Company to give their hard earned US Pesos to. This means digging for information before the game is released - forming alliances and guilds beforehand sometimes - to ensure that their gaming experience is maximized once release time comes.
I'm surprised no MMO Company has taken this level of customer zealotry to the next level and have them make the game for them. Surely every serious gamer out there must have some usable trade that can assist Company X on making a better game or releasing it ahead of schedule. Maybe then we'd see some ads like:
AGE OF CONAN OPEN BETA - Are you rich? Can you code in C++? Can you do 3D Modeling? Level design? Give good head? Now YOU could win a chance to test our shit!
This begs the question: are our lives so empty that we'll do anything to try and get ahead in our worlds of digital escapism? At what point did we, as gamers, start prioritizing die-hard consumerism over rational thinking? For fuck's sake - we're paying for a chance to test a game for someone! Is your time and money *that* invaluable that you'll play the role of Hamster 1725 waiting at the feeder for any morsel that an MMO company will throw you?
Anyway, back on track. Yes, this is another one of my long-winded rants about some MMO. I know I'll be getting plenty of "Fuck you, punk!" replies and some of my "Preach on, brotha!" as usual. I accept that as a blogger who mainly bitches about stuff with a big vocab and throws in some witty inside humor every now and then. In my defense, though, I've tried to be very positive about Age of Conan up to this point.
Myself, like many people, want Age of Conan to succeed for two reasons: One, we don't have shit to play in a stagnant MMO market, and two: we hate World of Warcraft and want to see it fail because it's taken up too much of our time in the past. All we want is a good MMO with a real PVP system to play; pretty please with sugar on top. So, to make it clear, FunCom, we are, or were - on your side. We'll let slight little annoyances pass for the sake of giving you a fair shot.
I have to ask though: What about all of our beta applications? You realize over 200,000 people took time to go to your machine-freezing bloated site, upload our dxdiag and put our system specs in, and apply for your beta? And after the first round of testers, like myself, were chosen (I used my bot network of 15 email / machines to make sure I got an account) "stress-tested" your bloody client by downloading (via torrent) the client, installing it, trying to log in and make a character, and get to do absolutely nothing - you won't even throw these guys a bone? Thanks, go pay 15 bucks to a crappy site for a chance to do it again?
So, as I've been in discussion with Age of Conan developer Athelan in regards to this topic, I suggested the following alternatives to the Age of Conan "Open Beta". If I was in charge, here is what I would have done:
(start fictional scenario)
Hi, I'm Daedren, Lead Developer for Age of Conan. Today, I'm going to tell you about our Open Beta. Only 50,000 keys are available for this beta test due to our server limits. Thanks in advance for taking the time to be a part of this beta test! It's an important part of the creative process, and trust me when I say your feedback counts. On with the show!
- The first batch of the 50,000 keys will be available to our prior beta testers. You'll have a couple day period where you can use your prior beta account to "upgrade" to the new Open Beta.
- After this, we expect we'll have about 35,000 keys left. About 20,000 of these keys will be given out randomly to those that applied to the beta test on our website.
- A remaining 10,000 keys will be chosen via specific requirements: system specs, gaming experience, location and affiliation with our website.
- The last 5,000 keys are a bit special! We'll be handing a good portion of these out to our forum users. 3,000 will go to the top 3,000 posters on the forum, as by post count. Keep in mind certain forums and forum "spamming" will not be counted here. Oh, and if you go and try to flood our forums when you read this, it's too late, we took the count last night.
- The remaining 2,000 keys will go to affiliate websites, fansites, blogs and other sites that we've determined to be in good standing with the Age of Conan community. Thanks for helping us in building a great Conan community!
The beta client will be distributed in the following ways:
- Fansites and associated websites that have volunteered to help with the bandwidth
- Via BitTorrent. We've asked for high bandwidth beta testers to help seed the client. We'll start with about 250 seeds. Within a day or two, we should be looking at 1500+ seeds, meaning download times will be less than 1-2 days.
- Lastly, you can also download the client via some of our other partner sites like Fileplanet and TenTonHammer. Keep in mind you might have to pay for access to these files at these sites.
That's it folks! The beta test starts in a week, get to downloading! Thanks to all applied, and please enjoy your time in Hyboria.
(end fictional scenario)
Well, FunCom, I just bested everyone at your company who was part of this decision making process. I rewarded fans and former testers, provided a no-cost solution to hosting the beta, and most importantly, didn't make our company look like a bunch of ignorant douchebags.
In closing, I'm sorry for the hostility. Come on though, people. We're talking about a game that cost 50 Million USD - at least - to produce. That's no small beans. Why are you starting to piss people off and you're still in the beta? Nevermind the myriad of other problems you'll soon be facing like ginormous system requirements, class balancing and end-game content for the players. Now you've gone an alienated yourself from your loyal playerbase.
For damage control, I'd start by doing exactly what I outlined above. Get your people popping on this as FAST as possible, and up the beta key count to 100,000 or something. Then, you need to give money to all of these 50,000 beta testers that you currently have. Not real money, but game-time money. Considering most dropped 15$ USD for a beta account, that's at least a free month. So, beta testing + buying the game = two free months. That way you'll come out looking less like robber-barons and more like a sympathetic gaming company who listens to their customers.
Anyway, that's it. Let the madness begin. Oh, and let's hope Crom doesn't find out, lest ye devs yet smited with a lightning bolt.