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Not So Leet

I'm an MMO gamer but I have a life. I write from the perspective of someone who's an MMO enthusiast, but fits it into her semi-normal everyday life. I'm not a kid and I don't game like one. That's where I start from. For where I go from there, read on.

Author: Radiogirl

The Beta Game

Posted by Radiogirl Saturday November 28 2009 at 11:53AM
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Jamie Skelton's recent column got me thinking. Until recently, beta access was something offered by invitation only and usually only to those the dev team decided they wanted there. Then came the public betas, offered as incentives to purchase a game pre-release or simply as a free trial to give the gaming community a taste and hopefully generate some buzz for their product.

As many have noted, beta used to be for serious testing and pre-release bug killing. These days, it's become more of a promotional tool than anything else. Ms. Skelton defines the problem well but she doesn't offer a solution. I'd like to make an attempt at one here.

The main question to answer here is a simple one: What is the best and fairest way to distribute beta access invites? What method offers the greatest benefit to all involved and offers good incentives to participate for both developers and players?

How about making players earn the right to be invited?

Many games utilize ranking/killboards to track player goals. What I propose is a website that ranks beta testers in much the same way.

Players who are in beta tests for various games would track their bug reports through this site, in much the same way as EvE players track their killmails. Players would provide demographic information that would interest dev teams such as physical location, PC hardware, connection speed, etc. that would be accessible to the devs through the site,

While players would provide detailed bug reports and demographic information to the devs, other players would only see basic information such as number of reports filed, in what game, and a player's overall ranking. For their part in the process, the devs would need only to rank the reports by some basic categories such as whether a report is an actual bug or not and its severity, and then resubmit them to the site.

Points would be awarded based on the dev rankings and players would be ranked not only on success but also on effort (i.e. credible reports filed, even if they turn out not to be actual bugs). In other words, the point system would be structured so that you don't necessarily have to be a master bug hunter to have a high ranking, but being one certainly helps, a lot.

When the dev teams are looking to fill beta slots, applications would have a place to submit a player's ranking from this site. Players with higher rankings can expect it to be more likely (though never a guarantee) that they'll be higher than most on the invite list.

The way I see it, it's a benefit to the players because it offers something to compete for, a way to earn the right to be on the "A-List". It's a benefit for the devs because they can pick and choose among applicants with proven records of bug hunting, as well as the ability to easily track who's in their beta, where they're playing from, what hardware they're playing on, and possibly a lot more.

Another benefit for the dev teams is that it helps encourage more beta testers to actually beta test rather than just play the game because this method would make beta testing a metagame in itself.

Obviously, there would be a lot of details to be worked out. Basing the rankings upon the dev ratings rather than just the number of reports filed would help to keep players honest. Just as reports found to be valid/credible would gain a player points and thus a rise in their ranking, too many invalid reports would cost a player significantly.

Once this system has been in place for a while, the benefit to the dev teams will likely increase even more. Imagine a year or two after this system is in place that a dev team wants to put together a beta test team, and they've got, say, 200 free slots left after all the necessary invites are done. This dev team could go to the site, and pick and choose its beta team by success rate, specialty (the type of bugs a tester is good at finding), which games/betas they've been in before, and/or any of the many other statistics they'd have available to them because they'd all be tracked through the site.

New players who want to become involved and become ranked on the site would still have the open beta periods during which to earn points, but invitation to closed betas (and perhaps even alphas) would be offered to those who the dev team believes will best help them accomplish their goals and make their game the best it can be.

To my way of thinking, it's a win-win. Beta testers gain something valuable to compete against each other for, and devs gain reams of valuable demographic information on interested beta testers, and more reliable and consistent bug hunting from their beta teams because they can be chosen by skill and reliability to help address specific issues.

Presumably, the end result is that everyone wins with fewer bugs surviving past launch in new MMO's.

Frankly, I'm amazed that no one (I know of) has thought of this before now. How do you motivate gamers? Make it a game, with winners, losers, and a fair battlefield on which to compete.

So, have I stumbled onto something promising here or have I lost my mind in thinking this could ever work? I honestly don't know. That said, I also don't see any reason why it couldn't work.


Choosing My MMO - The Element Of Risk

Posted by Radiogirl Friday November 6 2009 at 9:35PM
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Yeah, I know it's been a while. I plead the intrusion of RL as the reason why I haven't posted in the last few weeks.

Last time I posted, I talked about how I was probably going to eventually have to decide between Fallen Earth and EvE as my MMO of choice. I've enjoyed both games, but the reality I've had to confront is that there's just not enough available gaming time in my life to play both games well. Rather than try to cram both games into my life and probably end up not being able to devote enough attention to either, I made a decision: I've dropped out of Fallen Earth and gone back to EvE full time.

A lot of factors went into my decision, and it was not an easy one to make. I really like Fallen Earth. I think it's a great game with a terrific player base, and I had a great time with it. Yet, when I sat down and really thought it out, I realized some things:

1. I like both sci-fi and post-apoc themed games, but I'm a genuine sucker for high-tech space-based sci-fi.

2. EvE's gameplay style just fits me better. Not that I don't like FE's gameplay, but I'm just more comfortable and competent with EvE's.

3. I know EvE pretty well and EvE knows me. What I mean by that is that while I certainly don't know and understand every nuance of the game (is there really anyone who does except for CCP?), I've got enough play time under my belt that as I play more I'm quickly becoming more proficient in combat as I remember the techniques and strategies I learned my first time around. Also, I've restarted my EvE blog Just a Girl and Her Thorax and that's already getting some attention.

I'm refitting myself back into the EvE player base with surprising quickness. I may not have played in a couple of years, but it's all coming back quickly.

3. Since I reactivated my old toon with almost a year's skill training, I'm more comfortable with where I am in EvE relatively speaking than I am with where I was in FE. It's not really the game's fault, but the reality is that in EvE there's a lot more interesting stuff within easier access for me than there is in FE. I know that probably wouldn't be true over time, but there would be a significant time investment on my part before my position in FE would be even close to comparable to where I am in EvE.

On top of all that, there's the reality that I just don't want to pay twice for games I'd only be able to play halfheartedly. By choosing one and sticking with it, I not only have to pay for just the one game, but I can devote enough time to it to really get my money's worth.

There's more to it, though. In EvE, there's a level of risk that far outweighs that found in Fallen Earth.

In FE, the cost of death is dirt cheap. You die and you instantly appear at a nearby Lifenet pod, ready to get right back into the action. The worst thing you'll generally suffer as the result of dying in FE is a few minutes of less-than-optimal XP gain and perhaps a long run back to where you left your vehicle or the nearest gas station. The combat is engaging to be sure, but you always know in the back of your mind that even if you do die it won't be all that big a deal.

In EvE, dying can cost you a hell of a lot, in ships and equipment, as well as in skill points if you haven't sufficiently upgraded your clone. The loss of a ship in combat can cost a player millions of ISK and set them back significantly. This adds an element of actual risk to combat in EvE that just isn't there in FE, and personally I find that one of the most attractive aspects of the game as a player.

In FE, all a player needs to do to in order protect themselves from being attacked and possibly killed is to simply avoid the designated PvP areas and the places where NPCs will attack.

In EvE, when you enter combat or even just leave a station you know that you may be attacked at any time. You know that even when you're just going into a low-sec system on a quick messenger run you can and very well may find yourself in PvP combat at a moment's notice. You have to consider what ship you're going to fly, what you're going to fit it with, whether you plan to run or fight if attacked, if you need backup from friends and corpmates, and on and on.

Playing Fallen Earth involves none of these considerations because you'll usually only enter combat when you choose to do so. You can arm yourself as you like (and have the skills for), but the reality is that in most cases the only time you're going to be really risking anything significant in FE is when you're PvP'ing and even then the price of death is pretty low and PvP can only be entered into by intentionally going to designated PvP areas.

When I enter low-sec in EvE (haven't yet made it to 0.0 since I've been back but I expect to soon) and I detect a potential attacker, I spring into action and play as if it matters because it does. If I get podded, I will suddenly pop back into existence at a station, but when I do I'll be missing a lot of stuff. If I want to replace my lost ship and I don't have happen to have what I need on hand, I'll have to dig deep and rebuild it from scratch. On the other hand, if I win my battle I'll probably go back to high-sec with a lot more valuable stuff than I came with.

In EvE, the risks are greater but so are the rewards. For me, this means that when I play EvE I get that same "wired" pit-of-your-stomach ready-for-anything-but-still-nervous feeling I used to get as a kid when I knew I was doing something dangerous like climbing half-built houses in a nearby development, or looking down at the water in a pool while getting ready to jump off the ten meter board.

For me, risk makes a game much more interesting. There's more to win and more to lose. A video game it is, but to me EvE at times can feel just as real as it did at the age of twelve looking over the edge of that diving board. I've never had that feeling with FE, or really with any other MMO I've ever played, and I find it's something I like and want very much in my MMO gaming.

And so, there it is. A tough decision to be sure, but one I had to make and one I'm happy with. While I'm not sure I actually miss Fallen Earth, mainly because I'm having such a good time with EvE, I will remember the experience fondly and would heartily recommend FE to anyone with an interest.

For me, risk is fun, even when I come up on the short end. Winning means all that much more when the stakes are high. Given the choice, it's an element of MMO gaming that I'd rather not do without.



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