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Editor's Note

Jon Wood, the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, gives his opinions on news, games, and all things MMORPG.

Author: Stradden

Betas, Dev vs. Dev and More!

Posted by Stradden Friday April 25 2008 at 10:12AM
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Well, I'm finally back from Comic Con. Actually, I've been back since Monday, but things have been busy around the office since we got back and I haven't had a chance to really sit down to put my thoughts down on paper.

New York Comic Con


All week, you've (hopefully) been reading our coverage in terms of articles coming out of our exclusive interviews. We were really thrilled to talk to so many MMO people about their games and I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to talk to us.

It wasn't just interviews though. There were also panels (that you will be hearing about from us next week). Now, I know we often cover panels from shows here at MMORPG.com, but these panels may have been the best that I have ever attended. The reasons are many and varied, but I think it breaks down to the fact that a) it was a fan con and the panels were attended by fans of the games and b) all of the panelists seemed more relaxed than at your standard GDC panel. Whatever the reasons, it boiled down to some really great talks.

DvD = Dev vs. Dev


So often, I hear people talking about how the Ae of Conan Devs must be happy whenever things go bad for the Warhammer guys, or that one development studio is sabotaging another in some way.

As fans, in our minds, I think that we have built up this fantastic rivalry between all of the top MMO development studios. Certainly the fans of the games (particularly Warhammer and Age of Conan) are pretty constantly at each others' throats. Why shouldn't the devs be the same way?

Well, I hate to be burster of bubbles, but as much as I might like to see it, it just doesn't seem to be there. Don't get me wrong, everyone thinks their game is the best game. It's the nature of the beast, but in the end, everyone's rooting for everyone else (except Blizzard).

I thought about this as I was watching a panel that had Jason Stone (Funcom) sitting next to Jeff Hickman (Ea Mythic), next to Craig Alexander (Turbine), next to Scott Cuthbertson (38 Studios) next to Matthew Woodward (CCP). Those are some pretty hefty names (the WAR dev sitting next tot he Conan dev was great).

During that talk, they appeared more like comrades in arms than anything else. One fan actually even asked the question and they were quite candid in their answers. I'm sure the official article will spell it out better, but in the end, they said that everyone is rooting for everyone else. They're at the point where the genre is still growing and they're not fighting for every last person. When things tighten up though, then you might see more heated rivalries.

So, again, sorry to burst bubbles, but as the hordes of attacking fans crash against the walls of their opposing games, it isn't the devs leading the charge.

Beta Beta Beta


I know for fact that I've talked about this subject before. I know that it comes up every single time that a game gets closer to launch. This time, it comes witha shiny new Age of Conan wrapper.

Ok, first, I want to take a second to remind people what a beta actually is: A beta is a test of a game. Generally speaking, open betas (which is more the subject of this rant) are stress-tests of the game so that developers can make sure that larger groups of players won't explode the game. Betas are a chance for the players and the developers to work together to make sure that the final, launched product runs as smoothly as possible.

What a beta is not, is a chance to try the game for free. So often in the last few days, I've seen threads on this site and others made by people who are complaining because they don't like how the beta is being run, or they say they won't play the game if they don't get in... You know the kinds of posts I'm talking about. I have a news flash folks. That's not the purpose of beta and if you are one of those people who look at betas as nothing but a chance to try a game for free, you lose the right to compain when and if the game is buggy at launch.

I know that people are going to argue that betas just aren't what they once were. Well, that's true. People will also argue that betas, especially open betas, have been used in recent years in the same way; as marketing tools. Again I say, you're right. Over the last few years, the meaning of open beta has changed and some companies have used it as as free trial. To them I say, shame on you.

It is becuase open betas have been treated this way by a few in the past that companies today can't hold a proper beta without being subjected to people who feel entitled to a free look at the game. This is counter productive for everyone. The game company doesn't get the feedback they wanted, and the player doesn't get the play experience that he / she was looking for.

Would it be like to me whine like this if I didn't have a solution? Well, yes, but this time I do:

There is no doubt in my mind as a player that offering players a free trial upon or just before launch is a good idea. If you've made a good game, it will be a great boost (if you made a bad game, I can't help you). Players want to know that they will have a good experience before investing even in the price of the box. If your game offers that, which it should, don't be afraid to show people outside of your testing process.

I guess I'm essentially trying to say that both players and developers are responsbile for the misconceptions about betas, and I think that changing a few words would do wonders for clearing up this fiasco.

First, devs, add a "free trial" phase. Treat it just like a promotional open beta, but just own up to what it is. If you want to use a portion of pre-launch to promote the game via free gameplay, just be hoenst about it and call it what it is.

Second, players, if what you're looking for is a free trial of the game, stop whining about beta. Instead, you should be using your voice to pressure companies to hold actual free trials. That's what you're really looking for, isn't it?
Oh yeah, while I'm on the subject... If you've only ever played the beta for a game (or worse yet, the alpha), you don't have the experience necessary to make that judgement. Games change, sometimes quite significantly between beta and launch. Don't get me wrong, the game may still suck after it's launched, but if you haven't played the launch client, you don't know if the game sucks. You can say the beta sucked. You can't say the game sucked. You haven't played the game.

Wrymstrum writes:

I think the worst example of using betas as promotional tools is this thing for Warhammer where you got a 1/5 chance or thereabout to get a beta invite when you preorder a Warhammer comic book.  I have several friends that purchased multiple copies of this comic to try to get the beta invite because they are so nuts over this game.  

Fri Apr 25 2008 11:08AM Report
AmazingAvery writes:

Hey, nice write up, I hope the Gas bill was not too expensive getting home? Did you drive??

About the Beta thing. I think people are spoilt by the Free 2 Play games who offer Open Beta which is relatively easy to get in (because of its nature) but western games companies tend to do things by the book and for the right reasons.

Trials are for seeing if you like the game, Beta's are always testing.

Fri Apr 25 2008 11:42AM Report
elvenangel writes:

Companies hold contests to get People into Beta all the time there's nothing wrong with that, it helps get more testers in that possibly meet the requirements they're looking for ... anyone can lie on a beta application so why not offer other ways in?   BTW just because they even win the beta entry doesn't mean they'll get in ... right now they're only taking the highest end pc's to use for testing, they're not stress testing the system with mid to lower ends yet.

His issue is with the backward mangled policy of using Beta as a FREE TRIAL, which its not.   A good dev team removes people who become free trial players that whine during closed beta regardless of how they get in.   

If your that concerned ask for a free trial to be implimented at launch using the launch client instead of the test client.  

Fri Apr 25 2008 12:04PM Report
BadSpock writes:

What I really hate is the "ZOMG you have to pay to play Beta" argument people are using against the Fileplanet / AoC Beta thing.

People, Fileplanet offers a SH!& ton of content and great features, not just the possibility of access to one specific beta. I've been a fileplanet subscriber for a LONG time, it's great!

People think Funcom is forcing you to pay for beta. They are not. They've had tons of competitions and such for access to the closed beta. The fileplanet thing is a promotion, just like the gamespot PvP weekend was.

Get over it!

Fri Apr 25 2008 12:12PM Report
Alienovrlord writes:

Nice article, I'm looking forward to coverage of the Dev panel. 

And excellent point about making judgements of a game based on the beta.   I've seen people who get into some beta then immeadiately post such-and-such will be GAME OF THE YEAR.

These people forget they haven't seen the GAME, they've seen the BETA.    Things change in beta, that's why you have a beta. 

Plus a MMORPG is much more than game mechanics in a controlled test.   The final game has to handle full population loads, deliver good customer service, deal with accounting and billing in an efficient manner.    Horrible lag and bad customer service can wreck any game regardless of the mechanic.

Make claims about 'Game of the Year' AFTER the game is released.   Touting such things before it's even out is idiotic and panders to the over-hyping garbage that shouldn't be encouraged. 

Fri Apr 25 2008 1:45PM Report
Daedren writes:

Hi Jon. Thanks for the post. I know many of your comments were directed at me. ;)

You hit on a few things I'd like to comment on. You say that beta testing is for "testing the game". Fair enough. I agree.

In a normal company, this is called a QA process. Fortunate for MMO companies, MMO players don't mind taking the role of being the QA department. It saves cost, gives people a chance to play the game. As long as they are constructive, it can work well.

What about exclusive beta testing however? We're at a junction now we're faced with a company that has gone the extra step and are *charging* people for a beta test. Do you think these people that paid specifically for a beta test are going to provide a constructive environment? Guy gets home, wants to play AoC beta. Servers down. Too much lag. Won't these people just create a non-constructive environment due to the nature of their expectations? I might be speaking in generalities, but I have a feeling that for the most part, people are expecting this game to be near complete and relatively bug free so they can "enjoy" this new experience, test stuff out and run through the first 13 levels a few hundred times.

Anyway, I'm not sure what ruffles my feathers up so much about this. It just seems very odd to have people pay to test software. Pay for early access, pay for extra stuff, collectors edition, I don't mind. It's the whole "beta and money" thing that just seems weird to an old gamer.

Oh well, life goes on.

Fri Apr 25 2008 2:09PM Report
Stradden writes:

Well, here's my response:

Funcom is not charging you for beta access. Fileplanet has the rights to distribute the beta codes, it is FILEPLANET who is charging, not Funcom. While I don't know whether Funcom is making a  profit on this (I suspect not), I can tell you with certainty that Funcom is not charging you for this beta.

Let me put it like this: Fileplanet makes their money based on selling premium subscriptions. As a business, they want to intice people to subscribe to their service. Obtaining beta keys to MANY games is one of the services that FP offers. Again, not Funcom.

Beyond that, I'm not going to comment on Fileplanet's business model, being that I don't have any hard facts about it. I'm just looking at it and connecting dots.

As to the QA process: actually most MMO companies employ a QA department. Folks whose jobs it is to try to break the game individually. That being said, there's only so much that a small handfull of testers can tell you. Sometimes you just need to open it up to a much wider audience.

Fri Apr 25 2008 2:24PM Report
Daedren writes:

Hi Jon. My counter-response!

Funcom decided who to give the beta access to. Just because they choose a third party to distribute it by doesn't hold them unaccountable for their actions. They know Fileplanet is charging for these keys. There are/were alternative ways to distribute the client; they didn't need Fileplanet exclusively. I'll agree its good marketing to distribute in a certain fashion, but it's the "exclusive" part of this that is making a lot of people question their actions.

Yes, I agree that a big QA group is needed for stress-testing. I've been a part of the official QA group for an MMO company. It's fun. I've also worked with some really, really good players. They are so vital to the testing that you often feel you should compensate them. Now, while this "Open Beta" might be nothing more than a glorified stress test, you've still not addressed the key point of my argument.

Do you really think this sort of pay-to-play beta testing is going to provide the needed feedback and constructive environment to create a positive experience for Age of Conan? This is a vital subject. You get the wrong people in there, with the wrong mindsets - people might start cancelling preorders when they sense another Vanguard-like launch. How many "bad" beta testers are needed to do this? What rights do these beta testers have, as paying customers, to voice their opinion and continue to have access to the beta test? Their trying to market an unfinished product, and people will be upset if they pay and can't play or are unsatisfied.

Anyway, I'd like to know your thoughts on that. My view might be pessimistic, but I think it's a valid outlook.

Fri Apr 25 2008 2:46PM Report
Ingrod writes:

But FunCom are open beta giveaways in many other free sites: TTH, Warcray, mmolecule, etc...

The difference is that these site give small amount of betakey (100, 175, 500) and in Fileplanet give 50000, for me is for thechnical reasons, perhaps the other sites dont give the infraestrurture needed for FunCom for manage the open beta.

The FunCom policy for beta always has been have a controled enviroment for testings, inclusive if that can affect negativeliy to the AoC marketing. With Fileplanet FunCom can have a more controled space that in Gamespot, in example.

 

Fri Apr 25 2008 3:25PM Report
DeathMutant3 writes:

FilePlanet is offering an Exclusive beta which, I bet, they paid FunCom for; just like GameSpot did for their exclusive PvP weekend. The smaller fan-sites -- including MMORPG.com -- are offering keys to General Beta which is far better (no level limit, for example) and, I bet, they paid nothing for.

The people in (FunCom's) Technical beta is a different story altogether (that I won't go into here) but the reason they are not getting in General beta has more to do with Marketing than QA. Basically, FunCom believes they are already (or will be) customers so no need to give them a free trial when someone who knows little about the game could become a new customer.

Marketing is what drives open betas and closed beta contests these days -- not QA.

Fri Apr 25 2008 9:26PM Report
Cybercoco writes:

In short, the guy is naive. And it's ridiculously ironic he'd even bring up AoC when giving his opinion seeing as how it uses betas specifically for marketing purposes.

Besides, he's hardly an authority on anything. MMO companies have, and will continue using these 'betas' for promotional purposes. And players will continue to pine for them in order to demo the game, period. When you get down to it, there is absolutely no need for 'good testers' in 'stress tests'. All data is gathered back end. No player feedback is needed. They can give keys to 50k chimpanzees, and still accomplish whatever testing purposes they might have for it. No one actually needs to be playing the game. They could just be logged in wandering around, maybe using some of the features in the game. Any kind of reporting would be a side effect, but hardly the intended one. The guy calls it a stress test, but seems to misunderstand the nature of one to begin with. In these tests you aren't needed to test the game. You're needed just to play the game.

Using it as a marketing tool only kills two birds with one stone. Funcom may not be making any monetary profit from it, but it's certainly making a killing in advertisement money. Have you visited the Gamespy homepage lately? http://www.gamespy.com/ Kind of says a lot about what Funcom is getting out of this, and what its purpose for it has been all along doesn't it?

The guy needs to wake up to reality.

Sun Apr 27 2008 7:19AM Report
Stradden writes:

Damn dude, I wonder if the personal attacks were entirely necessary. I'm just sayin.

Sun Apr 27 2008 9:02AM Report
damian7 writes:

If you've only ever played the beta for a game (or worse yet, the alpha), you don't have the experience necessary to make that judgement. Games change, sometimes quite significantly between beta and launch. Don't get me wrong, the game may still suck after it's launched, but if you haven't played the launch client, you don't know if the game sucks. You can say the beta sucked. You can't say the game sucked. You haven't played the game.

how many games have changed (for the better) from open beta to retail?  i could understand an alpha tester, or even a closed beta tester; but, (as you said) open beta is normally a stress test. 

Sun Apr 27 2008 10:06AM Report
Zorvan writes:

Great post, Jon. Couldn't agree with you more.

Sun Apr 27 2008 11:41AM Report
DeathMutant3 writes:

Tabula Rasa improved significantly between open beta and live but, unfortunately, it was too little, too late.  :-(

 

Sun Apr 27 2008 9:36PM Report

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