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.