I won’t speak much here of the controversy surrounding leaked Elder Scrolls Online beta gameplay footage. But what I’d like to spend today’s column talking about instead is the importance of a beta test, why it’s not just marketing drivel, and why anything that manages to indeed “leak” out of any game’s beta period needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
A few of us here at MMORPG.com have spent a decent chunk of time with ESO already, but to be sure, it’s not enough to fully judge a game on. A few hours in a highly controlled press demo experience aren’t exactly where you’re going to get the best and most objective look at a game. Garrett is more excited than I am by the title, while I remain cautiously optimistic about its prospects until we see it in a more near-finished state. Once an NDA drops, for any game, I figure it’s then that we can start to take criticism seriously. Because if a company says “You lot that have been playing this title can say whatever you like” largely means that they feel its in the best shape it’s going to be before launch.
What does leaked footage from behind an NDA do for ESO or any game? It gives us a look at a title before the company is ready for us to have a look. It’s akin to “behind the scenes” footage of an upcoming blockbuster movie. I’m not saying we can’t be judgmental of information leaked from a beta. But we really should take any footage or information leaked with a grain of salt. A game, MMO or otherwise, is going to change a whole heck of a lot between the beginning of its public beta phase and the launch that comes months later.
What Testers Should Be Doing
So what should you be doing as a beta tester? Not taking footage and showing it to the public, because of some self-serving need to “show how it is”, that’s for sure. If you signed up to test ESO, or any game for that matter, you should be playing the parts they give you to play and offering your feedback on the forums. You should be using that handy bug reporting tool most games have in beta stages, and reporting things you spot. Yes, being in a beta is fun. But it’s also a privilege. You’re part of a game’s development in its infancy.
I know it’s easy to dismiss a “beta” as a marketing ploy. In fact, that’s definitely what an “Open Beta” is. With no NDA, it’s mostly a free trial and a stress test of a game’s servers at that point. It’s a way to drum up hype and sell boxes when there are boxes to be sold. But right now? When Zenimax is trying to get players who will be dedicated to the game, its development, and the true purpose of testing (feedback)... well, that’s when we as players should be taking it seriously because you know the developers are.
I know we’re all cynical of the genre these days. I know we’re often disappointed after many months of hype and previews. Hell, we enthusiast websites play a big part in that pre-launch hype I know (despite how much I hope we’re keeping it balanced these days). But when a game like Elder Scrolls Online is in beta, high profile and anticipated as it is, we shouldn’t be seeking to lampoon the thing. If we’re going to hunt down and pay attention to leaks, or if we’re going to test the beta for ZOS, we should be offering feedback that’s constructive not damning a title that’s anywhere from 6-8 months from launch based on early beta video.
Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Maybe ESO will wind up being a disappointment. Maybe it’ll be the second coming. Maybe it’ll be something different for everyone (this is most likely). But for now, let’s just see what state its in when the NDA is lifted. Until then, it’s kind of a moot point.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.
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