As much as this is an Elder Scrolls Online column, the topic I want to discuss branches itself across almost every MMO. It is something that no game has really figured out how to master. What I would like to discuss this week is Private Test Servers (PTS).
For those who aren’t familiar with what a PTS is, it’s a server that developers offer the players that is typically a patch ahead of what is currently being played on the primary servers. This server is used as a testing ground for players to try and knock out some of the bugs before they are released to the masses. However, lately the bugs have been getting pushed to live servers. This isn’t only happening in ESO but in other popular MMOs.
The PTS isn’t being utilized by the players, and the bugs are going unreported and wreaking havoc when they are released. With the PTS players have the ability to play new content before it is released. This is interesting, because prior to any game being launched there are hundreds of players begging and pleading for an opportunity to get into the closed alpha/beta of a game in order to try out the new stuff before it is released. But once it is released, no one wants to play the new content on the PTS. Why?
There is no real incentive for the player to do it. When a game is released players are focused on progressing their characters, trying to Min/Max or just explore the game around them. Going onto the PTS will hinder any progress they wish to make as it is a completely different server than their primary character. I hate that we’ve come to a point in our MMO Gaming that we only do things that will reward us. MMOs used to be about playing the game together, helping other players. We’ve become accustomed to being rewarded when we do something. We’re like a bunch of trained dogs. But I digress that’s an entirely different article.
I want to pose a question to you, the reader. What could a ZOS, or any game developers do or offer to encourage more engagement on the PTS to help knock out some of the more major bugs before they go live. What would get you more interested in helping make the game better?
I have an idea, but I don’t know if the technology is available to do it. My ideal system would be to remove the PTS completely. Incorporate the PTS into the live servers so they are all one in the game. The player will have the option to select if it wants to run the beta build or the stable client via the launcher. If they select the beta build they’ll be able to play the game with the most recent patch that is being tested along with all the abilities and changes that come with it. They will still be able to group and play with those who aren’t using the beta client, however, those who aren’t using the beta client won’t be able to enter the zones being tested unless they logout and switch clients.
The primary concern with this is if they introduce major class changes those running the beta client will either be at an advantage or disadvantage in PvP and PvE based on if the changes were a nerf or a buff. Developers will need to stay vigilant with this system as they’ll need to do hot fixes or complete disablements of abilities / mechanics until they are fine-tuned, so we don’t have players running through the world with One Shot kill buttons. A system like this would work for balancing changes a lot easier than the system we currently have with the PTS. It would provide live feedback and much more of it. Players won’t feel like they are wasting their time and will still be able to progress with their game as they would if they were using the stable version.
Now, of course with this system, when the patch goes live, any and all progress that character made with the new system would be wiped, so everyone is placed on the same starting line. For example, if we were testing the champion system, those running the beta client would be able to progress through the champion system but when the patch goes live, all their progress would be reset to the beginning. Anything they earned that is in the stable version would be kept, such as loot, achievements, gold etc.
I’m really interested in hearing the community’s feedback on how developers can get players more engaged in testing future patches and ensuring our gaming experience goes as uninterrupted as possible.