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Garrett Fuller: Is Beta the New Launch?

Columns By Garrett Fuller on January 05, 2016

Is Beta the New Launch?

After taking time to read yesterday’s feature on The Upcoming MMOs of 2016 it really seems like more and more games that are launching in 2016 are already playable now. I’ve asked this question years ago when beta keys were given out like candy as a marketing ploy to get new players into the game. Betas are supposed to be for testing, at least, they used to be. Now, instead of being used to market a game, they are just outright used to sell the game in early access.

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So this leads to the big question about what Early Access on Steam really adds up to. Games are now making their way to Steam very quickly because it has become a gauge of several major points. The first is interest. Does anyone actually want to play this game? Small developer teams can get by on passion for a time, however, it will eventually come down to seeing if the audience really wants to play the game.

The next gauge can actually be used to get more investors. If the game does well on Steam early on, they may actually be able to get investors to put more into the project knowing it will yield results when a full launch occurs. It also allows developers to flush games out much more and add in features they may have left on the cutting room floor because they were too expensive.

Lastly, if you time it right the Steam Early Access could really blow up in your favor. Especially when you have a smart company keeping a close eye on games and their launch cycles. A great example of this was last year’s Darkest Dungeon which launched (in Early Access) in February of last year and did exceptionally well. First and foremost the game is a lot of fun to play. However, they timed their release window perfectly with not too much competition on the market. It was a smaller rogue-like RPG that hit before huge games like The Witcher came out, and did very well for its time. The game is still going strong almost one year later, and is expected to fully launch very shortly.

A great current example of an Early Access success has been ARK: Survival Evolved. People have been loving their Steam survival games ever since DayZ or RUST. Ark really has blown up and is doing extremely well on the XB1 as well as PC. That is a testament to having the right game and allowing players in while you are continuing development and testing. It really has become the way of things now.

For MMOs right now, it has become a slower year because we don’t have many major AAA games coming out. However, there are a lot of games in development that cover the sandbox category. Not much has changed in almost twenty years and we're seeing that giving players freedom putting them near each other still does very well, especially among PC players and the popularity contest that is streaming and YouTube.

When you go into the upcoming MMOs of 2016, a lot of them are playable right now in early form. This may be a good thing to test out whether you like a game or not. It also may be something you try, and then decide you will wait until full launch. That is my philosophy with Star Citizen. I want to play the full game at launch, and will patiently wait. This is a game that I feel will be fantastic when the full experience is ready for us, whenever that may be. 

In that regard, a game like Crowfall is one that I actively tested a few weeks back. It was a lot of fun because I love the play style and want to make sure it falls in line with my expectations. Coming from old MMOs like Ultima and Dark Age of Camelot, this is a game that hits close to my heart. Therefore backing the game so I can get early access was important to me. After running through a few tests I was happy with it and will test on early access again as well as likely play in Beta, but what I don’t want is to get burned out on the game before it even launches. Burnout of the player base is a reality that a lot of these early access games must face.

In the end, I think we have entered into a new era of MMOs and game development by allowing paying customers into games so early. What do you think? Would you rather wait for a finished product? Or jump right in on early combat testing and help the developers make a better game?  

Garrett Fuller Garrett Fuller Editorials
Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997. He originally joined MMORPG.com as a writer in 2005. In 2007 Garrett went on to handle Industry Relations for TenTonHammer.com. Then, in July 2009, Garrett happily rejoined his old team at MMORPG.com as the site's News Manager. Garrett lives in Hillsborough, NJ with his wife, son and daughter.

His column appears here every Wednesday.
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