When watching for hot topics in the community, I've noticed Cryptic is going to be a company laced with controversy. While their heels are still cooling from the heat from Champions Online's launch, now they are faced with troubles and worries about Star Trek Online, their newest title set to launch in February next year.
How is it that a game that hasn't even hit open beta has caused up such a stir? The fuss began with Champions Online, on a special offer launched in August for those who were interested in purchasing six month or lifetime subscriptions. The special offer included “guaranteed” closed beta access for Lifetime subscribers to Champions Online, and access (though not specifically stated as “guaranteed”) for six month subscribers. It's safe to assume that a large portion of the subscribers who took advantage of these offers wanted, and expected, to be able to participate in the beta testing of Star Trek Online.
Fast forward to October 22nd, when Cryptic announces that Star Trek Online's closed beta had begun that day. The Champions subscribers who had been promised beta access were quick to take a look and see if they had access yet – only to find that they, on a large scale, did not yet have access. There was a large amount of confusion, and Cryptic quickly stepped in that very day to explain the way their beta testing worked in terms of invitations sent. StormShade, a Cryptic Community Rep, posted an explanation, stating, “For every period of the beta, we have a set goal for the amount of players we have on the server during any play test [...] At first, the number of people in the closed beta is going to be very small.”
The explanation was reasonable. Plenty of closed betas have been done over a course of several phases, issuing regular waves of invites to testers over a course of time and, on the first day of closed beta testing – even the first week of closed beta testing – it seemed like a reasonable, fair answer. As the days passed on, however, and Champions Online subscribers were still waiting for invitations while Cryptic was giving out closed beta access via contests in their IRC channel, Twitter, and Facebook, things heated up – to over 500 forum pages worth of discussion.
What complicates matters is that at least one post was made (no longer available) that stated that closed beta access would go first to those six month and lifetime Champions Online subscribers. This time frame, according to Cryptic, was given in error, and given supposedly after the offer was expired and the subscriptions had already been purchased. Some argue, however, that it is only common sense that those who bought these subscriptions with guaranteed access would have access before other applicants or contestants.
At the least, Cryptic has reassured these players that they would have their closed beta access by the end of December, a little over a week before open beta starts on January 12th. With only a few hours time frame per day, this doesn't give testers a lot of chance to find, report, and discuss issues before the game transitions into its next phase of beta. It also devalues the exclusivity of open beta. While many are sure that Cryptic will make good on its promises to get all promised testers into closed beta, they feel the spirit of the offer has already been broken.
Is it fair that some of these subscribers are, to today's date, still waiting for closed beta access? I spoke with Brian 'Sata' Alvarez, former Perpetual Entertainment employee and co-host of STOradio, who said absolutely not. “We were told by Cryptic CM Daeke, that the lifetime/six months were to get inside beta first. Once the actual beta started, he retracted his statement and said he misspoke. Well, most have $250 that would be highly disappointed in his ill chosen words [...] I'm willing to state my bank account that most of the CO lifetime/six month purchases, were due in large part to that incentive.” There is some misunderstanding these “lifetimers” were simply trying to buy their way into a beta access. While true for some who purchased Champions Online and a lifetime subscription for the opportunity to begin on Star Trek Online, many others simply purchased the subscriptions with the conviction of getting all added bonuses – including the STO beta access. For those who did purchase the subscriptions only for the STO beta access, however, it seems highly unfair that keys are being given away while those guaranteed access are still waiting.
Sata added, “As lifetimers, we have a legitimate beef; however, some people have been going overboard with the outrage. I feel if we were more strategic and less hyperbolic, Cryptic would have given us some sort of restitution.” He may be right. There was no doubt that Cryptic made at least one mistake in communication with regards to whether access was prioritized as well as guaranteed. There's also discussion that another mistake may have been made in balancing the demand for closed beta spots through Champions Online subscriptions versus the actual planned number of testers during the closed beta phase. While refunds may not be due, the fair expectations of these customers were not met, and restitution could go a long way in calming their anger and restoring their faith in the company.
Not everyone is against Cryptic, however; there are still many people who stand in defense of the company in this situation. One of their counter-arguments, that people shouldn't try to buy their way into a closed beta, I've already partially addressed, and the issue of the purpose of beta testing could take up its own column – and already has by my fellows Jon Wood and Garrett Fuller. We'll shorten the argument for now and say that paying a company to test its product in advance is considered a dubious practice on the part of the buyer and the seller. Other arguments for Cryptic are that they haven't breached their promises to players yet (so far true), or that the beta bonus isn't due to the purchasers of the subscription because it was a freebie, not part of the purchase price (another complicated argument that gets into legalities, and has some players threatening to sue).
In months, or a year, the drama that's chased both Champions Online's launch and Star Trek Online's beta may pass as the proverbial water under the bridge; forgiveness may be widespread and trust rebuilt. “You have to remember,” Sata says, “Perpetual nearly screwed up the IP, until Cryptic saved it. We have to give them tons of credit.” Unfortunately for Cryptic, many have already turned away permanently, disappointed and leaving a trail of negativity in their wake.