Monday, July 16, 2012

Judging a Pre-Launch Game By Its Beta (Or At All)

MMOGC has a post up wondering about judging The Secret World too harshly based on its beta.  I can't speak to her experience, since I didn't really spend any time in TSW (before or after launch), but the story seems to run counter to the current trend. 

Mark Jacobs notoriously talked a big game about how keeping a beta NDA up within a month of the product's launch is a vote of non-confidence in the product, only to keep Warhammer's NDA up until four weeks before the launch date.  Today, four weeks is actually a comparatively generous amount of advance time for the closed beta NDA to be released.  (Exception - Blizzard is still holding closed testing that remains in progress but free from an NDA for multiple months.  Perhaps that's a quirk to their glacial development cycle?)

Instead, we see scheduled "beta events" which carefully manage what can be accessed by potential customers - or sometimes actual customers, since access to even these staged previews increasingly requires a non-refundable pre-purchase.  From a marketing standpoint, these events are no doubt a huge success.  Besides driving pre-sales, the limited and staged access fertilizes the grassroots, such that all the blogs are talking about the same parts of the same game at the same time for one weekend only.  Meanwhile, all of the information that a customer would need to make an informed purchasing decision about the product remains sealed away for as long as possible. 

I get what people are saying when they complain of feeling nigh persecuted for being overly enthusiastic about the upcoming hyped product.  As gamers, their anticipation is perfectly natural.  I think what we're seeing in this backlash is misplaced frustration on the part of each gamer that's also a consumer - trying to piece together enough information to tell whether to invest their time and money in a new product.  As consumers, we're put in a position where it is all too easy to make the wrong call, whether it's purchasing an unfinished product, or, in the rare and fortunate case of MMOGC et al, in writing it off too soon.


Anonymous said...

The post by the blogger I linked to is actually a far better read than mine :P Like I said, I barely played the TSW beta and when I did it was practically last minute. On the other hand, he played the closed beta for a couple months so I think his reaction was stronger. I was however just struck by his earnest confession and his praise for the game, and hopefully those still on the fence who see it might give the game another chance to see its improvements.

Dick said...

You can judge by a Beta and a companies NDA, because it does say a lot about a game.

TSW kept up the NDA because it does have a lot of problems still. It's still very buggy, more so than a game which drops it's NDA six months or a year away from launch.

I also could not justify paying $15 a month on top of the box fee and adding a cash shop for TSW. It just felt greedy. Plus it didn't do a lot of innovating, just changed the story, setting, and went from a skill tree to a skill wheel. But not that innovative.

I will judge by Beta's, as they have always held true to launches. And I will judge by NDA's, as they do show the true confidence the developer has in their product. It's been true every time so far, and give it a few months and see what the hype is about TSW. Probably will be showing it's warts a lot more.

Stabs said...

It's a lot to do with game saturation for me. When I was only playing WoW and was bored with it a beta seemed fascinating and I certainly bought into the pre-launch WoW and AOC hype. Now I have lots of real games to play I'm not interested in betas and don't really see them as strong evidence of a solid game.

Bhagpuss said...

The aspect of all this that really puzzles me is the angst going into what is really both a trivial decision (do I or don't I play this particular video game?) and a trivial financial outlay (typically less than a single evening out).

As I mentioned on my own blog the other day, I could get a year's subscription to TSW for the cost of a day and a half of my recent week's holiday in France. The cost of buying the game itself was less than we spent in petrol just driving from our house to the ferry port!

I understand that people don't want to waste money and I'm not advocating spending money you can't afford, but these are the kind of sums a socially active employed adult spends as a matter of course on other entertainments and activities that offer vastly worse time-to-cost ratios.

If it looks interesting, buy it and try it. If it turns out not as interesting as it looks, uninstall it and forget it. Is it any different to going to see a movie and hating it or going out for a meal and not enjoying it? These things happen all the time.

I'd much rather try as many things as I can in the hope they might be more interesting than I expected than sit back and wait in the hope that I can select only things that are perfect. That's never going to happen anyway. And experience tells me that I like far more things that I try than I dislike.

The only real restraining factor for me is lack of time. There just isn't enough to give everything, or even most things, a fair shot.