On Beta and other things

I am sure many may disagree, or some may agree with what I am saying.  I have been thinking about the Beta not only for WoW, but for other games as well.  And I wonder.

Are Companies using Beta access to their game, to Fan Sites, Bloggers, Live Streamers, etc.

Are you being used to sell their product.

I am sure many will tell me of course they are. It has been this way for a long time. It is part of game development. Invite people with a wide reach to talk about their likes and dislikes, get people talking about the game. Some may say, you’re mad because you have not gotten in yet. I’m not.  In Wrath, the game was already underway when I started, a good 8 months. It was all new, I had no clue. By the end, I knew of web sites to visit for news, followed certain columns for information. Heading into Cata, I was one of those looking things up, talking about, asking questions, hoping for that coveted beta email. I did briefly step into the open beta at the very end, hoping to venture out and find spots where the world was not quite finished, or problems to report. But by then, it was mostly for folks testing raids at max level, and fine tuning. So I went back to playing, waiting for the switch to be turned. It was similar prior to Mists. But now, I consider myself more of an MMO veteran. This will be my 3rd expansion going through, and I am looking at it differently.

I honestly don’t care about changes to questing, or what the raids will look like. That is stuff I will discover in my own time. I’m not looking to get an advanced look at the world, a chance to start planning out a leveling strategy, sneak peek’s at dungeons or raids. That is all information being talked about and posted daily.  I appreciate reports of how the experience feels, and how pretty it all is.  What I want to know is that at the end of this expansion, when it all changes to a new system, will these changes allow me to continue to play till the end, or will I be faced with going back to farm content for different gear because of the changes.  Will I find myself as a DPS, wearing all healing gear because much of what I have has Spirit, and when adjusted to DPS, will not be optimal.  Will I be worse off than I am now.  I do not need to test it, I just want to know more specifics.  Give me a calculator or something, that I can load myself up and see what the change will look like, so I know now, that I should roll on that piece, I should keep that drop, I should change out gems.  Give me some knowledge I can use now, before the day comes and I get frustrated about how it looks and join many storming the castle.  Tell me I really should be picking up that DPS hit gear, even though it is slightly less optimal now.

I am looking at Warlords from a different perspective now. What will I be getting for my $15 a month for the next 2 years. Is there going to be enough for me to do, that I “want” to do or new to try out. This last Tier, no let me back track, I would say 1/3rd of the first, some of the second, and the majority of the final tier has turned me away from raiding. The loot vending machine that is Ordos has outfitted me in gear good enough to do Heroic content, and that is wrong to me in some manner. I think I am somewhere near 40 Ordos kills, with just about every Warforged piece I can get off him, except shoulders. Doing things out in the world is fairly easy now. Zone’s that I use to need to be cautious in are now trivial. Which is fine. I should be, at this point, a fairly powerful character. And I am.  Give me system requirements so that I know now that I may need to spend $150 to upgrade my computer, I will not be heading online or to a store on release day because I find the game unplayable.

When I look back at Mists, I see a beautiful continent, full of places to look at and explore and get lost seeing. Unfortunately the feeling I have now is that, the World no longer matters, it is the instanced Warcraft that does. I feel as if I am being steered to quickly consume this wonderful creation, to go spend many hours a week with a few people away from it all, just to fight a boss over and over. Congrats, you have spent a month doing quests and exploring, now get into the fight.  Tell me about new features, new things to do.  Garrisons in particular have been handled well, I am curious about them, I think I will like them, but if they are just a tool to steer me to raids, then it may quickly lose appeal, just as the farm did.  It seems to have promise, but I am not sure where it is all going to the end.  Will I have a fortress like town where I am the ruler all alone with my army of NPC’s, or will it become a set it and forget it place I poke my head into every so often to see the dust bunnies. 

Yes I’m am getting a bit critical of the game design, because a lot of it is not for me, I am quickly becoming “You are not our intended audience” for more and more of the game. It’s my opinion, just as many may dislike doing what I do. Some enjoy raiding as soon as possible, others love questing, some hate it. There are 8 million players and 8 million different views on playing.  If more of the game focuses on getting into current-end game raiding and instanced content, and less on being in the world, then perhaps WoW will no longer have the value it needs to me.  Friendships and social interaction have a very high value for me, but if they continue to drive it more to a single player game you do with others, that value is lost to me.

When Hearthstone was placed into beta, I noticed something. Of course the normal select groups got their invites, started playing and talking about it per the norm. But then an interesting thing happened. People were spending real world money for cards, to play a beta. Yes they knew eventually it would be live, and they would receive fair value for purchases, but what happened, at least to my eyes, was a group of people was given an opportunity to play, learn, and excel at a game, long before many others. They hit the release running with a great knowledge of how to play, strategies, and a stockpile of cards to work with. When people like myself did have our chance to play we were faced with opponents that could defeat you easily. To me this is a bad trend to game design. No longer are you designing a game, internally testing, and opening to limited beta testing, you are using the beta to not only test, but to make a profit before release, and enabling people to have a distinct advantage over anyone that started on day 1. I wonder how many that were in the top 50 at the Hearthstone championships were “not” part of the initial beta testing.

Heroes of the Storm, is shaping up to be similar. I see reports and comments about it, that make it seem like people are already playing it live. And perhaps in part, it is. People play it everyday, they are learning it, playing it, for all intents and purposes, it is a live game, that a few have been given a copy of to play.

When I was linked a means to try out Wildstar in open beta testing for a weekend, I gave it a go. Unfortunately it did not function well on my computer. Whether or not that was in part due to beta issues, or my PC. In the end, I had a chance to see it, and because of the experience I did not buy. But it got me thinking. Why is a beta influencing my possible purchase of something. Yes I saw all the talk about it, the excitement over this new thing, but a Beta experience shaped my impression of the game and in the end my decision to not purchase.  And WoW is shaping up to be similar.  I see so much being talked about, but not what I am looking for to make me rush to pre-order.  A free level 90? Not much interest there for me.  Going to a new version of BC content I disliked doing even at level 80-85 when I finished it all?  Getting to level 100 and starting the gear grind all over again with the same system of drops, and means to get extra chances?  Tell me my professions will matter for the entire 2 years, that if I have a pattern I can change a piece to look like it, tell me that the zones will keep me venturing out for 2 years exploring, not sitting in town waiting for a queue, tell me that I don’t need to raid to get high level rewards, that there are options.  No more 2-3 paths all leading to doing 1 aspect of the game for 75% of the 2 years.

Blizzard’s offering of the chance to try their game for free to a certain level is a good thing. You can try it on your computer, see if you like it, or even play it, and if you do/can, you buy it. You did not have to be near the top level to play, you could learn it, experience it, and eventually play at the top if you chose to.  But now it seems that if you are part of a select group that in a way advertise for you, you get a chance to be in there first.  You are not examining the game as a tester, you are being given a chance to talk about the game and play it.  Your compensation is being able to play ahead of the rest of the world.  And on the day it does go live, you will know much more than anyone else because for several months you have played.  I wonder how many would participate if they were only asked to try to play one feature, one boss fight, one class.  If I received an email offering a chance to play a Warlock, in the Alliance starting zone for 2 levels, I would probably decline, if it was a Priest certainly.  I would play it, think of issues or problems, report things, and when done, go back to the live game.  I may talk about the experience to friends or here, but it would be a short post.  If they invited Method to put the 3rd boss through its paces, but they would not see a 1st, 2nd, or 4th.  Would they do it?  Probably, but they would be wanting it all.  We have grown to a player base that wants early access, wants to see it first, do it first, get worlds first.  And once it is live, and we rush over so much that we have already seen and done, we complain there is nothing left to do.  WoW originally had a few people to test and play, once it was live it was all unknown.  And it had a great appeal in it being unknown.  Perhaps we need a new system for testing.  One where you test specific fights, or interfaces, or interactions.  And when your short period of testing time is over, you go back into the pool of potential testers.

I guess what I am saying is it no longer feels like we are getting asked to “Test” beta content, we are being used to market it and as a result shape the design.  The test results are just data they monitor, and adjust or fix based on what they see.  The downside is these same people putting it out there eventually may be the ones bored because once live, there is nothing new for them, and then they become more critical, comparing to other new games, new methods.  Maybe there is no really good way to test it all, except the way we do now.  But putting the marketing if you will, in the hands of people that report it is opening it up to them interpreting what you mean.  You should be the ones telling us what features will do, and let people test it out and report when it does not work that way, stop giving the content to people to report on and try out, and discuss what they think it is.  Because when they guess wrong, the reactions now are immediate, and when you do not respond immediately, it allows the speculation monster to run rampant.

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