Thoughts on Alpha/Beta

I had all sorts of thoughts this morning, about advantages many have with continually getting Alpha and Beta invites to every Blizzard title that comes down the road.  They are in Top guilds, they maintain WoW database sites, they are friends and family.  They are granted exclusive access to content that many will not see for 6 months to perhaps as long as a year.  Who knows, maybe even longer if they are included in internal tech Alpha testing.  They do have a distinct advantage over the vast majority of the player base.  There is also a group that are not even subscribed to the game itself that do nothing but play in the Public Test Realms.  They are testing the game, they are there supplying information to the designers, either by reporting problems, or just being there giving them data they can analyze.  I had a lot running through my head trying to nail down what seemed wrong.  Is it that they do have an advantage?  Yeah, they do, they have played through most of a game title by the time it launches, so can breeze through content, they have tested the dungeons on all levels available, they have participated, perhaps even come up with strategy guide videos for the raids.  And it occurred to me what the problem really is.

outsourcing-IT

Blizzard is outsourcing too much and it is allowing us to consume content faster than they can develop it.  By the time Legion launches, sites like WoWhead will have all of the quest lines uploaded, there will be guides written for all classes, sites will have determined best in slot gear, what stat weights are best, best talent choices, dungeons strategy guides, raid guides, walk through videos of quest chains, if we have hidden treasures there will be add on programs pointing you to within 5 feet of what you are looking for, there will be programs like we have that will allow you to do all of your garrison missions in half the time.  All of this will be out there and available at launch.  And as a result, the only thing that will slow anyone down is the amount of time they have available to play in a day, and whether or not they know where to look.

Some may say, well you don’t “Have” to use the information, don’t “Have” to get add on programs.  But that is not the point.  The point is, testing has become not only for testing, but also for marketing the game, by doing away with Non Disclosure Agreements, by giving outside sources more than enough time to populate their databases, to allow those worlds first, eSports minded people time to prepare and practice.  And in the end?  after these people have played the game over 9 months potentially at launch, and the game goes live and they destroy and consume content at a lighting fast pace?  They will be demanding more.  They will be looking for the next tier release, when many are just getting through the initial zones to max level, these people will already be not only done with Normal, Heroic, Mythic Dungeons, but also all of the raid tiers.  And some will look in awe at how skilled these players are, but I have come to the realization, that yes, they are excellent players, they do play to a level many can not even comprehend, but they have also been playing through testing for months before many even see a load screen.  They have worked out strategies, know what gear from what source they need, know exactly what professions they may want to have, where to look for materials in order to craft items.  They do have an unfair advantage in playing, but it is not unfair in their ability to get it done faster than the majority, but that it forces the majority to keep up with content releases based on their level of consumption.

I personally feel that this 9-10 months of open testing is going to cause burn out, will cause people to become bored faster than ever before, and will push Blizzard into pushing to release even less content faster to keep up with demand.  If all testing, all information was kept internal, was not available on launch, everyone would be on the same footing, people would have to “Think”  Would have to research, look for things, would not have a crutch to lean on.  When World of Warcraft launched the idea that people would have 10 or 11, or more max level characters fell into the they must have no life category.  Now?  I’m surprised I don’t have more than 3.  And I could.   I could buy a boost to 90, run them through the starting experience, get their garrisons up and running and cranking out 2,000 gold a day, or more.  Having everything laid out to the smallest detail at launch is destroying the game.  We may as well have a program play for us, do all of our questing, do our fights, we just log in, send our character out on mission’s, log out and check back later to see what they got.

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14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Alpha/Beta

  1. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking for a long while now. I also think that this has been made worse by Blizzards insistence on this twelve month release cycle. It is pretty frustrating having to avoid.. every news source, fan site, you tube possible in order to avoid having new content spoiler ed this far in advance.

    As you say, it is giving a huge advantage to those players, not only in terms of quests, raids, dungeons but even in terms of things like pet battling, professions, gathering routes, gold making. It’s spoiling the learning and experimenting experience that is in my eyes the whole point to gaming in the first place…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I mentioned on Twitter, the other advantage for Blizzard is that it’s a handy distraction. People are watching and talking about Legion. They’re not talking about how Warlords of Draenor is dead, has been for a while, and still has months to go.

    The only interesting thing going on in WoW right now is watching people play something that won’t be out for months.

    In the long term, though, it’s problematic. People will be getting bored of Legion by time it launches. Everything is being spoiled, and it’s impossible to avoid unless you cut yourself off from news about the game entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find myself so torn on this. So let me bite off little pieces. Again…these are all my opinions and no maliciousness is meant.

    Blizzards outsourcing:

    To a point I agree. They put the information out there so people can data mine and pick apart the alpha / beta / notes etc. As you say…you dont have to look at it. But Blizzard uses these sites now as a marketing source. I think they are doing a great job of causing a buzz about the games (both positive and negative). I get people do not want to be spoiled….but sadly…no way around this one. Sadly we are too entitled of a community to have it any other way.

    Player advantage:

    I get the feeling that alpha / beta people have an advantage because they get to play months ahead of time…but is that really true? There seems to be this underlying idea that everyone has a chance to be world first…which is farther from the truth. I am sure there is a method (see what I did there) to the madness but its not like they are getting months of practice over others. Also, if someone feels so inclined they can always watch the streams of these guys trying strats, etc.
    I would love to see the % of people who actually complete / compete for world first. I cannot imagine it is a huge percentage of players. Also remember that World / server first are almost meaningless now. It is not like it is an E-sport. One thing to remember….this is the biggest overhaul that Blizzard has had to implement….so I understand the months upon months of testing needed. Just for a quick count: Artifacts, PVP changes, New Class, Class overhauls, Class orders.

    Feedback and burn out:

    I watch a lot of streamers…a lot. Some who play alpha ~ 8 hours a day 5 days a week. I still do not understand this idea of burn out? You have access to test classes… which is what you should be going. 12 classes – Artifact quest – Artifact leveling- leveling – dungeons – Do feedback on forums….there is a ton of stuff to be tested. Honestly…if someone is burning out…then they are not a good person to do testing. Lets remember that Alpha testing should be used for reporting bugs and not blazing through content to see how fast you can get through. Which…if I may say….is the problem with how Blizzard does their testing…but that is another long conversation. Anyway….if someone is burning out…they are doing it wrong.

    As for people asking for new content quicker….blizzard (until Legion) states that Mythic raiding is the end game….if you are 13/13M….you have a right to say you are bored…anything else…your just going to have to wait. IMO.

    Destroying the game?:

    I would love to hear more how you think boost are destroying the game. I mean a person could just boost 11-12 characters and wait for the xpac…but that doesn’t teach them anything. Its also not like you can boost to the latest level until later in the xpac….so I have no problem with people needing to have another option if they cannot level traditionally.

    Now…how do I feel:

    Lets call it what it is. Wow has one of the most entitled communities out of all the MMO’s out there. Sadly…nothing we can really do at this point. Blizzard has already gone down a slippery path that has lead us to these type of conversations. We find ourselves separating into three types of groups: Raiders and Hardcore , Casuals, others.

    Hardcore and raiders are finding any way to get ahead. Spoilers, data mining, theory crafting, videos, streams, etc. Their job is to pound through leveling…get to max level and start raiding ASAP. Also known as the people who barely interact with others and set the unreachable / insane ilevels for groups, etc. Only the best of the best play here…but only with themselves. End goals are Mythics or bust.

    Casuals love the game but only as long as it is feasible for them. If the content gets too hard…they do other things. If the content is too easy…they repeat until they burn out then move on. Casuals love the game and love going things with other casuals. Some raiding…but not much more than Heroics. They generally stay away from spoilers and only “cheat” when needed. Referred to as plebs by the raiders and hardcore guys.

    Now the others. The special unicorns of wow. These people love to do everything in game especially the things that most people forget about. PVP / Alts / Pet battles / mount farming / old raids/ etc. They play with others when needed and stay away from the hardcore raiders. Great group of people….love the game….friendly….what I consider the great players of wow. I term them the Golden Girls (and guys).

    Ok Cod…whats the point? They point here is…it is a lose…lose…lose situation for Blizzard. Keep alpha and beta NDA’ed….no hype about the next expansion, limited community feedback and people will slowly die off with no news. Make alpha and beta non-NDA….everyone and their mother is data-mining and getting all the information before the xpac launches….many upset people but better community feedback. There is a third option: Forget the testing and just push the button. Quality takes a hit but everyone is truly on equal footing…. 99.9% do not want this.

    So lets just open up this conversation….what do you do? You are going to get at least one of the major category of players mad at you….which one do you upset? In a situation where it cannot go both ways…you must choose your own adventure (demise) here.

    TLDR version: Generally speaking we are an entitled group that will always find something to complain about but yet we keep coming back over and over. Even though I do not agree with a 9-10 month alpha / beta…..it is well needed for all of these changes. Spoilers will always exist and I don’t believe boost this late in an expansion is a horrible thing.

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    1. In the interest of not spending the next hour replying, I’m going to focus on this:

      “Make alpha and beta non-NDA….everyone and their mother is data-mining and getting all the information before the xpac launches….many upset people but better community feedback”

      On what basis is the claim made that a closed-but-visible alpha like this results in better community feedback? The feedback that you want is really from the people actually trying stuff.

      If someone plays with an alpha build, thinks it sucks, and says that on his stream to 50,000 people, that’s not especially helpful. The opinions of those 50,000 are not valuable. They have no experience with the thing in question. They have no basis to compare it to. They’re working from an initial biased opinion, and if they were watching a class specific stream, they’re already predisposed to hate any change to their class that isn’t a buff. (See: the WoW class forums on any potential change, ever.)

      The feedback of those people is noise.

      There’s also the issue of experimentation. Part of the point of an NDA’d cycle is so that the developers can try things with relative impunity. That’s the best way to figure out if a new mechanic is going to work, after all. If it works, great! If it doesn’t work, scrap it, no big deal.

      Right now? People flip out all over the place when they try that and it’s not well received. Instead of a private pool of testers reacting to it, you’ve got people all over the place doing that, most of which have little to no idea of what they’re talking about. As I recall it, you yourself have been critical of that very reaction, but it’s Blizzard’s throwing everything into the open for marketing purposes that created the problem in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. IMO. We have already seen how this works. Look at the water strider disaster of 2016. As for myself….before I was getting critical of every bit of news…but recently I decided to change my approach. Going from Raider to Golden Girl.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just thinking out loud here. A big problem also is if the same high profile people continually are brought in for testing and have a larger influence on the ultimate design is that eventually the game is designed around what they like, how they see classes played. What may feel great to a top 10 worlds PvP player with 100k followers may drive other people away from the game.

        There needs to be change, not only in design to keep the game fresh, but also in the way its design is tested.

        Like

      3. Until they realize that maybe they have been listening to the wrong people, or giving their opinions too much weight.

        And how do we do that? Bring about change? By doing just this. Talking about things as adults. Sharing thoughts and ideas. Expressing ourselves in a rational manner.

        😀

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  4. Thank you for the well thought out reply sir Cod. I agree with your points. I do think that fundamentally Blizzard is dropping the ball by placing the marketing into the hands players in the manner they are. They are placing themselves at the mercy of the opinion of the players. They are not the ones generating the hype. In the past we would not have seen this level of reveal of the expansion until these people were in Open Beta. That we are seeing as you put it, many hours a day of information, it is not even so much trying to avoid spoilers, but that it has the potential to be completely revealed before even the movie is released. I am certain that there will be entire walk through guides and video’s for the new Demon Hunters, if there are not some already. We saw recently, and Blizzard themselves promoted watching it a race through one of the Heroic dungeons. It is becoming, at least to me, why read the book when you can watch the movie in 1/10th of the time.

    You are spot on with

    “Generally speaking we are an entitled group that will always find something to complain about but yet we keep coming back over and over.”

    We are. We want all the fancy shiney purples, all of the mounts, all of the pets, all the rewards, as fast as possible. We are being coddled. Not sure how to complete a quest? WoWhead has a complete guide on the entire quest line. Looking to max your profession from 1 800 as quickly as possible? WoWprofesssions has a walk through telling you exactly what mats you will need and exactly what to make in what order. Icy Veins, AskMrRobot, MMO-Champion, any number of class sites, will all have mountains of information available prior to launch. There is no longer the need to explore, to figure out for yourself. You have lists of gear that you need to perform at your best, notes on exactly where you need to go, what boss to farm, what quest to complete.

    I do not have any issue with the work that all of those people do. They provide a valuable resource to everyone. That it is out there right now, potentially can cause more harm than good. People not even in the testing commenting on how they see stat weights being broken for certain classes or talents, rushing off to level some other class now because they think their favorite will be unplayable. If Legion was a brand new never before seen game. Was only tested in house, or with players that were bound by contract to not discuss, we would all have to work it out from scratch. Yes eventually through data mining and people supplying information, databases would be developed, people would figure out quests, or heaven forbid, have to actually ask someone in the zone what they are missing and interact with people, Dungeons would be figured out, so would raids. That prior to launch I will be able to look up the first dungeons on YouTube to see where I have to go, what shortcuts can be taken, it is removing a lot of the fun of gaming.

    So what do we do? You are right, you will never make everyone happy. But if we are all on the same footing we can all grumble together. 🙂

    Like

  5. Great post, thank you.

    I think one other point is that we have to ask, with the current model of alpha/beta testing, who is shaping the game? And the answer is, the hardcore players are, the select group you enumerated. Not the 95% base of players. Now, it is unfortunately true that the select group are the ones most likely to provide useful feedback, but that also means they will provide feedback for their hardcore, dedicated play style. Thus the game gets shaped around them and their preferences, and over time it inevitably becomes less and less accessible to the vast majority who cannot or do not care to devote 20+ hours a week to it, but who by their very numbers pay the server and maintenance and development bills for Blizz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely a risk, although I think Blizzard is aware of it. They get the same kind of feedback from folks in Diablo 3 on the PTR, and that got more accessible every patch after Reaper of Souls (which itself was a giant apology letter, and pretty awesome).

      It is something they have to remain vigilant against though, lest the game suffer from what I’m going to call Wildstar Syndrome… becuase that is EXACTLY what happened to Wildstar during development. They listened to the fans, but the only ones there at the time were the hardcore progression raider contingent. The echo chamber effect was massive. They then launched with the super hardcore “this isn’t for you, cupcake!” endgame, and chased everyone right the hell away. They never recovered from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. @Tridus — well, glad to hear Blizz is aware of the possible problem and are guarding against it. Still, I have not been especially impressed by their ability to see things in the big picture and to think strategically rather than tactically in their development approach. I wonder if they are not subject to something I call “hardcore creep” which is not THAT GUY but rather a sort of anchoring effect. If all Blizz hears during the dev cycle is hardcore feedback on what they see as the ideal hardcore end game, that sort of game inevitably becomes — by virtue of familiarity and repetition — the “norm”. Even if they have someone whose job it is to represent the majority of actual players, the tendency is to step things down a bit from the “norm”, which means it becomes slightly less than ideal for the hard core players but nowhere even close to reasonable for the 95%.

    To use your Diablo 3 example, correcting over-tuning in patches after release often comes across as “nerfing” and usually only serves to further polarize what are already divided and polarized camps in the game.

    This goes to my long-held contention that Blizz really has no clear idea of who their intended audience is. I think they like to believe they are writing for hardcore players, but the reality is that there are not enough of them to sustain the subscription-and-merchandise business model. They seem to develop for hardcore types but then have buyer’s remorse when subs go down, so they hand out candy and jukeboxes and Pepes and raid nerfs and gear, enraging the hard core types and making the 95% players feel like they are getting hand-me-downs.

    It just seems like there should be a better way.

    Liked by 1 person

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