I think most of us love the next new thing. At least those of us with a high “E” score on the Bartle test. I love the promise of a new game– a new world to explore and the delicious anticipation of adventures to be had, new sights to see, new challenges to conquer. Its like getting a visa to visit a newly discovered planet. There’s a childlike sense of wonder that is rekindled each time I experience a new virtual place. Its wonderful (in the true sense) to see a new virtual world come alive, especially on release day.
The flipside, of course, is that I love to do closed beta tests not because I want to get the uber inside 1337 411 on a new game, but because I like to give back to the game community and truly help to make games better on release. The design and development process are fascinating and the human mind can make such subtle distinctions that minor adjustments can change an experience from clunky to effortless or from drudgery to complete fun. (Side topic: why is Kill 10 Evil Clown Foozles fun but Kill 30 Evil Clown Foozles boring and grindy? Discuss. Oh wait, we did. nvm.)
Open beta, at least according to the general discussion in the blogosphere of late, has been much maligned. I agree, its open, but its not really beta. Although its anything but a testing period, it can be the marketing period that can make or break a game. Ask Richard Garriott.
I’m always torn with an open beta– with games I’m eagerly anticipating I really want to see what its going to be like. Of course, since its open beta and everything will be wiped before live release, I also really don’t want so see what all of its like. I don’t want to “spoil” the content or, quite frankly, waste the time I’ve invested in the game. I’m really torn, the explorer in me wants to hop in and run to the four corners of a new world and try to see and experience all there is to see. If I do, though, come release, despite the excitement and newness of a new live world, I may have seen much of it already.
In games where I’ve had the opportunity to do closed beta, I think its a different bargain. I feel more invested in the game having participated in the bona fide development of the game. I’ll tend to stay connected through open beta, though less so. With open beta, I often just want to see enough to form an opinion of whether I want to buy the game and save all the good stuff for later.
While there are many justifications for an open beta *cough*demo*cough* period for new games (stress testing, final tweaks and minor clean up stuff), I wonder if extended open betas simply dilute too much of the early (and in some cases the late) content. I find myself getting in open beta, checking things out and then putting a game in the deep freeze for the ensuing weeks until release.
I’m not sure this is either good for me as a player/consumer or for the game company (if they really do view open beta as a test period). Neither of us gets what they want. Many people like me may not be incented to progress very far testing-wise if they want to preserve the novelty of content for release. As an open beta participant, I’m pulling my punches so I really don’t want to explore the entire game since there will be the inevitable wipe prior to release. Since so much focus is placed on polishing the early levels (the mythical 1-20 new player experience), I may never get the chance to know that the rest of the game sucks, or more kindly, has not received the same degree of focus as the early stage content. Likewise, the developer may never get to know whether most players think the mid levels suck…
So why don’t game companies do everyone a favor and simply complete a real, large scale closed beta to tune and stress test and all that good stuff and then, and only then, drop the NDA and simply launch. Give new players a “free” 1 month trial with the purchase of the game before subscription fees kick in to see if its their kind of game. New players will get to see the actual game, any time they invest in it wont be “wasted” since their characters are “real” characters and wont be wiped and the game companies can manage the message and administer as much polish as they can stand and afford during a larger scale closed beta.