Camping for a beta spot… no thanks.

Open beta does not mean what it use to in the MMO world. Back in the day, open beta for an MMO was not a big deal, and for the most part was quite similar to the most recent closed beta period. Generally all the die-hard followers of a game were already in beta, and going to open beta did not generate a flood of new players. Most importantly, open beta was still recognized as a beta, so things like bugs and missing functions were the norm. To be honest, back in the day the first few months of release were also a beta period, with bugs and crashes being common, but yea… Open beta was not looked as a marketing tool, but rather as a final stress test before going live.

Today open beta is much different, and this is mainly due to the growth of the MMO space and the amount of interest any major MMO builds before its release. Games like AoC and WAR have massive followings long before release, with hundreds of thousands of players following the progress of each game, all dying for a chance to play.

Closed beta today looks far more like the open betas of old, with more players just playing rather than actually testing, and with beta leaks become big business. The developers no long just put up one server with the whole world open and ask people to run around and test it, today they ‘focus test’ in stages, herding the beta testers from one area to another in order to gather the data they need. It’s a very defined and orderly process, watched closely by all parties involved.

But by far the biggest change to the entire process is the period of open beta itself. No longer any kind of test, open beta today is a marketing scheme to drum up interest and get hype to a boiling point right before boxes hit the shelves. Since the market has changed, so have the rules. The ‘beta’ part of open beta no longer applies, as most players today will judge what they see in open beta as if it were the actual game. If a game is broken or has key features missing, which at the open beta stage should be viewed as a huge issue anyway, players will react and respond, spreading negative word-of-mouth about the game, beta tag or not.

Developers need to be aware that they no longer cater to a niche market of the hardcore; gamers who accept bugs, server crashes, and imbalance as a part of MMO life. Today in order to reach the numbers some studios target, they must cater to the general public; the five minute attention span, one bug and I’m out gamer who has four other MMOs to fall back on should your game not deliver immediately and completely.

This brings me to the most recent ‘open beta’ with AoC. While AoC has done a decent enough job generating buzz, most view it as a ‘maybe’ product, especially given its M rating, it’s setting, and the rumored ‘twitch’ combat with a PvP basis. AoC is exactly the type of game that would greatly benefit from a flawless open beta, something that turns all those maybe feelings into buyers, and something that generates enough positive buzz to reach those that have looked past it. Unfortunately that’s just not the case.

For starters, my own personal feelings about AoC are very meh. The screen shots don’t impress me, nothing that I have read has really jumped out as a game breaker, and most of my ‘upcoming MMO’ attention has been focused on WAR, a game with a much stronger setting and developer pedigree. But since I already had a FilePlanet account, I figured I would give AoC a shot and try out the open beta, thinking maybe something about AoC will warrant dropping $50 on a box; only to find out that the open beta is not exactly ‘open’, even to those that have already paid for the FilePlanet account. FilePlanet has instead opted to release beta keys in waves on a first come first server basis. If the current wave is out, you have to wait until the next one opens, which happens at random during the day. AoC is basically asking us to ‘camp’ a website in order to ‘loot’ a beta key, an OPEN beta key. Now as much fun as camping a mob for hours/days is, I think we are well beyond that stage in MMO history, not to mention the fact that we are being asked to jump through these hoops for a game most already consider passing on. I’m guessing I’m not alone in the ‘one and done’ category here.

In addition to my brief but disappointing first experience related to AoC, we have the great reporting done by Keen and Graev. After reading their experience with AoC, it sounds like FilePlanet did me a favor and saved me however long it would take to download the 13gig beta. While they found some aspects of the game impressive, the general feeling I got from their site (which overall tends to have a glass half full take on most things) is that AoC has some serious issues, both in terms of bugs/balance and also with general design. When people comment that the PvP is broken during a PvP weekend, you have some issues.

It will be interesting to see what lessons are learned from the AoC beta experience. Tabula Rasa was crippled at release thanks in part to a poor showing in open beta, and is still trying to recover despite being a much better game now than it was back then. Pirate of the Burning Sea got a nice boost from positive open beta feedback, but then saw a crash a month or so after release when the shine wore off and the broken underbelly was exposed. The most famous open beta of course was the one for WoW, which played almost exactly like WoW did at release, and really generated a ton of positive buzz for the game (which already had a lot going for it, but open beta took that to a new level). It will be interesting to see how WAR handles open beta, considering the massive amount of interest for the game already. While a bad open beta might not cripple the game, an open beta on the polish level of WoW might catapult WAR and give it a fighting chance to hit the multi-million player level Mythic and EA are hoping for.

15 Responses to Camping for a beta spot… no thanks.

  1. Mallika says:

    With WAR’s delay and all, there’s probably been a boost in the number of people interested in AoC. I have to say that the Fileplanet beta thing was pretty annoying, but my fiancé managed to snag a key minutes after they’d opened (by pure chance). Your analogy of camping a mob is very apt, as I read about people’s experiences with it. I did try to take a somewhat neutral stance on the whole thing, especially for those who are still eager for a key. I’m more of a cheerleader-type on this, I guess. :)

    Our experience with AoC information is different — for me, coming back to all the info and videos after ignoring the game for months and months got me excited about it. I was planning on at least trying AoC and WAR when they came out (even though they both felt a little “meh” to me), but I’ve developed quite a solid feeling for AoC in the last few weeks.

    In any case, I hope both AoC and WAR succeed, not only for the sake of the developers and the people playing them but also for the MMO gaming genre as a whole.

  2. Isanox says:

    To add insult to injury, those of use who don’t have a fileplant subscription would have to pay $8 for a CHANCE to get into open beta.

    Maybe I’m a cranky old fart, but I can remember a time when MMOs actively courted my money. Back when they would try to convince me to spend my time and money on their game.

  3. bartlebe says:

    @Isanox

    You’re not a cranky old fart. You’re exactly right in your statement that MMO’s had to work for you to give up money. The tables have completely turned now with the rise of AoC.

    They have executed some shady business practices with their game. From selling it out to Gamespot to letting Fileplanet charge money for it, they’re using their leverage to milk everything they can from their product.

    I, for one, think I may smell a Tabula Rasa or Vanguard on the rise. Then again, I am an awful skeptic.

  4. bartlebe says:

    I enjoy your blog by the way, you’re on my blogroll. :)

  5. syncaine says:

    Thanks Bartlebe, glad you enjoy my ramblings :)

    I smell a Tabula Rasa for sure, we will see if AoC hits Vanguard disaster level. Certainly not out of the realm of possibility though.

    I also can’t image how pissed people must be when they pay for FilePlanet only to get into the AoC beta, only to find out they can’t actually access it without having to play the refresh button game.

  6. DextarDouglas says:

    You also forgot to mention the fact that you can only reach level 13 in open beta. I know that for many companies Open Beta is a time to create a little buzz but you would expect them to want all the content tested, especially since they were missing spell weaving (as mentioned by Keen) only a month before release. It would just be nice to see a company care about their product, as it is beging to look like they are going to rely on a gimick like Tabula Rasa to sell their game when it comes out. I’ll be interested to watch the progress as the game comes out.

  7. Phil says:

    I’m thinking it smells more like DDO or LotR. Going to be a decent game that appeals to some people. Enough people to pay the bills.

    I’ve recently built up excitement for AoC from “Meh” to “Ooooo, can’t wait to check it out.” When I do betas I don’t expect errors or bugs to guide my feelings of the game or as a gauge of the game quality. Those things can be fixed. I report them and move on. No, what I’m looking for in the open beta (Yeah I got a key on the first round) is if the game hooks me. Is the game play worth the $80 CE + the monthly fee. The lore is definitely something I can get into. Now, will gameplay interest me enough to keep playing on release? That’s the big question.

    Dextar, where did you hear lvl 13 is the max in open beta? I thought I read there is a contest in open beta for the first person to reach max (lvl 80 I think) for cool ingame prizes. Not sure how the lvl 13 thing fits in unless its the first char to lvl 13 wins.

  8. syncaine says:

    DDO maybe, LoTRO no shot. LoTRO had a great open beta in terms of hooking people in. It just had some issues (now resolved) with its 35+ content, which was hidden at the time since beta was limited to lvl 20.

    And what you describe, going from meh to buy, is what I hoped when I went to download the beta, but dealing with the time/effort needed to actually get in is enough to make me quit, I’m not THAT into AoC to start with.

  9. Phil says:

    Syn, when comparing it to DDO and LotRO I’m not referring to quality. I’m referring more about the feel that only a niche game (good or bad) can give. I play neither DDO or LotRO currently. Did the beta and trials of both but they didn’t hook me. But, every time I think back to them I get that warm fuzzy feeling inside. DD and LotR are some incredible IPs. (I don’t know anyone who would say they hate DD or LotR) It is possible to absolutely love the IPs but not get hooked on the game. IMHO AoC is going to have that same feeling. I expect it to provide that warm fuzzy feeling (I’m a medium Conan fan) but not really hook me. Course, for every “me” there is always the fan that continues to play. DDO still has enough subscriber base to sustain its servers. LotRO has an even larger subscriber base. My prediction is we will be saying the same thing about AoC in a year. “AoC has enough subscribers to sustain its servers.” That’s what I’m referring to.

    But, I will agree with you. LotRO had a great open beta. The graphics, the lore, the classes were all wonderful. I played more in its beta than ever before in any other beta. But, unfortunately it always felt like it was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on. I really, really wanted to play it but, in the end I had to cancel.

    Hopefully AoC will have a “great open beta.”

  10. syncaine says:

    Ah well here is where I got confused, since DDO is generally regarded as a bit of a disappointment (although not a huge, Vanguard like one by any means) while LoTRO is considered a success (just not when compared to WoW, but then, no MMO compares to WoW in terms of sub numbers). I mean purely in terms of sub numbers, not anything gameplay wise.

    So if AoC goes DDO, I would call that a disappointment, while if AoC goes LoTRO, it will exceed most expectations (which are that AoC, at best, will be a successful niche game)

    My personal prediction, based on never having played the game, is that AoC will be a sales disappointment, and will never hit that niche stride. I think it will be a Shadowbane all over again, if the history of that game means anything to you.

  11. Phil says:

    Shadowbane? Unfortunately (or is “fortunately: a better word?) I’ve never played/beta’d it. I do hear alot of people mentioning Shadowbane with great disappointment in their voice. Ug, now I have to do a google and look it up. Thanks alot. :)

    Vanguard, Vanguard, Vanguard. I was in that beta. That was a ZOMFG huge failure. I gave that game so much leeway but it disappointed in every turn. Course, my background came from FFXI. I’ve never been a big EQ player so Vanguard didn’t hold a special place in my heart. But one things for sure: That beta will always stick with me.

  12. syncaine says:

    Shadowbane, before release, was gods gift to PvP on paper. The buzz around that game was amazing, similar to how WAR is now (this is back in the day, when the MMO space overall was much smaller, so you have to factor that in), but then beta hit, and one issue after another came up, and ultimately the game failed. It just never delivered a great overall game (although some of its ideas and design are still the best out in terms of PvP design).

    And if anything, Vanguard had a MUCH greater following than AoC has, since it was being drummed up as the ‘real’ EQ sequel. Even when the beta was a complete disaster, people still held out and hoped. Hell some people are still hoping…

  13. Omasu says:

    I just recently received an infamous OPEN BETA key – more like right place right time instead of camping. I would have not waiting for it, had I not already been a member of FilePlanet and stumbled across it at the right moment.

    However ! I’m currently camping the download area for a mirror to pop up and its annoying.

    I’d like to add that I am looking forward to this game immensely and am past the “Meh” point that most others have described here. See you out there.

  14. Sabotage says:

    WAR Dont get your hopes up thats all i can say, this is from someone who knows and was chosen. i had same hype for getting into WAR beta and when somthing came in and i started to do somthing it was all crap. nothing different from WoW is all i can say even WoW is better imo from this junk.

  15. [...] only if you had a paid FilePlanet account, which doesn’t even guarantee a beta key which syncaine found [...]

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