MMO games: Why are they more fun in beta?

If you’ve been playing MMOs for a decent amount of time, it’s likely you have taken part in at least a few beta tests, be they open or closed. If a game really got you interested early, you might have gotten a chance to get into an early beta phase and really see a game from the inside. And despite the game being in rougher shape during beta than at release, how many people have had MORE fun in beta? Odd right, or is it?

In a typical beta situation (not a stress test open beta), testers play on one server and have a focused message board to comment on the game. The community is small, almost everyone playing is more invested in the game than a ‘normal’ MMO gamer, and the player-to-developer communication is usually much higher. The game usually changes at a rapid pace due to patches, server wipes are both frequent and expected, and players are more tolerant of bugs and crashes. And last but certainly not least, beta is free.

The free part is easy to understand. If you are not paying for something, your expectations are generally going to be lower than if you have to spend money. If a free app on the iPhone sucks you chalk it up to it being free and don’t worry about it. If you spend $50 on a game that’s unplayable, you are not as likely to just delete and walk away. But free vs pay only goes so far, as plenty of F2P MMOs exist, and even at that price most people can’t be bothered to play them longer than it took to download them.

The player-to-dev aspect is nice, but how many of us really expect our armchair designer dreams to be taken seriously? It’s always nice to get inside the mind of a designer and know the how and why’s of the game, but unless the game takes a turn you don’t like, you are going to remain happy reading patch notes and just enjoying the game itself. In other words, a shitty game with an active dev staff on the boards is still a shitty game, and no amount of ‘blue posts’ is going to convince you to spend $15 a month.

A far more important aspect is the player community itself. With one server, whatever happens in-game is happening in YOUR world, not on some other server you could care less about. If the auction house is really active, it’s YOUR auction house that’s active. If a major war breaks out between two big guilds, its people fighting on YOUR server. All ‘world first’ kills are also server firsts, and it’s YOUR server. That’s a big deal, and really keeps players interested in the day-to-day of what’s going on. With high day-to-day interest, you are likely to want to log in more, and that also keeps your individual interest in the game high.

In addition to the single server advantage, you are also likely gaming with only ‘core’ players, ones that all follow the game more closely and actual care about what’s happening. Generally the players are more competent, involved, and invested in the games future. That type of environment rubs off on everyone, and leads to closer and more respectful communities. The world is no longer just about what your guild is raiding tonight, the rest of the server be damned, but about seeing familiar names/faces each day and actually enjoying rather than dreading PuG groups.

While players care more about the game overall, they also don’t stress out as much about actual in-game accomplishments, in large part because they know a beta is not permanent. It’s an interested dynamic really; we are drawn in part to MMOs because of there ‘never over’ nature, yet we are able to enjoy them more when we know what we do ‘does not count’. Is there a gray area here? A Tale in the Desert has regular resets that seem to work for that game (never played myself), but would this work for others? Unlikely in WoW or similar games, but ShadowBane had one before its death with reported success (DarkFall killed SB, not the reset).

All this leads to one question; what would you pay to play your favorite MMO in a more closed beta-like environment. If for $30 a month WoW offered a premium server, aimed at the ‘core’ WoW players (include whatever bonuses/rules would go along with this to make it happen), would you go for it? Would paying double the monthly fee (or more) be worth it if your in-game experience and community was at the level of a good beta test, making PuGing enjoyable and the world more alive with players playing to have fun rather than chase the next shiny? Would you pay more to play WAR in a guild-only server, where the only players were ones in solid and established guilds, removing the zerg vs zerg herd mentality of tier 4? Would you pay extra to play LoTRO on a more strict RP server, where the spirit of LoTRO was better enforced and the more WoW-like players were removed?

As gaming matures, so do its players. Many people are no longer ‘growing out’ of playing games, but rather growing with them. Those asking mom and dad for $15 a month are now working and have disposable income. Is there a niche market for that demographic; those that are still huge fans of the genre but no longer entertained by High School humor or with 8+ hours to grind daily?

14 Responses to MMO games: Why are they more fun in beta?

  1. smakendahed says:

    It’s the new MMO smell.

    Discovery lends itself to beta experiences. You’re seeing stuff for the first time with little spoiler or public knowledge stuff you find after the release. You’re a noob learning a new game, even if it does share similar mechanics to others.

  2. spinks says:

    I think they’re more fun because betas tend to distract players from getting hardcore. Theres no point being all hardcore about achieving things in a beta, because a) its all subject to change anyway and b) it’s going to get wiped.

    So yeah, there is a sense in which the hardcore ruin persistent world games for everyone else, because there’s so much pressure to become equally hardcore if you want to play with or against them at their level. On a beta, that doesn’t happen.

  3. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar says:

    a) There are no walkthrus or I-win-button addons during the beta (or even if there is, things are changing so fast that those can be pretty unreliable. This forces people to actually play the game and chat and help each other inside the game, which strengthens the community.

    b) There’s little or no point in grinding up to the max level and gearing up for upcoming raids, so people are playing the leveling game pretty much as it was meant to be played instead of looking for a monster spawn that’s the best xp for that level to grind.

    c) If something is broken in the game, you can easily forgive that as it’s just beta and it’s free. If something is broken in a released game, you can feel cheated having just paid a pretty penny for the game.

    d) You have a feeling that you can be the first to do something or find out some new feature in the game or the gameworld, that feeling is pretty much missing when the game is released and hundreds of thousands or even millions of people are playing the game.

  4. Bhagpuss says:

    Odd criteria you suggest for a better experience…

    I stopped playing LotRO because I was foolish enough to think the RPserver would have easygoing, friendly people. In fact, the atmosphere was more toxic than any other MMO I have come across in a decade. I might go back, but only on a non-rp server.

    I am currently loving Warhammer because the whole structure is predicated on guilds being uttterly insignificant – a fantastic breath of fresh air. The idea that a “guild only” server would be any kind of improvement strikes me as bizarre.

    I’ve done many betas from Anarchy Online onwards and they can be immersive and compelling as youdescribe, but they can also be be bland and pointless. In my experience it is the GAME that draws you in – if the game is good in beta it will be great when it goes Live.

    I’m now done with betas, I think. After many, many betas the novelty value is long gone and the idea of doing unpaid work for major corporations is actively offputting. Live is much better than Beta.

  5. [...] play betas.  Oh, even if it’s free, we still pay for it, just in a different way.  But hey, he likes playing betas more than the real [...]

  6. [...] in beta – and we’ve been having a ball. As such, when we saw Syncaine’s recent posting about why games are more fun in beta – and if people would pay more for a similar experience, we thought it was a pretty good topic. The [...]

  7. Malakili says:

    I actually have another idea about why betas are more fun. Because everyone knows they are going to have their characters wiped. It allows people to enjoy the game. Once your character is in it for the long haul, you are maximizing your efficiency, min/maxing, power gaming etc. When you know your character is going away, you allow yourself to just enjoy the experience.

    As for answering your question about “premium” servers. No thanks. All it is going to do is get servers of people who can afford to pay more per month, rather than getting “core players” or good players, etc, you’ll just get more wealthy in real life players and I don’t think it would actually improve the experience in any way.

  8. Paragus says:

    I actually thought the release of Darkfall was more fun than the beta. In the beta, I was only able to play with a few of my guild since it was closed. The game is much more enjoyable with friends, and the release allowed me to eventually get all of my friends in to play with me, making far more enjoyable.

  9. Creep says:

    The sad part is scalability. Having a community feel, more responsive devs, even server first, they just aren’t scalable in the long run. Since the games make more money by having more folks in the game. When you have a huge group of players it’s really hard to have a close knit community and there’s just too many voices for the devs to hear.

    Then there’s also getting into games well after release and playing around all the jaded folks who’ve already ‘been there’ and done that.
    I think this was the most refreshing part about being a beta tester. Everyone is figuring things out for the first time.

  10. [...] Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual (who seems to be more Hardcore than Casual these days) poses a great question: Why are MMO’s more fun in beta? He hits a lot of nails on a lot of heads. As a [...]

  11. Bonedead says:

    I’ve got to agree with an above commenter and say that it really depends on the game. But if I had to come up with a reason besides that, I’d say people like being in the secret club. Member’s only jackets, etc.

    I’d pay extra for an old SWG server run and updated by SOE. I’d pay extra if DAoC Origins ever came out. I think I could even pay extra for a 2x exp “insert mmo here” server (but I’d feel really dirty).

  12. Lucian says:

    I was in the EvE beta, and at the time I thought it sucked, but I ended up trying the game again in 06′ and it was much better than I had remembered it.

    I’m not a fan of the premium server idea, but I do like different payment methods such as EvE game-time cards purchased through isk.

  13. Thallian says:

    good analysis of beta syncaine

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