Paid beta: You’re playing it.

DarkFall is often referred to as a paid beta, and I agree. It has some serious issues, a multitude of minor problems, and countless little nagging annoyances. Despite all that however, it’s still the most engaging and enjoyable MMO experience I’ve had since UO in 1997. (And has shown me that those rose tinted UO glasses are indeed not as dark as some claimed)

Where I differ from some on the paid beta issue is that IMO, MMOs have two states; paid beta or slow death. That’s it, no magical middle ground of ‘done’ or ‘complete’; either the game is still being expanded and new, bug introducing code is being added, or the game is on the back burner and being used as a cash cow.

Of course there are varying degrees of paid beta. Vanguard was close to unplayable in its original state, WAR is stable/solid but feature incomplete, PotBS is stable but ultimately flawed, etc. Even WoW, which was perfect at release, introduces new bugs or broken/imbalanced features with each mid-year update. The only time it’s possible for an MMO to exist bug free is if no new code of significance is being added, and that only happens if your game is dead/dying. Any argument of ‘too many bugs’ also has to attach a release delay to it. Would you rather wait another 3-6 months for an MMO and have some of the bugs fixed (but not as many as a live paid beta fixes), or actually get to play the game you have been waiting for all this time, and roll with the punches knowing it will improve?

In addition, the feeling of ‘paid beta’ is likely only to be increased the faster content is added. WAR is a great example of this, as Mythic continues to crank out content faster than almost any studio around, and at the same time continue to introduce new bugs/imbalances. Flavor of the month classes are rampant depending on the latest patch, keep defense strategies rely more on what bug/imbalance is currently tops, and not all scenarios are created equally for the two sides. On the other hand, WoW is one of the least updated MMOs, with many areas seeing next to zero updates over its 5+ years (Battleground variety, new classes, graphics engine updates). In exchange for a trickle of content, the base code is about as polished as you get for an MMO. (Which says nothing about class or game balance of course, but at least you don’t fall through the world as often)

The question facing MMO gamers is not whether you support buggy software, but how high your tolerance for it is. Many have adopted a 6-month rule with any new MMO, as it’s within these 6 months that most MMOs experience the heaviest amount of bug fixes and changes. What they gain in bug fixes they lose in ‘New MMO experience’ of course, but it’s a choice they make. Yet regardless of when you DO jump in, if you play any MMO for long enough you will encounter a bug, downtime, or imbalance.

Seeing an MMO change (and hopefully improve) is a major aspect of this genre compared to others. It is, after all, the reason we pay $15 a month in addition to the $50 for the box/download. Unless a game is in truly rough shape, fans are always more excited about new content/features rather than bug fixes, yet we must also accept that all that new code is going to bring with it the inevitable issues. Luckily for us, its paid beta, and we are paying someone to fix those issues while providing us with new entertainment in a world/setting we love.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in beta, Darkfall Online, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Paid beta: You’re playing it.

  1. Yeebo says:

    There seems to be two schools of thought on what we get for our sub fee.

    1. “You are paying for the privilege of logging into our game, which has high server overhead compared to non-MMO PC games.” EQ, EQ II, WoW, AO, and SWG off the top off my head all fall into this camp. Free content tends to be minor, new raids or minor tweaks to existing zones at best. The majority of updates between expansions are tweaks such as class balance updates.

    2. “You are paying for a steady stream of content.” Asheron’s Call pioneered this model and arguably still does it better than most MMOs by a pretty wide margin. Off the top of my head, Wizard 101, DDO, CoH, LoTRO, and EVE also fall into this camp. I’m especially a fan of the Wizard 101 model. You can either get access to all zones for $10 a month, or buy lifetime access to individual zones $1-3 per zone. I’d love to see more MMOs adopt flexible payment plans.

  2. mordiceius says:

    While it is really only a pseudo-MMO, I never felt like I was in a beta for Guild Wars when it launched. I mean sure, I’m not paying a cent for it past the cost of the box, but it never felt incomplete nor did/does it feel like it is dying.

  3. Joshua says:

    As a player of several recent major mmo releases during beta and then post beta, I’ve experienced what you write about.

    Among the more recent games, two stand out as games that I really enjoyed. The first is LotRO, the second AoC. As you’ve pointed out though, both games had their launch issues, particularly AoC and that’s well documented. Although my initial stay in LotRO lasted till six months after release, for AoC I dropped my subscription after three months.

    As time passed by and I was back in Azeroth, followed by Outland, I would reminisce on how much I enjoyed the previous mentioned games. At the time that Mines of Moria was released I stayed away. Although I did purchase WotLK, my main didn’t make level 71. Instead I was off and exploring New Eden, in my sci-fi mmo love.

    As a fan of the PC game podcasts, my interest in LotRO was piqued as podcast hosts spoke highly of the game. After a substantial release period it is now stable and loaded with content. MoM was an amazing release that everyone was excited about. Lured by positive reviews I’ve since returned to LotRO and haven’t looked back. Now my warden is two-thirds of the way to the end game. Participating in an active kinship has made a major difference. My profession has reaped me a lot of gold.

    So that leads me to this. I’m hopeful that by this fall that AoC would experience similar success. As I’ve followed their development, patches, class balance, server merges, etc., I’d like for that amazing game to once again gain steam. To me it had wonderful PvE, and exciting PvP. Perhaps I’m not the only one who thinks this. For that same reason I’d like to see Darkfall succeed. Its brutal consequences that forces you to band up for group success has my interest piqued. As you’ve stated, after six months of release perhaps they will be worth looking into.

  4. pitrelli says:

    Good post, However with the mythic content being released fast is that not down to them cutting it from the original boxed game rather than then being super fast at churning out content? I could be wrong.

    I did however last week log on to WAR on my time off and the main reasons for me leaving are still there, good game, very poor content imo.

    AoC could and will be a cracking game and is probably the only MMO I left which I knew I would return to at some point, its kudos to the work they have put in that people are now talking about the quality of it – I still however am bitter at the release standard that developers seem to think is acceptable.

    With a good few new MMOs on the horizon it will be interesting to see how each launch goes and what issues arise.

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  6. Damage Inc says:

    Pitrelli, at least Mythic is delivering content that was cut ASAP unlike say WoW. In closed beta for WoW we were told we would be getting zone control, ala WAR and Hero Classes. It still boggles me how everyone looks at WoW through rose colored glasses and never sees or remembers what was promised to us and what a debacle the first months if not first year was playing that game.

    As to WAR, it was obvious though that they were pushed to launch the game by EA, which was hoping for their own WoW subscription numbers MMO. The other sad fact is for some reason they decided not to use the DAoC template initially, which is what most people wanted, and ended up making a subpar RvR game. They threw in keeps at the last minute and now their fixing them as well as finally adding a Darkness Falls type area.

  7. Chris F says:

    I made a post a while back how “paid betas” should be part of the process. Early adopters get a sub fee discount while they work through the issues. Most of the issues can’t be discovered until under multiple servers, multiple thousands of players.

    Developers should embrace the paid beta aspect by rewarding early adopters with reduced fees until the game is indeed “ready for release”. I would have played through the growing pains of WoW at $5 a month (instead of $15), would have become heavier invested in my characters and the WAR effort, and by the time they put the sub fee up to “normal” levels would have been firmly entrenched.

    Instead they tried to jack me with a $15 fee for a far from finished product, and now have to fight to with marketing and incentives to try and get me back full time.

    It’s backwards. Of course, finding the “ready for release” price increase point would be a challenge in itself. With WAR, probably just at the time they reintroduced all the cut classes would have worked.

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  9. pitrelli says:

    @ Damage Inc – blub blub dry those eyes chief, im only adding to the debate what i feel is a fair comment on WAR and Mythic. This ‘oh WoW was just as bad’ doesnt cut it. WAR was billed as the next big thing and challenger to WoW and the game they released was sub par at best, if you are going to huff and puff before release you need to have the game to back it up.

    The fact of the matter is everyone is at it in false promises (including Blizzard). With WAR only fixing keeps etc 6 months after release I would think is a disappointment, being pretty much focused on PvP solely you would think they would make a bit of an effort to make it work from the start. With WoW being an already ‘polished’ MMO and been running for years developers wont get away with releasing an unfinished game. And I think the dwindling WAR subscription numbers show that.

    As for Wow release, I cant really comment as I didnt play it until late 2005 i think so have no idea how good or bad it was when it went live.

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