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.