When it comes to open beta, timing is key.

Out of all the open beta discussions that I’ve seen (is it a free trial, should it be given a pass because it’s a beta, etc), I’ve yet to see anyone mention that timing of an open beta could play a key role in the games reception. Since an open beta, unlike a free trial, is only available for a limited amount of time, a player must make the choice of playing for free now, or not at all, and I think this has a huge impact on how a player perceives the beta itself.

I’ll use my recent venture into Fallen Earth as an example. I’m currently playing two MMOs that I’ve very happy with (DarkFall my primary, WAR my secondary), and I’m also playing Blood Bowl as my non-MMO game. Those three games basically dominate all my gaming time, so in order to get some time in with Fallen Earth, I had to cut back on DF/WAR/BB. What this means is that even before I create a character, FE is being compared to the three games above due to time constraints. If I was not playing any MMO at the time, FE would stand alone and be judged strictly on what it offers, plus it would very likely receive more consistent playing time and patience. When the FE beta crashes, I’m left with the choice to either log back in, or switch to DF/WAR/BB, and that only makes each crash more noticeable and detrimental.

Right out of the gate, just to capture my attention and eventually money, FE has to beat out DF/WAR/BB, which is unfair in a number of ways. I’m already comfortable and established in the other games, they have had some time for patches and fixes, and you know, I like those games (otherwise I would not be playing them, other than DF, I’m playing that as part of my Crusade of the Miserable), which means I have to like FE more in order for it to get attention. That’s a MUCH different challenge for any game than being ‘interesting enough’ to spend some time with. (Which IMO is why Aion is getting as much attention as it’s getting, because so many people are in that ‘space filler’ state with WoW slowing down for them and WAR/AoC/etc not delivering what they hoped for)

Let’s assume that in 3 months my interest in DF fades, WAR still has not fixed T4, and I’m done with BB, and NOW the FE open beta starts. It’s very likely I’ll put in far more time with it, learn more about what exactly it’s trying to do, get into that comfort zone with its controls and systems, and very likely, enjoy it a lot more overall. It’s the same exact beta, just at a different time in my current gaming cycle. Now instead of one short blog post about my time with it, FE gets 2-3 posts a week, breaking down the details and overall reporting that it’s a fun, unique MMO offering. My blog might not influence thousands of people to put down cash for FE, but replace this blog with someone over at Massively or PCGamer, and clearly timing could really add up.

While this whole scenario is similar to say, releasing a game in November among the usually holiday rush, the difference here is that people WILL try your beta because it’s free and they know time is limited, they just won’t give it as much time/patience/effort as they would under different circumstances, and we all know how important first impressions are. The only ‘fix’ to this issue that I can see, besides releasing your open beta when most people are bored (whenever that is), is to not limit the beta period to a short timeframe like a week or two. With such a short timeframe, its far more likely someone is only going to log in 1-2 times, for a few hours, and with MMOs being as complex as they are that’s just not enough time to do anything but glance at the graphics and do a few very basic tasks. That works great for Aion, because graphics and being familiar is what that game is trying to do, but it hurts a game like Fallen Earth, which is trying to shift the usually MMO focus a bit and try something different. Give people a full month to try the game out, and I believe more people would get beyond the first 3-4 hours (not all of course, Ed Zitron will still complete his full review based on your character creator and some forum posts), get into the heart of your game, and get a more honest view of what you are trying to do. If you honestly have a solid product that does indeed do some interesting things, that will only help you in the long run to not only draw people in, but allow people to give more complete and hopefully positive word-of-mouth.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Aion, beta, Blood Bowl, Darkfall Online, MMO design, Warhammer Online. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to When it comes to open beta, timing is key.

  1. Hey Syn, didn’t FE’s open beta begin on Aug. 17? And wasn’t there even a time in July where people could get in on a stress test?

    I’m not meaning to imply that you didn’t know this, but I just thought it was interesting considering how MMOs these days only have maybe a week and a half of open beta, if that.

    • syncaine says:

      I don’t know about FE’s beta timing to be honest, other than I was made aware of it because of another blog and went to look on FilePlanet. But now that I think about it, it makes sense that FE had a longer beta. I mean, that blogger had spent some time with it and liked it, and so I in turn gave it a shot (but in my case my gaming time was already full). So i guess the FE open beta proves both points: More time gets the word out, but even with more time if someone already has a full plate, it’s going to effect how they view that beta.

  2. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    The open beta did start on Aug 17, but so did Champions Online, a game that has alot more buzz about it. So Champions released in Sept along with Aion, meaning that Fallen Earth will end up being lost in the shuffle.

    • Andrew says:

      That depends, really. Champions and Aion are both over-hyped games that will probably fail to live up to expectations. FE doesn’t suffer from that – and so maybe it will start a bit smaller, but I think it’ll be better off in the long run.

  3. sid67 says:

    Timing plays a huge part. Imagine if a new MMO title tried to have an open beta around the time that WoW: Cataclysm was released. It would fail miserably even if it was a great game.

    The issue is that sometimes you don’t pick the date — the date picks you. All the most well laid marketing plans aren’t going to count for jack shit if the game isn’t “ready” for an open beta.

    Likewise, you can’t NOT release your product or have an open beta because WAR or WoW just released a new expansion/patch/whatever.

    I think all that makes it a near impossibilty to attempt to “plan” for timing. You can do your best, but in many respects you are just at the whimsy of fate.

    That said, I’d like to think that a good product will attract followers irregardless of timing.

    In other words, if FE was actually better than DF or WAR, then I don’t think you’d be remarking much about the timing of the open beta. You would just be talking about how much fun you were having.

  4. Yep, too much on the plate and it may cease to matter what potential a title may have.

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  6. sente says:

    Timing is very important. But this is not just a matter of the time allowed for an open beta, assuming the “free trial” part is one of the goals with it.

    An open beta will cost time and resources, but will not bring in any money, so it is mainly big budget mainstream titles that could allow themselves extended open beta periods.

    Smaller titles need other approaches to allow people easy access once the timing is right – either payment models that alliows try-before-buy, real free trial periods or something similar.

    Fallen Earth is an excellent example – that is a game I want to have a look at myself, but the timing right now would not be in Fallen Earth’s favour.
    So I will look at it at some point in the future. If there is a free trial then, that will make it easier to make that decision when the timing is better.

  7. Anne says:



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