NDAs vs Betas

To continue my thread of NDA discussion, and related to the comments those posts generated, a few more thoughts come to mind.  First, a dev quote relating to why more people aren’t in the WildStar beta.

Some quick answers:

a) We’d rather have the game be as ready as possible before most people see it. Now, it’s pretty ready in many ways, but we still have work to do: Overhauling UIs, elder game testing, etc. etc.

b) The pent up demand is pretty extreme, honestly. I won’t mention signup numbers in case we want to do a press release or something, but: Big. We don’t have anything like the hardware ready to handle it yet.

c) We’ll open up more mass exposure and testing during different phases of beta going forwards as well – we need the 24/6* testing everyone’s getting now . Why? So we can have people legitimately make it all the way through the levelling content and test the elder games with context. But not every stage needs to be like that; some will be aimed more at giving people a taste of the game so they can buy it or not with full info.

(*we shut down the servers on Mondays to incent everyone to come talk with devs on the forums)

Still here?  Good.

NDA’s protect assets that are unfinished.  While betas provide access to unfinished material, they do so gradually.  Pre-alpha is usually the devs, alpha is a closed knit of testers, beta is a significantly larger pool who “stress test” a particular feature to find balance/bugs and provide metrics to the developers.  Open beta is nearly always around final polish and stress testing.

Taking that into consideration, at which point is a developer comfortable opening the kimono?  If a vendor has an NDA and they are offering a collector’s edition and few specs around their product, a veteran player is going to be skeptical.  EQ:L sales are going to be indicative of what a NDA/pre-buy combination looks like.  I would expect sales to increase now that the NDA has dropped.  TESO has likely hit critical mass when it comes to pre-orders, until the NDA drops, when a new spike occurs.

If the NDA only drops a few weeks before launch, does that not cause a rather large lull in potential sales and a super spike at launch?  It certainly makes it difficult to plan server capacity for launch day if you’re unable to judge interest.  I understand this problem from the past, what with box sales dominating.  Today’s Steam mentality, where you can buy digital copies should provide more than enough metrics to accommodate launch.

Having and NDA makes sense if there are parts of your product that are under design review.  You want to control expectations.  Lowering the NDA means that you’re likely in polish mode for that feature.  It provides positive (hopefully) hype for your game and will likely drive sales.  Staging beta by features also makes sense.  MMOs are massive and opening the entire thing to the world early on doesn’t provide a whole lot of useful feedback.

I am arguing that the timing of an NDA drop, relative to Beta status and release window is a significant indication of the health and quality of a product.  The longer that curtain is up, the more pessimistic people become.  The timing of the drop is important, so that the positive spin and hype can be ridden right up until launch.

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