Betas, Early Access, & Persistence

Isey has been “beta testing” the online MTG game.  It sounds fun, if complex.  My issue here is persistence.

Back in the day, betas were actually betas.  They were for testing bugs, and some final polish.  There were regular resets, and there were testing templates.  Sure, you put in time, but only a portion of that was ever lost.  The resets were frequent enough that you never acquired a mountain of investment, and resets often provided you with a quick path to return to the previous point.

I remind folks of the EQTest debacle from many years ago as a core point to this. EQTest was an Everquest server that was essentially client testing – people were there to test patches.  It had permanence.  If you ever played EQ, then getting to the end game was a month’s long investment of time.  EQTest, rather than provide testing templates, simply never wiped anything.  A few times they did, but provided a migration mechanism to restore progress. Until they stopped doing that, and EQTest players went bonkers.  SWTOR had a similar issue with their test server if I recall…

Still, I think it’s fairly self-evident that if the goal of testing is to test X, then you want to get X in front of as many people as possible.

Today

I have a level of despise for beta and early access that borders on old man syndrome. In 50% of cases today, it’s just presales.  In the other 50% it’s an actual launch, but with a promise that they will deliver functionality at a later date.  Fine.  Some people can’t help themselves and they’ll fork over money on a promise.  That’s how kickstarter work after all.  I mean, how many EQNext/Landmarks do you need before you get a “success” like PUBG (which still is not optimized)?

The kink here is that some games claim persistence, and that the step between beta and live is a wipe.  That part actually makes sense.  It’s the overall concept of persistence & investment versus the length between wipes.

Let’s say a game is ranked based.  Ranks are acquired through a lot of play.  Beta is designed to test that ranks work.  People gain experience in game, and out of the game – they become more proficient.  If the lack of wipes is long, then people get invested in that rank.  The concept works on live, under the name “seasons”.  It works because it doesn’t erase the previous season, it doesn’t repeat it, it adds something new.  The difference between beta and live doesn’t exist.  What you did in beta, you have to repeat in nearly the exact same way, for the same rewards you already had.

Let’s say a game has an interaction between real money and RNG, in that you spend money for the chance at a power increase.  All card games are like this.  You could spend a lot of money / time getting the right RNG to land to build something you like.  Then it’s gone, and you need to do it again (and get lucky again) on live.  It doesn’t really matter if they credit the expense, you aren’t buying the actual items, just the chance at items.

Then there are games that mix both together.  You pay money to get a hero, and then need to level that hero.  The sense of investment is even higher.  Which is honestly ironic, given that if people calculated how much they get paid per hour, and the hours of investment in a game… that’s the real exchange.

Forward

I see this model getting worse.  As much as it benefits the developers, it is often a detractor to the progress of the actual game.  Players lose time invested, but that’s actually part of the deal of beta testing.  It’s the game that suffers for multiple reasons.

  • The negative feedback from players when the wipe does occur
  • The lack of actual testing of mechanics and feedback
  • The lack of testing the progress systems due to lack of wipes
  • The false positive feedback system that focuses feedback on the last mile, rather than the underlying mechanics.  (e.g. this change provided more money, let’s do it again)
  • The lack of change control as players assume it’s “live” (e.g. the now-now-now mentality)
  • The lack of retention after live, which is a death knell for multiplayer games
  • Public betas for long durations are invitations for copycats, that can do it better as they don’t have a player base to support

I’m thinking the beta / early access moniker needs to have an expiry date.  It can’t last for more than 3 months, then it needs to either shut down access for a week & wipe, or go live.  Long public betas of neat ideas are going to crash and burn, as the industry is built on the concept of copying other games and tweaking some small bits.

I don’t think player behaviors are going to change.  The masses are by definition too dumb to think for themselves.  They will devour on thing, move onto the next, and don’t really care what the overall implications are.  They just want to be part of the bigger group.  That’s fine, games are there as entertainment and few people want to think as part of entertainment.

My gut is that the industry is going to chew up all the little guys in this particular model, and a new funding/player model will take it’s place with some indy developers.  Small MOBAs are gone.  The BR craze is just starting, so we have a year or two of that to see it burn up.  Funding the next big thing…that will be fun to watch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s