Betas - The MMO Double-edged Sword by Sifo
Apr 16, 2007 15:39:12

An Open Beta for MMORPG's is necessary for the launch of any modern MMO. There is just no other way to facilitate a stable and successful release without robust beta testing. The beta for an MMO helps the game developer test their product's stability, performance, balance and the overall gameplay. While this beta period is an invaluable step in the creation of the MMO, it can sometimes lend to a game getting a bad "rap" before it is even complete.

There are several different levels of beta throughout the design process. As the game approaches release, the developer will open the product to a wider range of beta testers. In the early stages of beta, when the game is in its most rudimentary form, the test pool consists of close associates of the design team. As it gets more and more polished they will allow access to the game by more testers which are typically under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The NDA usually limits the beta testers to not divulging any details about the game. There are many reasons for an NDA but the primary reason is that the game is such a form that it will likely be very different at release.

The final "open" stage of beta is usually open to a very wide audience. It isn't necessarily open to anyone with a computer but if you really want in the beta you can find a way. This last stage typically sees the NDA lifted and beta testers, bloggers and press can discuss the game in any fashion they wish.

Now, from this point on, I will describe my experiences with beta testing, reviews and how they have affected the games I have played.

I have been fortunate to beta test several MMORPGs. Not the most exhaustive list of games in the industry but a few. The list includes: The Matrix Online (MxO), World of Warcraft (WoW), Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO), Vanguard (VG) and expansions Kingdom of the Sky, and Echoes of Faydwer for Everquest 2, Jump to Lightspeed, Rage of the Wookies and The Trials of Obi-Wan for Star Wars Galaxies. Lastly, and most recently, am currently in the Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) beta.

Fair or not, I made many assessments based on these beta periods and they greatly affected whether I bought the game or not. I did not buy several games solely on the fact that I didn't enjoy it during the beta period. This list of games I did NOT buy includes DDO, VG and MxO. Mind you I got a free test run at these games and did not pay a dime for them and decided not purchase based on an unfinished product. The games that I did buy were WoW and the expansions listed above. Now, frankly, I would have likely not
bought MxO or VG regardless of my beta period but I fully intended to buy DDO - but not after the beta.

My most recent beta, LotRO, is where the beta crowd and press have done a game a disservice... at least to me. I had completely written this game off because of what I had heard throughout the beta process. One of my EQ2 guildies was in the early beta months ago and lambasted it. I have spoke to others, read gaming blogs, and even listened to podcasts (that's you Brent!) that have given it less than glowing PRE-views. Even as I had just decided to give this game no time at all and just assume it would be a failure, I
got my email from Turbine inviting me to come and give it a shot in the beta. Well, I am not one to turn down a free lunch so I downloaded it and have given it a spin the last few days. I must say that I am pretty impressed. I know no game appeals to all but there is something about this one that has got me excited. I have enjoyed it from character creation and beyond. I have enjoyed it so much that I have subsequently pre-ordered the collectors edition.

Betas are necessary and unavoidable in the development process. I can only imagine the sinking feeling in a development team's gut when they know their product is not where they want it to be in a late beta phase. It is my guess that they know full well when they are pushing a game out that is poor (ie VG & MxO in my opinion). Substandard games fear the open beta; great games do not. Even though they are unfinished, they are a very close indicator of what the final product will be like.

My recommendation is for gamers to get out and try to beta as much as possible (they're free, why not?). You'll get a great sense of a game before you have to pay for it. The beta process has been fun for me. It
saved me from buying one game and opened my eyes to buying another that I would have otherwise not. I'm off to LotRO!!!


Submitted by Brent on Apr 16, 2007 15:39:12 CST (comments: 2)


'End of Beta' by fl1pper
Submitted on 2007-04-16 16:19:19 CST
Nice article but i would add another element of the double edged sword, namely the transition from beta to live. I too played MxO in beta and loved it..yes you read that right...I loved it. The problem came when the game went live because a very tightknit community on 1 server was split across a lot of servers. The game died at that point for me and was never the same again. The second problem with the transition was the fact that I had achieved lvl 30 (of 50) and the thought of starting again was depressing. In subsequent betas I have not taken any one character too far which helps with this latter issue.

'MMO changes over time...' by Edar
Submitted on 2007-04-16 20:28:15 CST
As you should know all MMOs change over time. It doesn't matter -at the beta- if you like it or not, if you like MMOs you should check it later and see what happen with the game in that time. Like your DDO example, you play the beta and decide not to be a subscriber, but a year later you're about to subscribe to the game, something change here.
Like I see it MMOs are a good inversion over time, not all companies could handle that but if the can maybe later they will come out with a great product (like EQ2). What happen at the beta could help (in sales) at the launch, but a launch for a MMO is not a big deal.

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