Alphas, and Betas, and Demos, Oh My!

Rift is in alpha/beta mode. Guild Wars 2 has an new demo on the way, and that there BioWare game is secretly in alpha… we think. Even for those not playing any of the three upcoming games, they are all having some effect on bloggers and mortals alike. It is simple fact that by now a beta is as much a marketing tool as it is an engineering one. So how are they being handled? Ardwulf takes a few blogger samples and finds that the hype is staling or souring for Rift. He believes that Rift is teetering on overexposure, worries about the end game hidden away in alpha, and even compares Rift’s trajectory to the abject success of Warhammer Online. Killed in a Smiling Accident maybe responds by asking for just the facts, ma’am. Leave the emotional opinings at the doorstep. I have noticed this tiring in Rift. I myself did not even play last beta event. Yet, it was because I agreed with Syp’s earlier statement that I was simply ready for Rift. I did not need a preview anymore, I wanted the full deal! I was having fun in the lower zones. Even without experiencing a dungeon, I had heard they were pretty fun. Ardwulf is worried about the end game, but I am not sure what he expects. Like a good conventional MMO, I would expect the end game to have PvP, contested PvE, instanced PvE, raid PvE, and rifts galore.

With so many good MMOs out there, I am not really worried. I know Rift can be plenty of fun, well worth the initial cost of entry. If their end game sucks, I’ll just move on. I am no longer looking for a home. I am looking for another fun vacation spot.

Still, is the limited access of the Rift beta causing some sort of negativity? Instead of a couple week long beta, Trion has been limiting the beta to beta events, each a couple days long. This provides a really compressed beta. The beta testers build up their excitement. The servers get a lot of concurrent users all through events, and the game is shown as alive. It could be that this roller coaster of excitement and fun is just starting to weigh heavy. People want to begin the steady, relaxing train ride around the theme park instead of only being able to play in dashes.

I still don’t think that’s quite it. I think the reason is because people feel the game is pretty much done. There is very little “the game needs more time in beta.” There are issues, for sure, but I imagine that the staling of beta is most felt by people that are done with the preview, and want the real deal.

Hunter’s Insight admires the Rift beta enough that he thinks it might be wise of ArenaNet to use something similar for their “beta” for Guild Wars 2. As he notes, this was very similar to what ArenaNet already did for the original Guild Wars. I would bet good money, that ArenaNet will do something pretty similar. If nothing else, Guild Wars 2 is as much an MMO as it is a single-player RPG. How many betas do we get for the latter?

As I noted earlier, there will be another demo at PAX East for Guild Wars 2. My 8-ball gave me some crap though when I thought there was a decent chance of it being a play-at-home demo as well. The demo will not be available for home entertainment. It seems demo engine was made to be quite flexible so that additional content could be added as necessary. Could it be that this preview system is also an early version of what will be the Guild Wars 2 beta, where available content and features are chosen by ArenaNet, and the rest is unavailable?

Even if it is not completely original, I think how Rift is handling beta is going to become the norm. A small group if dedicated testers will be in alpha under NDA, while the masses get treated to a preview in beta. It will be necessary to generate spikes of interest as the MMO genre burgeons. If Rift, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic prove to be successes, it’s going to be harder and harder to get excited for a future game’s beta. It would be usefully ironic if the MMO genre matured enough to the point where the only people that wanted to join a beta, were those that wanted to test.

we can’t all come and go by bubble

8 thoughts on “Alphas, and Betas, and Demos, Oh My!”

  1. Rift’s beta success isn’t due solely to it’s windowed model. That model has been done countless times, although with an NDA. Instead, it was the visibility that feedback was making a difference. Rift went into the beta apparently in a polished by admittedly uninfished state; they were looking for and willing to accept feedback, and to act on it. If ArenaNet is willing to beta at the right time, with similiar conditions and responses, then I think they’ll get a LOT of good will beyond what they have now.

  2. Part of the beta staling is probably also due to knowing that characters will be wiped before launch.

  3. I have no specific endgame expectations. I merely point out one grey area (brought up first elsewhere, a couple of weeks ago,) that has not yet been thoroughly exposed, and mention it as a part of the game where things may yet fall apart, as good as the stuff that we’ve seen so far haa been. There are others, some of which my post also pointed out, but I should also mention that I explicitly predict that Rift will do very well.

    However, generally speaking, I think that Trion has handled Rift’s reveal very well; they’ve put out a product that appears very solid and let the community build buzz on its own. My chief concern at this point is not really any failure on Rift’s part, but in the momentum of expectations around the game, to the point where they may (with three weeks yet until launch,) become unreasonable, and which no game could be perfect enough to meet. This would probably result in significant backlash, which I’d just as soon not see happen, because I think the hobby needs another mid-range success after some high-profile failures, and Rift appears, right now, to be well-positioned to be that success.

    1. Ardwulf,

      can you give any example of a MMO that at beta revealed the end game?

      If not, your critic is being unfair.

      With relation to your concern about a blacklash, are you being serious? At three weeks from launch with people saying the game is ready for launch? With changes were asked by the beta testers themselves (yes, the horse changes were asked for because the world is “big”…)?

      Exactly why will happen a blacklash? Maybe because the players are geting what they wanted?

  4. I imagine it’s just a result of what blogs and news sources I read (and more importantly, don’t read), but the RIFT hype I’ve seen has been very restrained.

    Compared to the massive hype being built up for SWTOR and GW2, particularly, the RIFT hype machine is downright subdued. :)

    In my opinion, the only thing RIFT really has stacked against it is the fact that it’s so very similar to other games that are out there. I think they’ll have a great launch and get good reactions from players in the first 2 or 3 weeks – but after that first month it’s just going to be a coin toss as to whether people want to stick with it, or go back to their previous game – with the main distinction between the two being they’ve sunk months or maybe even years into one, and only a few weeks into the semi-novel game that is RIFT.

  5. Similar thread to this over at .

    I’ve been following Rift for eighteen months or so and I was expecting it to be a fairly low-key MMO that would launch to little attention in general but would be of interest to EQ/EQ2 players due to the involvement of Scott hartsman and several other ex SoE devs.

    What we seem to be ending up with, due to a well-handled pre-launch build-up , a very polished and finished product and a fortuitously benign launch window is The Next Big Thing. I don’t think Rift is TNBT and I do think that it will sell a lot more boxes at launch than it will have subs three months later.

    That doesn’t bother me, though. I would bet that whatever backlash occurs, and there probably will be one, the end result will be a good place for Rift, with more medium/long term subscribers than Trion probably expected to get six months ago.

  6. Actually, GnH recently announced a similar beta plan. The real benefit is that we get more focused testing on the roll out of new features, and therefore have to expose the game to fewer people who are really looking to DEMO the game, rather than test it. Those people who are just trying to figure out if they want to play an MMO should wait until an open BETA or DEMO just before launch to make a purchase decision.

  7. I’m living beta free these days – I still like to play with caharacter craetion options and get a taste, but I’ve zero motivation to actually accomplish anything on short-lived characters – but my (uninformed) observation is that Rift is actually doing well out of their beta program if it’s a less than AAA production.

    Before beta began I didn’t see much written about it, but since they began they’ve generated a lot of noise that – even if not all positive – should translate into box sales.
    If the prior profile was the planned one, they should be very happy with the outcome I believe.

    I really don’t see Anet following the same beta pattern though; it’s so story driven that a sustained cycle of short-lived starter characters would seem a weird & unsatisfactory sales pitch.
    I’d baselessly predict 2 stress-test preview weekends at most, confined to specific starter areas, and likely used as a rather more direct & creative promotional tool.

    E.g. Progress to the final available personal story section to unlock X weapon in the full game
    Collect X tokens from the special preview weekend horde to unlock X hat in the full game.
    Make a GW2 account & link your GW1 account to reserve your preview weekend character names.

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