I have been mulling over this question since the Guild Wars 2 first Beta Weekend Event wrapped up… Was ‘selling’ beta access a wise choice on the part of Arenanet?
I have had the privilege over the years to participate in numerous closed testing phases for dozens of MMOs, and I take the dutiful junior developer role very seriously when I get invited to these events. I have also participated in ‘Open Beta’ events which is a fancy word for final stress test or more typically, Marketing Weekend. With that bias, I logged into Tyria on Friday afternoon, fully expecting a Gold edition game client, perhaps in need of a few tweaks… we had after all, paid to be here.
After summing up my very early impressions of the game and the state of the overall client, reading through the amazingly insightful commentary from our KTR community, playing some more, reading reviews from other bloggers, I got to thinking about how my perspective and expectations upon entering the weekend were completely off. I expected a Marketing Event, and was put-off by an actual beta testing phase.
Ravious wrote yesterday about an already impressive developer response to criticism and suggestions posted via the Beta forums, Twitter and Facebook, and from that alone one can assume that they intend to make more than minor tweaks in the coming months. Though they couch what they can change or add at this stage, their comments lead me to believe we have many more months to go before we get accounts that will stick.
On Facebook today, I read that we can expect another Beta Weekend Event, at least every month until launch… That to me sounds like they think they have a long ways to go, which is in my opinion, very encouraging, because I agree with them. The game is great fun, has potential to be a very engaging PvP MMO in the vein of DaoC and does a lot of things right in PvE, but it is also filled with issues that need to be addressed prior to a launch.
So back to my primary question… should Arenanet have conducted the Beta in this format? From a business standpoint, the answer is a resounding yes… If we all hated the game and never played again, they still have our money so who cares, right? It isn’t a simple as that though… It was clear to everyone involved that there were too many people straining the server architecture, in too short of time. They managed to fix it, but for many people a third of the event had passed before they did… an event people paid to be a part of. If its Beta, you go in knowing you might have issues… when you buy an experience, your attitude and perspective changes. Perhaps they should have introduced a few larger closed beta stress test events prior to these ‘Open Beta’ events that could have prevented these issues from affecting their paying customers.
I didn’t experience the critical login errors that others did, but many of my guild mates did and on Friday night we had just four of over twenty of our guild able to play together on the same server. Of those four, only two of us could ever find each other in PvE. Looking back on the weekend in the context of “That was actually Beta” I don’t mind as much, but in the moment I was very annoyed and thinking “This is not going to launch well. MEH.”
The success of their sales as a result of this ‘Beta Access” perk is definitely going to become a standard feature in the industry. No studio after seeing this upfront cash during development, will pass up an opportunity to do it this way, but is that a good road for the industry to tread down? We used to volunteer to run game development QA… now we have to pay for the privilege to work for the company.
I just don’t know… What do you all think?