Tag open beta

A Letter To All MMO Developers Out There

Of course, this post has nothing to do with Final Fantasy XIV's open beta. Of course.

To whom it may concern.

Dear MMO-designers, companies, economists, marketers, PR-agents and all you others involved in the development and launching of a new MMO.

We love you, we really do. Many of us jump between many different games, read up on news and theories and all MMO-related things that we can get our hands on. Hey, some of us even blog about you or go chasing you down with a camera man in tow whenever we get a chance. For some of us, the thought of not having an active MMO sub at any given time feels odd. We’ve seen countless games go into beta, many more launch and even some crash and burn.

But there are a couple of things that you never seem to learn, one lesson that you really need to finally wrap your head around. While not everyone will stick around and play your game for very long, while a lot of people will return to World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 or wherever they originally came from after a while, there seem to be a huge hunger for new games in the genre. Some games develop a huge following long before launch, fansites start to pop up in a matter of days after a simple announcement. And every time the word “beta” is mentioned, a lot of people will jump.

You guys need to be better to anticipate the amount of people that will come storming your servers by the time you go into open beta. You need to be prepared, you need gauge your own hype. Take a look at your balance sheet, see that terribly big number next to “launch day expenses”? Copy it and put it next to “open beta launch” too. If you don’t do that, how about just skipping open beta in the first place? You got your closed beta feedback, use that instead. Use other ways to stress test your servers before launch, if that’s what you want the beta for. If you’re a small company with limited funds, that might be the best way to do it. If you’re a large corporation, the first option is probably the better.

Ok, I lied. It does have to do with Final Fantasy XIV's open beta.

Also, and this has been said so many times now, at some point “open beta” became synonymous with “free trial” for many. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it happened. I’m not sure who to blame, the companies or the players. It doesn’t really matter, it’s the way it is. Unless your beta product is very, very polished your game will probably suffer because of it. People decide if they are going to pick up your game on launch day or not from the quality of your open beta. There are different ways to handle this, and placing your open beta really close to launch is a gamble – it gives you more time to prepare, but if players feel that the game isn’t ready for launch things might get messy anyway.

I just thought you should be told, again. The strategy that all of you seem to be using these days is pretty flawed. You need to learn to humble yourself a bit, to plan better, and be prepared for the storm that will hit your servers. Trust me, it will come.

Yours truly,

Petter

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First Steps In Allods Online

Man, I look good.

Allods Online has gone into open beta, with the promise that no characters created during this beta will be deleted once it’s over (similar to how Runes of Magic did it). That more or less means that the game has launched, but still giving the devs the freedom to make huge changes to the game with the excuse that “it’s only beta”.

But seriously, the game could have launched now. It feels polished enough and the servers have made an amazing job at staying pretty stable under the onslaught of players that tried to get in to the game from day one. Sure, they’ve crashed at times, but all things considered Allods Online could just as well has been released. And considering that the cash shop, which is how gPotato is supposed to make money off this game, has opened…well, if money is involved, I guess the game has (actually) launched.

What attracts me to Allods Online, despite it being a pretty standard Diku-MMO filled with ten kill rats-quests all over the place, is primarily the art. While it might look like a WoW-clone at first glance, the character and environmental design in Allods is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. The graphics are not advanced though and it’s bound to run on most computers. Fraps keeps ticking up way past 100 FPS on my machine, which feels pretty odd. Loading screens are fast.

Quest text

Contraband...right.

The other thing is the humor, which is both charming and adult. I came across one early quest on the Empire side, where a football fan asked me to gather pine cones because sharp objects had been banned from the arena for an upcoming football match between warriors and shamans. Another quest had me looking for “contraband” in a smugglers den, where the contraband in question were nothing more than nude elf magazines (which orcs love, by the way)…

There has already been a lot said about gPotato’s pricing in Allods Online’s item shop, on both side of the argument. I will leave that for now, but there is a discussion about it in this (now rather long) Buzz about Allods. Instead, I’ll just state that I am a bit worried about how the game is actually being run. Despite the obvious anger on the forums over the move, I have yet to see a dev or community rep try to calm people down somehow.

I was also struck by the complete absence of any help function or report button in the actual game today, as a discussion about marijuana raged in Zone chat. I didn’t mind what was said, same old back and forth between pro and anti camps that will never get anywhere in a chat channel in a MMO, but I felt that it had no real place there. Seeing no GM step in, I looked for a way to contact them – if not now, then for future reference. I found nothing. Am I blind, or is there no way to turn to the GMs when needed?

I guess that scares me more than any price that gPotato will put on things in their cash store. How will Allods be run? Will there be active GMs? Will we have direct avenues to contact them if need be? Or will Allods turn into the kind of bizarre cesspool of a MMO that we all dread, with constant flaming in chat channels and an increasingly annoying bot problem (haven’t seen any yet, so don’t panic)?

Did I mention that the starter zones is a bit crowded?

I don’t know. Right now I just try to ignore it, dreaming of the days when we are able to create our own chat tabs and custom channels. I am having fun just exploring the pretty and strange world that is Allods Online, but just because a game is “free to play” I don’t expect any less from the developers here compared to a subscription based game. Monetize any way you like, but I will hold you to the same standard as any other MMO. I believe that’s important, both for my sanity as a player and for the market in general.

I have high hopes for Allods Online. It can turn into a really good MMO, with a proper place in the tough MMO market, if the developers take care of their bizarre and Gibberling infested baby. Death to the League!

Update with question: I keep seeing references to a rune that is supposed to cost anything from $600 to $6000 in the item shop. Where does that comes from? I can’t find anything of the sort in the actual game. Can someone point to a source?

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I’m In Your MMO, Reviewing Your Beta

Last time there was any talk about how to (or how not to) review MMOs was around the whole Eurogamer vs Aventurine debacle (often called “Zitrongate” after the reviewer). This was obviously a deep and traumatic event for some people, especially Darkfall fans that still can’t stop taking cheap shots at Eurogamer (despite them doing a re-review of the game). To me, though, the question has crept back into the front of my mind, as I’m currently reviewing two MMOs at the same time.

Ensign Squid

Ensign 418 of 666, codename "Squid", at your service.

As I mentioned in my last entry, this is an incredibly stupid thing to do. Last time I had two MMOs on my hands, I decided to skip one of them because the other had more priority (Aion over the first Runes of Magic expansion), this time both felt important enough to warrant my attention. It’s Global Agenda and Star Trek Online, two completely different games that both feel interesting enough to cover. I kind of wish I had stopped myself, but it’s too late now. They shall be reviewed.

So how do I go about reviewing a MMO? Thing is, I’ve had access to both of these games’ betas, Star Trek Online all the way back since closed beta and Global Agenda since some point during open. If I just had gone down the same route as a lot of other games journalists, I would have played both extensively over a long period of time, then tried them out for a bit after launch and then getting my reviews done a few days after they were released. Job done, I can sleep at night, my editors are happy, our readers are happy, everyone is happy (except perhaps the developer/publisher, if I had decided to give the game low scores).

My problem is that I refuse to review a MMO based on beta. No matter what people say, a beta is not a finished product. It might be as close as you can get, and most of the time the end of open beta will look exactly like the launch candidate, but by calling it “beta” and not “head start” or “early access”, the developers themselves are saying that the game is not done. So I won’t review it based on my experiences during beta, just like I would not review a game based on a late preview build (which are almost always like the finished product, except for perhaps a couple of bugs). I am not going to play the beta for anything except for an early look at what the game might become, just so I can get a review in a few days after launch.

Also, more often than not, the developer adds some form of patch close to launch that changes some fundamental things to the game. It might not warrant the title of “miracle patch”, but it’s often enough to make the game at least a bit better (or, in the case of Champions Online’s launch day, worse according to a lot of people). It’s kinda sad that this doesn’t happen earlier during the beta process, but the reason is probably that the developer still thinks beta is beta, while the marketing department thinks it’s free marketing. I’ve seen way too many reviews, some even printed in a magazine and passed off as a “real” review, that have even taken beta rumors as facts.

Global Agenda

This is my Global Agenda recon character. She dies a lot.

Do I blame the journalists themselves for this? No, of course not. They have deadlines, we all do, and have to work towards them. Also, there’s often pressure from the readers, who are dying to try out the game but want to know what their magazine/website of choice thinks. The only way to review a MMO and get a review out quickly is to play beta. I am just lucky enough to have editors that allow me to take the time I believe is needed, up to a certain degree of course. And despite this, I never feel fully satisfied, always having to add a disclaimer that there is no way I have seen or experienced everything and that some players will always have had more time than me and is bound to disagree. That’s why we have comment fields, as long as the discussion can be kept civil.

What I would like to see is a civil discussion about how to review MMOs. Last time it happened, the discussion was filled with so much anger at Eurogamer, or disdain towards how Aventurine handled the situation, that it was almost impossible to catch the good stuff amongst the constant din. So I’m going to try here – do you want your MMO-reviews early, or are you comfortable with waiting for them? I do realize that I’m probably talking to the wrong crowd, since most of my readers here are probably just as fanatic about MMOs as I am, but I still want to hear your thoughts about one of the hardest genres a games journalist can tackle.

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Virtual worlds, massive multiplayer games and assorted ramblings

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