Thursday, April 18, 2013

Warm Impermanence

Wasn't planning on banging on about betas again but it's a topic hard to avoid right now. Syp posted an interesting addendum to his earlier piece today and Ravious drew attention to some very interesting insights from the WildStar folks. A few days back SynCaine had something to say about how rough a real beta can be and Keen joined the chorus on what a pain it is for a Blogger to have to keep NDA.

I could riff off any of those. Betas fascinate me. They have an allure that released MMOs rarely match. There's the obvious attraction of sitting in at rehearsals, slipping behind the curtain, seeing how it all works. Maybe you'll get the chance to suggest a line reading, hear it taken up and used.

And yet, beyond all that heartwarming community stuff, isn't there something almost transgressive about the experience. Should you really be there? Is it allowed? Are you sure? Won't you get caught?

Betas offer all the stuff we say we want in Live MMOs. Access to the people who make the games. Answers to questions and action on suggestions. New content in floods and streams. A truly dynamic world, where anything and everything is mutable, where drastic, irreversible change can happen any time, to the game, to the world, to your character, yes yours. Even permadeath, that character, all your characters, gone for ever, wiped, maybe without warning. Never coming back.

A full-on game-building, bug-crushing, system-shaking beta in the grand tradition compresses the kind of change you'd play Live for years to experience into a few crunching months. Beta characters live fast, die young and leave a portfolio of screenshots with more intensity of memory than you get from half a dozen expansions. Betas are fever dreams.

This is why I played for five years on EQ2's Test Server. The bugs, the glitches, the chaotically unbalanced new content, the rollbacks, the redacted, rescinded, revamped changes that were tried and retried and never went Live. The sense that nothing was fixed, no ground was solid and the world was against you. The only MMO home I ever found that combined beta vigor with permanent characters.

So I play a lot of betas. And until someone works out how to make Live MMOs that hold the same thrill I guess I always will. If they'll have me.


  1. I played on EQ1 Testserver, which made me want to play on only Testservers going forward. Did so in DAOC as well (until of course they made free toons there and destroyed what was left of the community).

    If Warhammer:the Game was able to replicate Warhammer: The Beta it would have sold millions. WAR Beta had persistence of knowing the same enemy, and having everyone on one server, funneled into the exact same areas, and it was a blast. They screwed up ultimate end game though, and then at launch, everyone was so spread out it just didn't work.

    I have to admit I stopped signing up for betas (have done 30+ of them starting with EQ1) because I feel most of it is load testing now and not really testing or tweaking.

    Too much of anything isn't good - even betas =) But yes, the beta style environment over the years has often been better than the released products.

    1. I started to reply and it turned into a post. EQ Test was where MMOs really set the hook for me.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide