Sunday, April 14, 2013

Your Name's Not Down: Neverwinter

This weekend I have mostly not been playing Neverwinter. I had been planning to, although I'd be hard put to explain what the point would have been given that Open Beta (aka Soft Launch) begins in just a couple of weeks. In the end Perfect World saved me from myself. No keys from previous beta weekends were valid for this one. You had to pony up for one of the Founder's packs or get a Friend key from someone who did.

As someone pointed out in one of the many threads complaining about this, MMOs usually invite more people into beta the nearer they get to launch not the other way around but then I guess this isn't really a Beta even in the lax modern usage of the term. It's a marketing exercise to sell more Founder's Packs to people sufficiently disinterested to have bought one for the previous three weekends but too impatient to wait another two weeks before they can play full time for free. A very desirable demographic to court, I'm sure.

Naturally that's not what PW say they are up to. The official reading is "Beta Weekend Four is exclusively for Neverwinter Founders as our way of saying thank you for their ongoing support and ensuring Neverwinter’s success!" I'm sure there's some of that, too. Without a subscription to fall back on it must be even more important to come up with ways to generate some kind of loyalty.

That one? Oh that one's called "Not One Of Us"

I know from experience that the subscription model can encourage an astonishing degree of inert, apathetic pseudo-loyalty, where the direct debit just rolls on for months even though the game no longer gets played much. Or at all. If you're getting my $15 every month you probably don't care whether I'm logging in or not. If you're counting on me using your cash shop, though, you do need me to show my virtual face once in a while.

I think this is the kind of thing Mark Jacobs is alluding to in his attempt at an incendiary interview a la Lord British, forensically dissected, not to say skewered, by Wilhelm at TAGN. I'm sanguine about it either way. I played MMOs when they were all sub-based and I play them now most aren't. I liked it then, I like it now. Fund them how you want, I'll adapt.

So, with Neverwinter out of the way for at least a couple of weeks, I was able to commit a lot of time this weekend to another beta. A real one, with a proper NDA so I can't talk about it or even name it. As Syp said last week, "it sucks to be in a beta you can’t talk about on a blog". And don't even talk to me about screenshots.

No take picture! No take picture!!

Suffice it to say, however, that I spent many, many hours logged into that beta these two weekends past, excitedly leveling up a character that I know will be gone forever in a few weeks at most. (Could be gone as I write - it's a proper beta, they have wipes). As a result my take on the game that shall not be named (pending NDA) has gone from "might give it a run if it goes F2P" to "You can have my money! Just let me play!"

Like most really interesting upcoming MMOs, that one's still a good way off launch. Months at least. So, I will be playing Neverwinter because it looks interesting enough at the ever-attractive price of "free", even though I definitely wouldn't pay to play it. What that says about the value I put on my time I don't really want to think about...

If Mark Jacobs is right and the water does go down the F2P plughole in a few years, sucking most of the shovelware and some of the decent stuff down the drain, will it matter all that much? All I ever seem to do is moan that there are more MMOs I want to play than I can hope to find time for. Maybe it would be doing us all a favor for some of the herd to be culled. On the other hand, to paraphrase Spenser, the worst MMO I ever played was wonderful.

I'm probably not the best person to ask.

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