Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Honey Trap : Ashes of Creation

When I opened my inbox this morning, I was surprised to find not one but three emails from Intrepid Studios, developers of Ashes of Creation.  All identical, all headed "Want to help us test Alpha Zero?".

There's no easy answer to that question. Wilhelm and I had a brief discussion on the subject of alphas and betas in the comments section at TAGN just yesterday. He'd received an invitation to alpha test the upcoming WoW expansion, Battle for Azeroth, an invitation he intended to decline, saying "I long ago discovered my own problems with alpha and beta access.  Nothing diminishes my desire to play a game once it goes live than playing it before it goes live".

He also observed that pre-launch testing by definition means that what you experience at launch isn't new, leading in turn to the oft-expressed complaint that "it was better in beta". I've been known to make that claim myself and I completely agree that unwrapping the present before the birthday can lead to disillusionment and ennui.

That's why I'm much more circumspect about seeking or accepting alpha and beta offers than I would have been a few years ago. Other than a swift visit to get a few screenshots and a blog post, I'm no longer interested in the least part in testing expansions for MMOs I'm already playing. That does seem to be something almost guaranteed to lead to disappointment.

I'm also not particularly keen on testing new MMOs at an extremely early stage of development, even though I have had some very good experiences doing so in the past. It's always interesting, because most MMOs undergo enormous changes in development, to the point where different builds seem almost like different games, but it can weigh heavily against your appreciation of the final product.

I wrote a good deal about City of Steam, which I played in all its various stages from the Sneak Peak through alphas and betas into release and eventual sunset. It was scarcely the same game twice and, much as I enjoyed what it eventually became, I would unreservedly claim that it was at its very best in the early days.

Rift, famously, was considered by many to have been at its best in late beta. I had fun in every iteration of Landmark, another "MMO" that went through some very significant revamps without ever finding either a true direction or an audience, but I had the most fun in the first few months of "pre-alpha".

In all those cases my preference for the earlier versions rests on the gameplay rather than the novelty. All those MMOs changed in development in ways I'd have preferred they hadn't. I enjoyed them after launch but it was always with the knowledge that, had they not changed direction, I would have enjoyed them more.

Vanguard, on the contrary, kept improving throughout. Of course, I only saw it from late beta onwards. I'm sure there are plenty of veterans of the earlier stages who could make a case for the game having been better back then.

My Vanguard beta experience was much more similar to my time in the late beta weekends for The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. I came to those at a point when what was changing was more a matter of detail and emphasis than ethos or philosophy.

Those experiences, with what was almost a finished product, at a time close to launch, had the effect of stimulating my appetite for more. I found myself waiting impatiently for the day when I could throw all my energy and enthusiasm behind a permanent character. When the time came, far from feeling jaded from having seen it all before I was thrilled to see the gates flung open and the world revealed for me to explore.

Then there were the betas that acted as a warning. Testing the original FFXIV was a surreal experience. There was a strict NDA, so it felt like watching a huge juggernaut heading towards a cliff edge, with no way to warn anyone of the impending disaster. The Horizons beta had something of the same atmosphere.

With all that in mind, whether or not to try an MMO before launch is a tricky decision. Over the past few years that decision has often been taken out of my hands by the increasing willingness of developers to let anyone and everyone "play" the game while they're making it.

With so many flavors of pre-alpha, alpha, beta, open beta and early access available either for free or at a price the decision on when to start "playing" is problematic. It certainly seems unlikely that I would still have the same enthusiasm for an MMO at "launch" that I might have had when I first began "testing" it anything up to three years earlier.

As a blogger I also have the issue of whether to poke my head through the curtain at various stages so I can take a few pictures, make a few notes and get a blog out of it. I have to try to balance quasi-journalistic curiosity with not spoiling my own fun.

These days I try to limit any intense involvement to the period directly before launch. If I can achieve the anticipatory escape velocity I experienced before Vanguard or GW2 then I know launch-day will be joyous.

In the case of Ashes of Creation, I bought into the Kickstarter at the level that guarantees access to the final, closed beta. By then the game should be close to its finished form. If it's going to be my next Big MMO, I'll be able to tell.

Having made that choice, should I throw away all caution and restraint and jump into the AoC pre-alpha just because I can? Well, fortunately that's a decision I don't have to make. On close inspection, the whole thing turns out to be a tease:
We are introducing a new opportunity for our Glorious Ashes Community to gain additional entries into our Alpha Zero raffles! From this point forward, all social media followers will gain added entries into our raffles.

For each social media account you subscribe or follow, you will gain an additional chance to help us test our Pre-Alpha builds!  All you need to do is subscribe or follow our official YouTube, Twitch, Twitter or Facebook.

It's just a marketing gimmick. Good. That means I can forget about it. Which is just as well, because I don't know whether I'd have had the willpower to resist, had the email contained an actual pre-alpha key.


  1. I was semi-surprised at the top of the post to think that Ashes of Creation was this far along. Last night I was doing the looking back sections for the inevitable April/May in Review posts and linked back to a couple items about their Kickstarter. Having something testable by outsiders is pretty good for a just a year. I mean, we're five years in and I can't yet test anything in Camelot Unchained.

    Then again, Shroud of the Avatar and Project:Gorgon both had playable/testable versions of their projects a four and five years back respectively, yet what was available then was very raw compared to what both have to show now.

    Of course, since it turned out to be a tease at the end, I am much less impressed. The usual trajectory for Kickstarted MMOs will probably apply, meaning it might be worth playing in 3-5 years.

    1. Well, it still is an "Alpha" even if the opportunity to join it is bogus. The email says "Alpha Zero is our Pre-Alpha testing phase that will help prepare Ashes for our Alpha One release" and goes on to state that "1200 Alpha Zero testers have been hard at work on the road to Alpha One." which suggests the pre-alpha is up and runing and has been for a while.

      These terms are used so looseley these days that I can't make much sense of them but I think it means they have some kind of playable build runing, at least.

  2. RIFT did the same tease with their Alpha. I threw a public fit about how misleading it was, which lead to an email from Scott Hartsman offering me actual Alpha access. Doesn't sound like that's a possibility in this case lol.

    I have mixed feelings as well. My most unique alpha/beta ride was WoWp. I went from hating it in early alpha to loving it in mid-beta to shaking my fist at launch when they shoved a few untested (and uncalled for) "improvements" into the game as it went out the door.

    1. It's a risk, for sure. I used to find the thrill of peeking behind the curtain irressistible but these days I feel the cachet, such as it was, no longer exists and anyway once you've lifted one curtain you've lifted them all.


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