Saturday, October 27, 2018

More Fun In The New World

This could be a very short post. Very short indeed. It's tricky, writing about something, when you aren't allowed to describe anything you see, anything you do or how anything works. I can't even tell you what the "something" I'm not describing is called. The post title? Oh, that's just some old thing by X. Don't go reading anything into it...

And there's no use going show instead of tell, either, because even though I may have taken a portfolio of pictures, I absolutely cannot show them to anyone. Don't even ask.

NDAs have been in the news a lot this week where I come from. I switched the radio on as I was making breakfast yesterday and listened to a journalist explaining what the letters stood for and what the process meant as though it was some new species of bat just discovered in a cave previously unknown to man.

Obviously no-one reading this needs the acronym explained. NDAs have long been part of the DNA of MMOs. I've lost count of the number I've signed up to over the years. It must be dozens by now and technically I've breached them all, since I've always chatted to Mrs Bhagpuss about what I've been up to behind the chainmail curtains. Occasionally she might watch me over my shoulder and a few times I've even lent her my log-in so she could take a wander round.

What I have never done, though, is break the terms of the NDA in any way, shape or form that anyone outside of my own house could know about. In the days when NDAs for testing MMORPGs were routine, it was never much of a concern; back then I didn't have a blog.

And until now having a blog hasn't posed any problems with NDAs either. Since Inventory Full began, seven years ago, I've been in any number of alpha and beta tests for new games or expansions to old ones but I can't, off the top of my head, remember any that I wasn't allowed to post about.

Along with plenty of other MMO veterans I've occasionally bemoaned the lack of "proper" beta testing that isn't either a glorified free trial or a barely-concealed cash grab. How ironic, then, that now that I'm finally in one that's none of those things, I'm finding it more than a tad frustrating.

I'd really love to write about my experiences so far in excruciating detail. I have plenty to say, that's for sure. But I can't, even though I'm pretty sure any PR person would be happy to sign off on what I'd write.

Whatever the NDA says (and I have to imagine the exact terms because, although I've looked quite hard, I haven't as yet been able to find them) I'm confident nothing can bar me from talking about how I feel about testing pre-release games in general. If anyone wants to infer that I might be speaking from recent experience that's up to them.

There's a point in any alpha or beta test when you have to decide whether you really want to become invested in what you're doing. There's the reporting of bugs side of things, which is both a public service of a kind and a shrewd investment in your own entertainment futures, but other than that there's the question of how much time to spend on character progression in a testing environment that has no permanence.

It gets quite difficult. There's a lot to consider. If you're finding that you want to log into the alpha or beta test more than you want to log into the Live MMOs you're currently playing, or if you find that the development of your alpha or beta characters is more compelling and satisfying that that of their Live counterparts, then you have something of a dilemma.

In the "Cons" column, firstly, there's the impermanence. Yes, I do believe that fun is fun and no time is wasted if you enjoyed its passing but it's impossible not be aware that the goal you are working towards is ephemeral even beyond the insubstantiality common to virtual worlds.

Secondly, there's the prospect of repetition and with it burnout. Plenty of people have made the mistake of going hard at an alpha or beta test and then finding, when the game has gone Live, their will to do it all again has eroded, taking their interest down with it.

On the "Pro" side, there's pleasure in the moment. If you're having fun then you're having fun, aren't you? Why trade fun now for fun down the line?  It's fresh and new and you're keen. Why take the edge off?

Perhaps most importantly of all, there's that infamous meme: "better in beta". Well, it was, wasn't it? There's often a sweet spot in the development process - sometimes several of them - when systems are more forgiving or more challenging than they're ever going to be in Live. Also weirder. Testing environments are inherantly more volatile and volatility is both intriguing and exhillarating.

And then there's the vibe. In proper (closed, under NDA) alpha or beta tests communities are frequently - I would say usually - better-natured, more cohesive, more patient. People cut each other more slack. In a game with open PvP and full loot that might add up to a significantly different play experience.

There's a strong chance, then, that a closed test might offer the most enjoyable version of the game you'll ever see but against that you have to set the inevitable and possibly imminent deletion of your characters and the destruction of all the progress you've made. As I said, a difficult balance to strike.

Based on my past experience, when I've become both attached to my characters and immersed in their progression during pre-launch testing, I've gone on to have a good run in the game after release. That was the case in some of my very favorite MMORPGs of all time - EQ2, Vanguard, Rubies of Eventide...

I don't think I can remember any MMO that I enjoyed in testing but disliked when it launched. There's been the odd case, Rift being a particular example, where changes made soon after the game went live detracted substantially from what made the game so satisfying in testing, but even then it's been a matter of degree. I still enjoyed live Rift, just not as much.

In the case of the game I might be writing about there's a very definite chance that the Live edition won't suit me as well as the version I'm able to log into right now. Live games are generally more intense than tests and that's not necessarily what I'm looking for these days, particularly whenit comes with full-loot PvP attached.

All the same, as things look right now, I will be along for the ride when this thing goes Live. Whether I'll stay long, who knows? The bottom line is, I'm having a lot more fun than I expected. I plan on riding that while it lasts and hoping at least some of it carries over when the real game arrives.

And that, I think, is about as close to the wind as I care to sail. Shame I can't use the pictures I've taken, though. Some of them are gorgeous.


  1. Warhammer online was amazing in beta - because they focus tested so you were always in situations not balance. Once the game went live and the community went off to do their own thing in their own places it was a far worse game.

    I'm not sure where I sit on this one, which I'm sure is the same one as you, but I've been away and not playing (or blogging) much of lste.

    On another flight as I write! Wheels up!

    1. It's the one everyone's supposedly in, although we must all be heavily siloed if so. Not saying how many servers I have access to or how many people they hold or how many are logged in when I play but it's a very select group of us, that's for sure!

    2. Are you, YOU there? As In I'd recognize your name? (I am...)

    3. Sorry, VERY late reply! Just spotted the comment...

      No, I'm not "me". I'm literally never "me" in any game and mostly I make up a totally new name for every character, although I have some standbys I use if I'm in a hurry to get into a new game. Also, as far as I can tell, everyone is siloed in very small servers so it would be unlikely we'd be on the same one. Mine has a capacity of 250 and mostly there are 15-20 people online.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! Your G+ page is awesome, btw, but you knew that.


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