Is This the Real Beta?

So if you hadn't heard already, Neverwinter Online is going live later this month.  For the last couple of months, they have been in an Open Beta, allowing anyone and everyone to sign up, log in and play the game.  Anyone interested in helping the progression and refining of the final experience can jump in and give their assistance, if they would like.  Theoretically, this should help out the developer, Perfect World, search out bugs and glitches in the game and improve the experience for all involved once the game actually does go live.

The big question is though:  Is anyone actually going to notice the difference?  Is anyone going to really be able to tell the difference between this current open beta and the official launch?

Usually the point of a beta version of a game is to ensure that the experience is as close to perfect as it can be once the game releases officially.  This is done by combing and scraping the game for every little error in code or overlooked issue in the game, usually with the help of random players from the community.  And some companies do include an open beta into their cycle, mainly to test out server thresholds and make sure every possible glitch is found, where they open enrollment to anyone who cares to join.  And usually everyone involved in the open beta realizes that, once the game goes live, all of the servers are wiped and the players start from scratch when the game finally goes live.  Because what company would want a bunch of max-level characters in their game on opening day?

The big difference with Neverwinter Online - and the same is becoming an ever-increasing trend with games like Dragon Nest and Firefall - is that there will be no server wipe before the game goes live in just a few weeks.  Every character that took advantage of auction house problems, bugs, glitches, and just general beginner issues that every game has are going to persist into the final version of the game.  And while Perfect World did their best to catch every player taking advantage of these quirks, they can't catch everyone.  Some major glitches were even uncovered during the process.  The only issue here?  Because Perfect World is allowing people to spend real money in the game during this "beta", they ended up banning people from the game for exploiting a bug.

They banned people.  During a beta.  For finding a bug.  Does this seem wrong to anyone else?

And beyond that:  What really makes this a beta, anyway?  If there is going to be no real difference as of June 20th (other than the release of a new module which adds max-level content to the game) then why even bother calling this a beta?  Just so they can do roll-backs without having to bother messing with the economy or providing restitution?  Isn't the point, as I said before, of a beta to hunt down bugs and glitches and fix them?  Do you really think people are doing that now?  Hell, the other day I ran into a graphical glitch and couldn't even figure out how to report it.  If this truly was a beta, then shouldn't we have a big "report a bug" button in the corner like we did during the closed beta?

And during closed beta I thought it was fine that I could only play certain areas of the game and only certain levels and classes were available.  That's what a beta is supposed to be about:  testing out specific aspects of a game.  But in this "open beta" the entirety of the game is available.  Every single area, event and class from level 1 through 50 is there for you to play.  How much feedback can they really be getting from this?  Are they actually having people report bugs, or are they discovering people exploiting them?

I'm really starting to get annoyed with this non-beta pre-release that companies are doing now-a-days.  If you want to do a 2 month long pre-release for your game then fine, but don't call it an open beta just to hype up your title.  Both developers and players alike have forgotten the entire meaning of the word "beta" when it comes to video games.  No longer is it about testing out servers and game-play, but rather simply a way for players to get early access into the game and a way for developers to build discussion on Reddit.  How pissed off do you think people would be if Perfect World announced that they would be wiping the servers on June 19th?  And do you think that they would have a third of the players that they do right now if they had declared that none of the characters would roll over into the official release?

For a while now, you'd hear players bitch and moan about not getting anything special for participating in a beta or having their characters wiped after the beta was over.  Around the same time, developers started handing out gifts and rewards to players for participating in betas, along with allowing pre-release access several days ahead of the game's official release for people who participated.  This is a very chicken vs egg issue though:  Did a few developers start offering these advantages and players began bitching about games that didn't, or did players start bitching that they weren't getting anything for participating and companies began kowtowing to them?  Either way, it's pretty lame.

If a company wants to give players a little something for helping them before the release of a game by participating actively in the beta then fine.  However, it shouldn't be an automatic thing that a developer must do.  Players need to realize that a beta release is an integral part of the development of a game and that they should just be happy to help.  They shouldn't expect anything in return other than a great game come release.  They also shouldn't expect to hang onto their broken and borked characters that they've leveled using every glitch, bug and exploit possible.  And a player shouldn't be banned for finding and using these exploits so long as they report them.  Why?  Because it's a friggin beta and that's what they are for.  And should a player be banned for not reporting a bug?  No, because every little bit of information that a developer can get from a player, whether through manual or automatic reports, is important.  After all, the characters are going to get wiped and everyone is going to have to start from scratch once the game officially launches anyway, right?  Right?!

Should a game really have a couple handfuls of characters at max level before the game even releases?  Should developers even bother with the "open beta" and simply refer to it as a pre-release version?  Am I just too old-skool for my own good and should catch up with the times, forgetting the definition of beta as it was and just accept it for what it is now?

Yeah, I don't think so either.

Jesse (GM)

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