Monday, March 17, 2008

How-to Interpret Beta Impressions

As I've mentioned before I've been having fun in Tabula Rasa for the last couple of months. The game is quite different from any MMO I've played before and I like to think this is a good thing. Unfortunately, the game experience for Tabula Rasa hasn't grabbed me like a normal MMO though it’s still been entertaining. This was the sentiment originally expressed by beta testers though most said it wasn't enough to justify a subscription fee. Such an opinion usually dissuades people from trying a game even though it might be something worth experiencing.

This brings me to the point of this post. When do you listen and trust the beta testers for a game? In some cases like World of Warcraft you pretty much hear nothing but good news about the game. Other games like Vanguard you get people breaking the NDA to warn people away from the game and they turn out to be right on the money. But what about games like City of Heroes and Age of Conan which get mixed reviews? I remember back in 2004 that a decent amount of beta impressions for City of Heroes were negative. A lot of testers said the game was fun but the lack of items and end game content made it not worth buying.

City of Heroes still became quite popular because it broke from the fantasy genre and had a very nice character creation system. The beta testers weren't really wrong about the game experience which most people admitted was kind of fun. On the subject of whether the game was worth buying though most beta testers were speaking from months of experience with the game. In the end if a MMO keeps me occupied for three months and only costs me 50$ + 15$ + 15$ then I consider it a good deal. If you're just looking for something new and don't care if the MMO has years worth of content then you have to ignore certain opinions a beta tester might express.

Pay Attention to the Beta Tester On

1) Was the game fun?
The number one thing to look for in a beta impression write up is the word "fun". Chances are that if at any point a tester thought the game was fun then most likely it's worth playing. Every game in beta is going to have a few issues which annoy players and they are going to be pointed out. The key is that if the issues were game breaking then the tester would have used a different word.

2) How buggy was the game a month before release?
Bugs are always a part of any MMO but it’s become standard practice not to release a game with a bunch of obvious ones still in the game. If a beta impression a month before release is talking about bugs in combat or other areas of core game functionality then chances are the company ran out of money and is trying to release as quick as possible. This is important in that if the game doesn't gain a huge amount of subscriptions right away they might just pull the plug on the servers.

3) How much time did the beta tester spend with the game?
I never got a character past level 12 in the Vanguard beta before I quite playing. As such my opinions on the overall game were considerably incomplete and I didn't try to write a review. The best beta impressions are from testers who stuck with a game for a couple months and didn't just play tourist in the newbie zones. When reading a review that looks based on a long-time tester make sure the comments section is not filled with people saying his facts are wrong.

Feel Free to Ignore the Beta Tester On

1) Whether the game was worth a subscription.
Most beta testers are pretty much given a free game to play for three months. Since they got their game play experience for free they are going to be much stricter on whether they would pay for the game. If a bug filled beta test kept someone entertained for more than a month then chances are it’s worth the cost.

2) Opinions on the art assets
There are basically two types of art assets used by MMOs at the moment. One is realistic like EQ2 and LOTR and the other is stylistic like WoW and Warhammer. Everyone has their opinion about the two styles so beware of phrases like "the graphics suck" in a beta review. It could either mean the art assets are very poor or that the tester was simply not a fan of the style that was used.

3) Opinions on the end game
By the very nature of a beta test it’s almost impossible to get an accurate impression of the end game. Games like LOTR and WoW both released with very limited end game activities but added content at different rates. The state of a MMO's end game is more determined by its patches then by its initial development.


Hudson said...

Good points. I usually hit on all those aspects when I beta test.

I also thought TR was more of a combat simulator than an MMO.

Relmstein said...

Yes TR doesn't fit the standard MMO mold but unfortunately when you ask for a monthly subscription you are making the game's target audience MMO fans. I think in general FPS fans would enjoy Tabula Rasa but most of them are used to having multiplayer gameplay provided free of charge.

I've come to the conclusion that combining FPS and MMO gameplay together is not going to work since it tends to alienate the fan base of both genres.

Huxley might have better luck by releasing on the xbox 360 since it might appeal to FPS fans this way. For it to work though they'll need another way to make money besides charging a subscription.