With the well-established and somewhat embarrassing trend of poorly launched video games, many wonder how or if things will ever change. If some of the biggest names in video games can get away with it, will it just become an accepted norm? I am of the opinion that nobody involved, gamers, game companies, developers, nobody, really wants a turbulent game launch. It hurts the reputation of companies, frustrates gamers, and makes developers look bad. The good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel and some games are already taking advantage of easy ways to improve their games. Both Evolve and Battlefield Hardline are setting what I hope is a new standard in the gaming world: Alphas and Betas with lots of communication and feedback between gamers and devs.
Why an Alpha?
This allows the roughest most unpolished version of the game to see the light of day. Like a twitchy groggy mutant that crawls out from under a bridge, it’s probably pretty scary for companies and their developers to risk pushing gamers away from purchasing. But risk is necessary in any business, and it’s far better to have gamers experience glitches and problems in a free-to-play Alpha than after spending a non-refundable $60 on a game they now feel stuck with. It is also easier to win people over with fixes and communication after an Alpha, than to win someone over who thought they were buying a finished product, but instead got a buggy day-one-patch-needing-mess. I played the Evolve Alpha and had a lot of frustrations with the game and walked away pretty unimpressed. But I did not, however, feel a sense of injustice or frustration with the company. I had a greater respect for them, and not surprising, a lot of my frustrations as well as those of the community have been addressed as they saw very different results in their recent Beta. I’m now far more interested in giving the game another try, or at least snagging it when it’s on sale. Now imagine a very different approach and experience. Imagine they opted out of having an Alpha and a Beta, and instead promoted the game with a huge marketing budget, movie quality commercials with awesome CGI, and well-known celebrities. I might think, “Wow, this game looks incredible! I have to have it!” If I bought the game, had high expectations that were set by the marketing, and then had the same poor experience, I’m far more likely to hate the game and all companies attached, and far less likely to purchase any more content or games from them.
Why a Beta?
This is basically a chance to win over the naysayers or critics from the Alpha. Pretty much my entire group of friends on Xbox said they were not thrilled by or interested in Evolve after the Alpha. But after seeing the results and changes for the Beta, we are somewhat interested again. This is also a chance to show the community you are committed to quality. It gives gamers a sense of empowerment as they see their criticisms and requests implemented into a game. The organic relationship between players and developers is one that needs to be nurtured and given room to flourish. Many of the most frustrated gamers in the Destiny community are, at this point, completely incensed by the lack of response from Bungie. Many basic ground level problems that should have been addressed months ago, or in an Alpha or their Beta, still lie in a heap of unaddressed concerns. But Bungie continues to micromanage the user experience and somehow manages to quickly patch exploits while finally addressing the heavy ammo glitch as “not that simple”. To be fair to Bungie, Destiny launched with very little problems and has had almost no game breaking issues to date. And many of the biggest problems with Destiny in the realm of glitches weren’t really discoverable until players got fairly deep into the content and story. A lot of Destiny’s problems, however, could have been rectified with where I turn next…
I have lost count how many times I’ve run into glitches or bugs in a game during the most basic non-aberrant circumstances that make me cry out, “Play your own games!” Certain types of bugs simply can’t be adequately tested for. For example, you can’t expect an enormous open world game like Skyrim to have every nook and cranny tested for bugs. Games like Skyrim must test the core fundamentals and work out from there by testing the campaign missions, internal economies, and various fighting and leveling mechanics. But for games that are more linear like Destiny or Assassin’s Creed, internal testing should expose many of the glitches and bugs that players run into. A moderate salary with benefits would be more than enough compensation for someone to basically be the “pre-alpha tester”. I volunteer as tribute!! Seriously, hire me or any other veteran gamer. Have us sign confidentially agreements, pay us moderate but livable salaries, and have us play your game in pre-alpha or alpha stage. The best people to find glitches and bugs are the gamers who invest hours of their life into the expansive worlds you create. So, I ask, with the upmost sincerity, play your own games. Or at least hire me to. Seriously. Call me.
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