The Perfect Amount
One of the subjects I have thinking about quite a bit this week is the video game hype cycle… namely the time from when a video game is announced to the time you can have it in your grubby little hands. There are a lot of times that a game is announced with great fanfare and then when it actually releases two years later… the excitement has died down to a point where I rarely realize it has launched. This is especially true with games that have an early access system, because quite literally in my mind they have been “out” from the moment they started taking money for the game. I’ve come to a line of thinking that Fallout 4 pretty much represents the perfect amount of hype leading into a game launch. While all manner of information was leaked about this game for a few years… there was no official acknowledgement of the game, nor any media floating around about it until June 2015 at E3. At which point they announced that the game would be available in November of that same year. This gave the game a focused four months to hype it up and get people read for it.
The truth is that most of the hype was fan created. Bethesda themselves continued to release a slow trickle of information and trailers… large parts of which were simply recompiled from the demos given at E3. But this constant trickle served to keep the fires ignited long enough that by the time the game actually launched a few months later… folks were still very much at the peak of excitement, rushing out into the store and buying damned near anything even vaguely related to the game. As an example of this fever pitch I give to you exhibit A… the fact that the extremely limited edition Nuka Cola Quantum cases are going for over $1200 on Ebay. They announced a game with lots of new features, and then delivered it a short period of time later as promised. This sort of brevity is refreshing when it comes to video games, because we are simply used to it dragging on over the course of several years including extended alpha and beta phases which only serve to get the players bored with the title before they even lay their hands on it.
Beta is Not Beta
Another huge problem that plagues the industry is the fact that Beta testing really doesn’t mean what it says it means. What is ultimately spurring on this post is the launch of the World of Warcraft Legion Alpha yesterday to the press, streamers and a few fan sites. While Fallout 4 had this nice clean short cycle, Legion is already setting up to have a considerably longer one. We first got the official announcement of the rumored expansion at Gamescom in August, and post Blizzcon in early November we received our potential launch window of September 2016. Now that we have an alpha circulating, we will now have plenty of hype inducing articles and videos circulating… with ten months to go until the potential launch window. While this is awesome to stoke the fires, the flames will have died down significantly by the time the game actually releases. Right now I myself am riding this nostalgia buzz that has lead me to resubscribe to the game, but there is likely no way that the game can sustain my excitement until next year to keep the love going.
What I meant by the Beta not meaning what it used to, is the fact that we no longer have these cloistered NDA protected testing environments. So in essence Beta becomes this time to allow streamers and the press to hype up the game for Blizzard, rather than the period of deeply focused testing. Sure it is frustrating to be in something that is under NDA, and not be able to talk about it… but games need an incubation period before the world gets to see them. When I was testing Elder Scrolls Online I was quite literally in the closed testing process for a little bit over a year before the launch of that game. I tested the hell out of it, and myself and Ashgar apparently developed a reputation for our prolific bug noting. There were lots of things that I saw that would have freaked the hell out of the press and public if they saw them, but I simply calmly noted it and described as many details as I could and moved on. As the builds changed we saw many of those bugs disappear… and often times other ones arise that we continued to note. For me at least it was not about getting to play the game free or having something to fill my site with articles… but instead about trying extremely hard to make sure the best possible game launched.
So now is the point where I present a challenge to anyone with access to the World of Warcraft Legion alpha client. Test the hell out of that game and submit bug notes for anything that even seems vaguely out of place. I want each of you to be so prolific in your bug notes… that the developers behind the scenes know you by name and immediately start predicting what you might say. The Warlords of Draenor testing process was not taken seriously by the developers or by the players… and most of us just used it as a way of showcasing what was coming out from the game. What we ended up with was an expansion that did not quite feel right on so many levels, all of which were things that could have been addressed during the Alpha testing process. By the time a game makes it into Beta… it is essentially in a polish phase, where the content gets the spelling errors ironed out, and cosmetic blemishes are fixed. Alpha is the time when you can actually effect the way a game will play like at launch, and now that you have access to this client I expect each of you to do your job. After all testing is a job, not a perk… or something that elevates you above other players.
Quite literally if Legion is not the best expansion that World of Warcraft has ever seen… we are in a lot of trouble. You can have a single bad expansion and still turn around… namely I am looking at Dark Age of Camelot and the horrible Trials of Atlantis expansion here. They continued on to do a lot of really interesting things, but they absolutely had a misstep. I feel like Warlords was without a doubt Blizzard’s misstep when it comes to the Warcraft franchise, and Legion is their chance to redeem themselves. The problem being they need you the players to give honest and sometimes brutal feedback on what is working and what is not working. There is a huge difference between the live client and the alpha client… and the alpha forums are this magical place where people actually talk about the serious issues of the game without resorting to hyperbole. I expect each and every one of you that have access to this alpha to put that time to good use, and find every single bug in the game. Sure you only have access to the Demon Hunter starting experience, but I expect you to help make that starting experience the best “newbie zone” in the game. Now what are you doing reading my post… get to making bug notes people!