[Rant] Double Standards And The Scrubbed Starting Line

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I dove into this topic in my piece about Infinite Crisis last week, but the line between beta and launch has become so blurred in the MMO industry that the whole concept has lost its meaning and many of us in gaming journalism are thoroughly sick of it. Go to virtually any website that reviews MMOs and you’ll likely see the same policy: We start judging when they start charging. I’m paraphrasing, but the point is the same regardless.

In earlier years, I defended the practice of selling beta access as a perk for pre-ordering because it was the best a customer could do to get a “demo” on an MMO. Granted, these were the days when 90% of western titles had subscriptions and wouldn’t see free trials until at least six months post launch, if at all. Furthermore, it was relatively low risk for the consumer. All you normally had to do was throw down the $5 minimum at Gamestop (or your local equivalent), a refundable/transferable five bucks I should add, and you’d get a beta key on your receipt. Apart from some know-how of the game and maybe a participation item, people in the beta didn’t get any advantage because characters were reset before launch.

But then free to play became dominant and the goal posts got moved time and time again. Developers stopped wiping beta characters, began opening up the cash shop in beta and in some cases even alpha. It’s important to read into the motives because the general consensus is that once you start charging for the use of a product, you agree that it is worth selling and therefore worth critiquing.

The launchification of beta, or early access as the industry has started calling it, has presented a remarkable double standard in game developers who want the freedom to treat the game as effectively launched in the sense that the servers won’t be wiped, the cash shop is open, and anyone can create an account and start playing, but keep up their shield against criticism whenever someone like myself posts a preview saying “this isn’t worth buying right now.” I have several times been the recipient of an email conveying disappointment or offering corrections, calling my criticism unfair because the product wasn’t considered launched yet.

What we’ve learned from the industry these past few years is that certain devs have no problem blurring the lines between beta and launch so long as it conveniences them and, when pushed on it, rubbing it out and flat out denying that it exists. When pushed on refunds, Turbine turned around and said no to founders because they’ve been playing for two years and, by Turbine’s opinion, they got their money’s worth regardless of if the game launched. When players struck back and pointed out that at least a decent portion of the time was spent dealing with outages, extended maintenance, game breaking bugs, and missing or incomplete features, Turbine’s CM simply denied the concept of launch altogether.

Because, in their logic, what does launch really mean when the game will continue to receive updates, bug fixes, and new heroes in the coming years? It makes sense, yes, but going by this line of thought, when are reviewers allowed to critique your product? Because if it’s unfair to criticize a game before it is finished, and a game like Infinite Crisis is in your explanation never finished, are you trying to say that it is never fair to criticize the game?

Or does the whole narrative eventually collapse and we go back to where we started?

With games increasingly shutting down mid-beta or very shortly after and then refusing to compensate customers, the need for tough scrutiny is higher than ever. The days of beta being a low risk, fun thing we did to get some game time in, help squash some bugs while stress testing, and ease the pain of waiting for launch are long over, and in its place is the high risk, predatory game of early access that carries no customer protection, no guarantee of ever receiving a final product, and no out once you’re in.

Otherwise I have no opinion on the matter.

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One Response to “[Rant] Double Standards And The Scrubbed Starting Line”

  1. Eri says:

    It is getting increasingly frustrating to deal with how much these companies are giving out to early spenders. Archeage was rather ridiculous in how much time it gave out and the advantage of housing space to those who got in early. PvP games or those with open pvp at least can be harmed. There are a couple nto even wiping beta progress which seems odd.

    I do kind of agree with it though in a sense. not the incredibly extended entry and early access but more just staggering the population at release. Seems the better approach so as to maintain server availability and stability.

    Not just that I think there are so many issues it creates, issues that I think have contributed to the fall of many games of late. The way many of these game breaks up the interested population seems rather damaging. Much better to have all your interested players beginning at the same time rather than many burning out before it’s even released.

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