Using beta to create buzz
Beta tests are like a shiny, seductive piece of candy left in a painfully conspicuous place. Once we become aware that it exists, our desire for it almost overwhelms our good senses. We run in circles trying to find someone with a spare beta key, an easily winnable contest, or if we're truly desperate, we hit eBay. Beta tests, like that piece of candy, are so tempting that we fail to ask important questions like "Why does this exist?" or "Why is there a box with a string attached over this?"
Why it's there is simple enough. Blizzard, like many video game developers, seems to have realized the utility and liability inherent in beta testing. If they provide their beta testers with a noticeably glitchy or broken build, word will get out that the new expansion is terrible, broken, unplayable or worse. Small problems become magnified in the buzz, and one bad beta test can potentially sink an otherwise promising release. However, if the developers give their testers a well designed, fully functioning build of the game, then what's being tested? That's where the strings come in.
In the twenty-first century, a video game beta test is less an actual test than an interactive publicity stunt. Remember the Wrath
beta and the fantastic stories you heard from the first of your friends to get in? And how near the end it felt like everyone but you had a key? What modern beta testers see is a mostly complete version of the final build. These testers aren't so much testing as they are marveling, oohing and aahing and providing fuel for gamer gossip and the gaming media.
The only real testing beta testers do comes towards the end of the beta cycle: the dreaded stress test phase. This is when beta invites start going out en masse, seeming to blacken the skies of the internet with their multitudes. For a tester who thus far has been nothing but wowed and intrigued by the polished product they've been experiencing, stress tests are nothing but a teeth-clenching nightmare. Imagine the launch night of a major expansion, only worse. You'll disconnect. NPCs will behave erratically. You'll enter the very instance you're trying to stress test, only to find yourself somewhere under the Stonetalon Mountains with no way back to the raid. These tests generate some of the most important data for developers but are nothing short of torturous for testers who have no bugs to report that aren't already being reported by the 6,000 other players experiencing them simultaneously.
Of course, it does get worse. After all your fun of running around in new content and then the agony of stress tests, the game launches, your beta character gets deleted and you no longer possess any mystical new knowledge of the expansion that anyone who reads WoW.com and has access to Wowhead doesn't already have.
Still, that candy does look enticing, doesn't it? -- G. Chad Peters
Devouring the facts, savoring the experience
My name is Casey Monroe, but some of you may recognize me as Malgayne
. When WoW.com sent out their call to arms for submissions on the topic of beta participation
a few days back, I jumped at the chance -- after all, it was a topic that I had been hoping to post about on our own blog
for some time.
I'm in sort of a unique position to answer this question, because in fact I've been in every beta since The Burning Crusade
-- whether I wanted to be or not. I'm lucky enough to have managing the content on Wowhead as my full-time job, which means that even if I didn't
, I'd still be in there, learning as much as I could about the new material.
But if I had to choose ... now that's a good question.
I'm at best a casual raider. I was head of a guild in BC
that raided Karazhan, and that was about it. We eventually dissolved into a larger guild, which enabled me to see SSC a few times. In Wrath
, my performance was even more shameful -- I've been in Naxx and ToC, but that's about all. I have a ton of alts, and I flit between too many different games at a time to really perfect a single character; I suppose I just have a short attention span. I'm by no means a hardcore WoW
player, so the appeal of beta testing cutting-edge, new content has always been lost on me. So that's out.
But the other aspect of all this is the fact that I'm an authoritarian. I like to play by the rules. And when I'm experiencing the content that the Blizzard team has laid out for me, I like to experience the content in the manner they intended.
With a game like WoW
, this is remarkably difficult. There's no clear, single path through the game, after all. If you skip a quest, you might be breaking an important chain ... but if you don't
skip any quests, then you're going to be over-leveled for the content, which also alters the experience. Sometimes I would find myself saving up XP and then skipping entire zones -- and that doesn't even get into the issue of trying to fit instancing in there (a topic which I talked about some time ago in another editorial
So with all these things in mind, well, no ... I don't think I would choose to be in the beta if I didn't have to be. I like to understand all about the new systems
in advance, to be sure -- what the stats mean, what the new abilities do, how the new emblems are going to work. But the quests, the story, the flavor ... all these are things I want to experience
, not as a sneak peek or a leak or a preview but as a game
. -- Casey Monroe
What I'll be doing instead
I will not be playing the beta. In my four years of World of Warcraft
addiction, I have never once felt the impulse to set my virtual foot inside any beta content, and I have still managed to level and raid and navigate new zones perfectly fine without it. Granted, I am aware that I owe my ease of discovery to the convenience of Wow.com and other informative websites, and thus indirectly to the hard work and diligent reporting of thousands of beta testers worldwide. To those tireless folk: I salute you. Thank you for your willingness to report bugs, endure unfinished landscapes and sacrifice months of work on a 'toon, only to start again at launch with the rest of us.
However, if you think that just because I didn't opt in for beta I'll be lounging on a beach with a mojito until Cataclysm
is released, you're wrong. In fact, I will be spending my limited hours in WoW
working very hard -- and the gain to my character will be permanent. Here is what I will be doing during the beta period:
- Saying goodbye to four years of memories in the old world zones. Flying over Stranglethorn Vale for the first time in the zeppelin, seeing unexpected lushness ... Standing as a ghost in Silithus, in awe of the gates of AQ opening event ... Ganking and being ganked at the docks of Auberdine ... Even as the expansions sent me farther away from Azeroth, I knew I could always come back for the strong feelings of nostalgia I knew I could get when I entered Ashenvale or Eastern Plaguelands. Alas, these places will never be the same.
- Finishing up endangered achievements and grinding endangered items. Though we have no official confirmation of which ones will be removed or sent to Feat-of-Strength Land, I am not going to take a chance on missing out on achievements and items I've been meaning to get for so long. I will be finishing Loremaster and trying to get Baron Rivendare's mount, the ZG mounts, the Ravasaur pets and the epic recipe for Dirge's Kickin' Chimeric Chops.
- Saving gold. If two expansions have taught me anything, it's that it really helps to have a gold buffer. (Knowing Blizzard, they'll charge us a bundle to be able to fly in Azeroth.)
- Working on my PVP gear set. With the advent of rated battlegrounds awarding arena points, I might actually be able to buy gear that's competitive in both battlegrounds and casual arena. I'm really looking forward to the new PvP system.
- Warning players of the cataclysm to come. I'll be the one with the REPENT, THE END IS NEAR sandwich board in a city near you.
I am not saying that beta testing is a waste of time or bad -- it's just not for me! For those who have opted in, I wish you the best in getting a key. For those who haven't, I encourage you to see this time as an opportunity instead of a dry spell. Good luck! -- Bethany Myers
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