In the video games industry, like many industries on the cusp of technology and innovation, competition is high, as are the stakes. And developers like BioWare want to keep its latest creations like the next expansion for SWTOR under tight control to supposedly prevent the competition from stealing its secrets and creating a game just like it. I'm not so sure that makes a lot of sense. In fact, I've found that most of the reasons behind a beta NDA don't hold true when it comes to the next expansion for SWTOR. Here are the top four myths that I hear from those who support an NDA.
1. Other companies will steal BioWare's ideas
Let's tackle the primary reason for the NDA first. Of course, when the game is in its planning stages, developers have reasonable concerns about their products being leaked to other companies and stolen. But take into consideration how long it takes to create a game or even a decent expansion. We have known of Galactic Starfighter's existence since the guild summit nearly two years ago. Granted, it might have been in the planning stages at that point, but that means that if some other company were to steal the idea at this point, then it would take at least a year to actually create a game based on what was seen. With the expansion less than two months away from launch, that hardly gives any gaming company time to copy the idea.
2. It will give players a bad impression of the game
How many people have ever played a beta that was wireframe with no textures, zero sound effects, and no quest text or voice-over? Yeah, me either. I know that someone has to, right? There needs to be some sort of planning and alpha stages where the developer experiments with basic mechanical ideas and general feel of gameplay before the pretty parts of the game get added, but rarely does the general public ever see this part of the game.
By the time the game reaches beta, the basics are in. The game is recognizable as the game we will ultimately play. Absolutely, some of the textures will be missing and voice-overs might not be completely finished. But if the game is being streamed, most players and even viewers understand that the game is not complete and things will be missing. I don't believe that a missing texture will cause someone not to buy the game, but bad mechanics might. If more people see the mechanics of the game, then there is a greater chance that problems can be caught and altered.
3. The game is not ready for public consumption
I completely understand that open-beta and open-NDA are two different things. I understand the need for gating the number of people who have access to the game at any given time. In the case of Galactic Starfighter, perhaps the PvP queues have not been configured to handle a large number of players. However, this does not mean that the public at large cannot see the game. In fact, as I said above, more people seeing the game might make the product better in the end.
4. Reviewers will not give it a favorable report
I have actually heard this concern, and every time I hear this, I have to scratch my head. I simply don't understand it. Let's say that someone plays Galactic Starfighter right now and gives it a horrible review based on graphical bugs and glitches that will likely be fixed when the patch goes live. A discerning customer will see that issue in that particular case is not the game but the reviewer. Game designers do not give players enough credit sometimes.
However, this does lead to the real reason I believe that developers do not allow players to livestream or otherwise talk about what happens in beta: I call it hype-gating. Since developers can reveal what they want when they want, developers can spin the information in a positive direction, or at very least, reveal only the ideas about their product they wish to reveal. Massively's Jef Reahard talked about this very thing a couple of years ago.
With all these silly unfounded reasons behind a beta NDA, should the players in beta still follow it? Yes, but not because of some corporate-concocted reason. You should abide by an NDA because that is the agreement you signed. Beyond the legal issues that might arise because you are breaking a signed contract, you did give your word. I don't like to be double-crossed; I'm sure you don't either. Imagine how the people at BioWare feel. It's even possible that the person who allowed you to join the beta in the first place will lose his or her job. That is not something that I want on my conscience.
If you're in beta for Galactic Starfighter, I hope you're enjoying it. Please, don't reveal anything about it in the comments, even if you happened to just see the leaked footage. But I do want to know what you think about NDAs and beta leaks. Do you look for leaks? Do you follow any sites that leak beta information? Don't tell me which sites, but do tell me why you visit beta-leak websites. Thanks for reading.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!