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The Daily Grind: Are free trials good for MMOs?

Jef Reahard

A couple days ago we chatted about the nature of open betas, and whether or not any testing goes on in these periods. The overwhelming majority of respondents seemed to favor the notion that stress testing is the primary reason for open beta from a developer's perspective, while free trials and sneak peaks were the primary motivators for consumers.

When it comes to MMORPGs, trials are an interesting beast. Early in a game's life cycle, it seems to me that trials do more harm than good, as the goal of every developer is to move a lot of product and/or convert a lot of the tire-kickers into subscribers or cash shop patrons. Extensive trials actively work against these goals, especially when games are new, buggy, and light on content compared to how they usually look a couple years down the road. If stress testing really is the main reason for an open beta, and MMOs are almost always inferior products at launch, why then do developers not simply stress test in closed beta phases, selectively screening their applicants for actual testers instead of the folks who are only interested in getting a free look at the game?

What do you think, Massively readers? Have free trials (or open betas) saved you from purchasing an MMORPG? Do you think game companies are shooting themselves in the foot with open betas and early trials?

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