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MMObility: Glitch's beta grows, charging along the way


If you have been fortunate enough to be included in the Glitch beta, then you might be aware that the developer, Tiny Speck, has really been tweaking, twisting and pushing the game into shape over the last few months. Not only was housing recently redone, but fantastic new housing pieces have come along as well. You can now craft store booths, cash registers, and signage. This means that styling your personal space has become one of the most popular pastimes in the browser-based sandbox.

There are new hairstyles, new skills, and ways of showing off your wonderful new profile, including "snaps" -- snapshots taken from in game to be shared, social-network-style. There's so much going on in the game, I am beginning to wonder a couple of things.

First, why aren't they inviting new players in yet?

Second, why are they charging for this "beta"?

Glitch shop screenshot
Let's cover the new players first. If you keep an eye on one of the Glitch Twitter feeds -- @playglitch -- you will get the latest in general news. The last thing posted at the time of this writing was, "We're getting close to being able to let new people in again & re-open invites. Very sorry for the delay! CC @MajeskaD @thoktaz @doctorm3d" That tweet went out on June 24th, almost a month ago. If you keep an eye on @glitchlog, however, you'll see dozens of little tweaks announced since the beginning of July.

Many players have begun to wonder whether a new wave of buddy invites will come along, but I haven't seen any yet. (So stop asking me for one!) I am sure there are many reasons a developer would want to control the number of players coming into its game. We've seen it before -- the developers claim that the community would not be served well if the development team could not keep up with technical reports, bug fixes, and other standard MMO development headaches. While many players would claim that controlling the number of players who access your game is nothing but an excuse for laziness or fear of reaching beyond a team's abilities, it seems like a legitimate line of reasoning. After all, there is no law that says everyone should be welcome to crash your house party; limiting guests can be a good idea.

We have to consider that the developers might very well be doing just fine financially by selling new items in this beta "test." It's possible that they are comfortable with knowing the number of players who spend money and who do not. I can only imagine that guessing is much harder to do in an active MMO than being able to predict more detailed numbers during a test.

Of course we have to ask whether a beta test is the proper time or place to charge players for anything. After all, aren't the players basically working for the developers at that point, giving them valuable information and feedback so that the game will shine when it finally comes out of beta? At what point does a beta player become something more than a lab rat?

Glitch cash-shop prices
My latest rule of thumb comes into play here: Show me the game and I'll give you my opinion. I try my hardest to avoid generalities where MMOs are concerned. I am often asked whether a game is "pay-to-win" or "truly free?" My response always depends on the particular game. I won't say "all Asian games are pay to win" or "subscription games are never worth it." It all depends on the player's goals and the game's particular mechanics. In this case, I have to ask whether Glitch is actually in a testing phase at all.

I suppose all MMOs are in a testing phase, all of the time. Testing never, ever ends. The difference between an MMO that is being updated constantly and one that is not is usually a matter of team size, not the need for updates. The need for change is always there. Every time a new player -- or even a vet -- logs in from any number of places in the world and from any type of system, there is a need to adjust, tweak and re-do. This is the natural state of an online game that is open to players from around the real world.

"I imagine it's an easier way to tell new players that the game is not quite where the developers want it to be. That's much easier than making it appear as though it is open to everyone."

So the beta tag is applicable, even though Glitch is very much a polished, fun, and accessible game. I imagine it's an easier way to tell new players that the game is not quite where developers want it to be. That's much easier than making it appear as though it is open to everyone. Is it appropriate to charge players for items during a beta? That seems to be the most important question. Again I look at my golden rule. Honestly, I don't care whether anyone thinks it is appropriate or not. In this particular case, the developers aren't charging for anything they aren't delivering.

Standard, subscription-based MMOs tend to be the ones that take a player's money while only promising to include more updates at some future date. You couldn't touch The Secret World without paying for a box and then eventually a subscription fee. I'm not saying that it is wrong to do such a thing, but consider the game and see whether it is appropriate. Glitch is also providing a free option for players who do not want to pay. The developers have included a subscription model but have also allowed players to purchase credits directly; they even give out free options for almost all of their virtual goods. Heck, one of my favorite outfits was made up of freebies for the longest time. As it is right now, I do not subscribe, but I do plan on purchasing more credits to buy more virtual goods.

It is important to ask whether a game in beta form should be charging players. It's always been important, but I don't want it the word "beta" to be seen as the only important factor when money is changing hands. Let the buyer do his or her homework. With Glitch's free access and optional purchases, it's safe to say that Tiny Speck is well within the bounds of decency when asking for money. Of course, I'd like to see the game come out of "beta" sooner rather than later simply because it's starting to seem as though something might be wrong, but I understand the process. Frankly, if I enjoy the game and find myself getting my money's worth out of it, I don't care what they call it. But then again, I take it one game at a time.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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