Ask Massively: The irony of media and betas


It's a running joke on Massively that some readers believe our lives are glamorous and that we sleep in beds made out of free video game swag. The truth is that video game bloggers are working in this field because they love the job. At least that's how it is around here. Or maybe writing in our pajamas is too posh to pass up. But people still believe we are loaded with perks just because we get to wear fancy hats that say "PRESS." Just kidding. There are no hats.

Here's a recent example from a reader named Will6:

Lucky you, getting to test drive the game. Everyone knows the press get instant invites because they are a free way [for studios] to advertise their game and get the word out.

It's time for "everyone" to be disabused of that notion.

When you sign up for an MMO beta, you probably notice that little checkbox that asks whether you're part of a media publication or run a fansite for games. Most of you just check "no" and move on with your lives, forgetting all about it. That's what I did before I worked here, and I got into a crapton of alphas and betas.

Once I actually began working for Massively, I had to start checking "yes" because ethics. And I started noticing that I stopped getting into alphas. I rarely got into betas. In fact, I soon realized there was no point to signing up for testing phases as a "normal person" would at all. Aside from the rare stress test, the big games were skipping over my apps regardless of testing experience, guild status, kit quality, or any of the other qualifications they say they care about. Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe.

Turns out that having access to studios and PR firms, which we do to some extent as press, is also not a golden ticket into an early beta test. Small studios and small games, it's true, love to have us poke around their games. They'll take any kind of exposure they can get, even if their games are in pretty bad shape. We can get a date with most of those games without much foreplay.

But the AAA MMOs? Not a chance. They don't want to risk letting press preview their babies unchecked alongside their hand-picked testers. Even those media folks who can be trusted not to leak info can't necessarily be trusted not to let bad alpha impressions influence their opinion of the game by the time they are allowed to write about it, and there's nothing in it for the big studios to take that risk.

This means we don't often get to join the ongoing testing for big games like Guild Wars 2, WildStar, and Elder Scrolls Online, the last of which was the game to which Will6 was referring. We're too dangerous to let loose inside games without a chaperone, or something. We might not like what we see, and we might use a very large megaphone to say so.

We do get access to very scripted, guided early tours and "media events," usually with limited account access or developers hovering over our shoulders to make sure we don't click on anything untoward or meander too far off our carefully prepared path. These events are so much fun but also extremely annoying. We're painfully aware of how these experiences can skew our perception in a way that favors the game more than it deserves, especially if we're seeing the only polished zone or class and the rest of the game we didn't see is all clownshoes. Sometimes, paradoxically, getting into those kinds of preview events is worse than nothing. The invitation might make us feel warm and glowy and omg video games, but the presentations are designed by the studios to benefit the studios, not our readership, as Will6 rightly points out. That's something we can't afford to forget.

As we've joked before, sometimes the very worst thing a lover of MMOs can do is join the MMO blogging industry. You'll only find yourself playing more terrible games than great ones and being locked out of testing that one game you're really longing for. It's lonely on the yacht.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!