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Betawatch: January 11 - 17, 2014

Eliot Lefebvre

Good news to those of you who have been waiting for ArcheAge for what seems like forever (because it has been): The game is in testing! Not open beta testing, no. Or closed beta. In fact, it's really just the most rudimentary stage of alpha testing. But that's something, right? It's at least more than anyone had expected.

Not many new betas kicked off this week, but War Thunder did expand its expansion testing with new vehicles and maps, and Hearthstone's development team took the time to say that fewer card changes will be made in the upcoming open beta. WildStar, meanwhile, shrank a little. After a fashion.

Anything else? Well, we do have our usual list of games in testing past the break, and we've got a bit more in the Testing Notes this time around. As always, feel free to let us know down in the comments if a game managed to add in a cash shop without our noticing.

Open testing phase
Massively considers a game to be in open testing if it has open, public signups and plans for a server wipe before its official launch. Self-described "open beta" MMOs that have soft-launched with functioning real-money cash shops will not be listed.

Blood and Jade (R2Games): Announcement, Signup
Inferno Legend (Changyou): Announcement, Signup
Margonem (Garmory): Signup
Project Gorgon (Project Gorgon): Signup
Sevencore (Ignited Games): Announcement, Signup (beta until 1/13/14)
SmashMuck Champions (Kis Studios): Announcement, Signup, /r/ (early access on Steam now)
Taikodom (Gamersfirst): Announcement, Signup
UFO Online (gamigo): Announcement, Signup

Closed testing phase
We consider an MMO to be in closed testing if it features either future test signups or an ongoing semi-private beta/alpha that cannot immediately and freely be accessed by the general public. Some are restricted by NDAs. This still qualifies even if the test does feature an active cash shop so long as the signups are restricted; it also qualifies if the testing is limited to purchasers.

DayZ (Bohemia Interactive): Announcement, Signup (access is for early purchasers on Steam)
Earthrise: First Impact (SilentFuture): Announcement, Signup
Elite: Dangerous (Frontier): Announcement, Early Access Purchase
End of Nations (Trion): Announcement, Signup, /r/
Hearthstone (Blizzard Entertainment): Announcement, Signup (open beta coming in 2014)
Infinite Crisis (Turbine): Announcement, Signup
League of Angels (GTArcade): Announcement, Signup
LEGO Minifigures Online (Funcom): Announcement, Signup (launching summer 2014)
Lime Odyssey (Aeria Games): Announcement, Signup
Line of Defense (3000AD): Announcement, Signup
MU Rebirth (Webzen): Announcement, Signup
Origins of Malu (Burning Dog): Announcement
Otherland (gamigo): Announcement, Signup, /r/ (development in limbo, possibly canceled)
Starlite (Project Whitecard): Announcement, Signup (fka Astronaut: Moon, Mars, and Beyond)
Strife (S2 Games): Announcement, Signup
The Elder Scrolls Online (Zenimax): Announcement, Signup
The Repopulation (Above and Beyond): Announcement, Signup, /r/
TUG (Nerd Kingdom): Announcement, Signup
Venus Rising (FoxySoft): Announcement (fka Orgia Romanus; adult MMO, possibly NSFW)
WildStar (Carbine/NCsoft): Announcement, Signup

Testing Notes
When is a beta not a beta? When it charges you money. Unless it's still a beta.

Our policies about closed and open testing have changed over the years, and our current one started when we noticed a trend in game betas. A lot of companies with a variety of fantasy free-to-play games -- you know the ones -- had found what seemed like the perfect place. The games never officially launched, so they were still supposedly in testing and had all that testing implied, but they were charging money from players. So in addition to getting free promotion in Betawatch and being able to write off bugs as part of testing, they got that sweet, sweet money from players.

We sat down, discussed it, and decided that if the game is asking you for money, the game is launched and doesn't get to hide behind terminology. So our policy became that any game with a functioning cash shop, open signup and download, and no obvious plans for a character wipe qualified as launched rather than in testing. A great many games have been purged from our list as a result, including Neverwinter during its so-called "soft launch" and MechWarrior Online before its "official" launch date.

Unfortunately, the once-simple approach to whether or not a game is testing gets another wrinkle added in the form of paid early access. DayZ is the biggest and most obvious example at the moment; the game is still in testing, but you can get in only by putting down money. So... it's launched, right? Or is it still in testing? Should it be listed here? If WildStar lets me play two months early if I pre-purchase the game, is it still in testing otherwise? Where does the line get drawn?

Right now, the line is drawn between closed and alpha testing. If the game is still in closed testing but is asking for money, it can't be considered to have launched in several cases. Free-to-play games thrive on the premise of anyone being able to jump in and play; paying to play isn't launch, not everyone can sign up. Games that aren't free-to-play are another story because these games are never going to be freely available... but that just raises more questions. For the time being, we've chosen to treat this as another way of signing up for early testing.

Is that the right call? Hard to say. As business models change we'll be re-evaluating our stances. So while it's acceptable for right now, that doesn't mean it always will be.

Next week, we'll discuss why some pseudo-MMOs are on the list and why others aren't. It's also really valuable to see your feedback on these choices down in the comments, so by all means, let us know what you think on this topic. Should pay-to-play tests be considered closed testing? Open testing, since anyone with cash can get in? Or is that still a launch?

Betawatch is Massively's weekly report on the latest MMO alphas, betas, and other games still meandering toward an official launch. From ArcheAge to World of Warplanes, it's covered here, complete with sign-up links so that you too can perform the unpaid quality-control work otherwise known as game testing. Drop us a comment if we've missed one, and many thanks to Steven Eyerman for the Subreddit links!

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