What Is An Open Beta, Really?

We are currently deep in Open Beta Season. With the upcoming releases of a number of highly (and not so highly) anticipated MMORPGs developers looking to put that final bit of polish on their games open the doors to the general MMORPG community in order to get some experience under wilder conditions.

The big problem is that most of the players who get into an open beta are just there for early access to the game. Generally, these players do precious little testing, and even less reporting of problems that they find. DM Osbon calls them the people who enjoy the cold comfort of discovering what present they are getting from a relative on their birthday, only to act surprised when they finally get to open it. In some ways a fair comment, especially considering that anything done in the open beta period is lost when the game finally goes live.

Of course since this has been the case for pretty much every open beta the devs are completely aware of this, and encourage it.

So if there’s no real benefit to an open beta, then why do developers conduct them?

Well there are some benefits. As I said above, the developers get to see how their game performs in the wild. They get to see how the servers hold up under close to release conditions. And there are some players who diligently report errors when they find them (/em puts hand up).

But the greatest advantage is the publicity that a company gets from putting their game out for all to see while it has the new game smell. There’s nothing like thousands of players giving your game the thumbs up simply because it’s all shiny and new. Age of Conan had that advantage with the specially prepared Tortage newbie area that couldn’t be left during the open beta. AoC received glowing previews (including from me) despite its unfinished state in the later game.

So really, what we call an Open Beta is really an Early Limited Access period, or better still, a marketing opportunity.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that. Companies should do marketing, and for a MMORPG dev, this is just one method.

For the player, the important thing is to recognise that fact, and to recognise that for the most part in an open beta you probably won’t see the content that is lacking.

For a truely useful open beta experience, look at the game beyond the shine and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What do I find annoying about this game?
  2. What do I like about this game?
  3. Do I see myself enjoying this for the next 1/3/6/12 months?
  4. Do the devs appear to be hiding any content? If so how much?

These questions are important, especially if you’re considering special deals like lifetime subscriptions. But, don’t just look at the negatives. Do look at the shiny, after all it may be what attracted you in the first place. Give it some credit.

But above all. Remember. The open beta is a marketing exercise. By all means participate, but remember that and you should be able to make a informed decision on your subscription options.