Priming Your Mind for Beta

A lot has happened in the past month since my previous post. We’ve had another closed beta, this time including a much larger sample size, we’ve had pre-purchase sign-ups, and now we’re coming up on a real, honest to god, “open beta”. Yes, I know, it’s not technically “open”, but it is open to everyone that has purchased it now. For many members of our community, this is going to be the very first foray into the new world of Tyria. Between the press beta coverage outlets, there has been a ton of really great information about the game. Ravious over at KTR detailed a great list of 10 things to remember when you first step foot into GW2, so instead of talking directly about the game, I’m going to take a few minutes to talk about us, the prospective players.

Our Community

MMO communities are quite varied in many ways, but also share many similarities. One common factor among them all is that everyone there typically is very invested in the game of their choice. MMO’s take a huge time investment and often are played at the exclusion of other games. When a community forms around such a game, there is something of an echo chamber that forms around said groups. Often, criticisms are downplayed, features are hyped, and emotions become invested in these products that aren’t even released yet. This is especially true for the GW2 community because we are in something of a unique position: we’ve known about this game before it was even a game. GW2 was announced before its own development. Many of us have been waiting for 5 years now, and we have built up our community around concepts and ideas. The time is finally coming when we will be able to put our theories to the test. The buck stops here, and that scares some people.

As much as we all talk about how much we want this game, the truth is that many of us have gotten accustomed to the idea of GW2, to discussing theorygame design, and an idyllic MMO. That phase is about to end. No more will we be able to theorize what will and won’t work or feel good, we will know. Things that we don’t like won’t be able to be passed of as pessimism, or hoped away by “maybe it will change”. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some people will actually be unhappy with how the game plays. Our community is about to change, and we have to be ready for that. Similarly, we have to be more willing to accept legitimate criticism. No longer can we simply wave our hands about the speculation; most people will actively get their hands on it next weekend, and this will be a massive turning point for both us as a community, and for the GW2 developers. On the other end of the spectrum, for those of us who have a very specific experience in mind and it delivers, we will become even more adamant and committed. Our fears will be put to rest one way or another, and I think that most of us will be very pleased by what we play. With all that in mind, we need to make sure that we have the proper expectations for this upcoming beta test.

Remember this is Beta, not Demo

Although many of us will view this as more of a demo than a test, we all should keep in mind what it really is. This is one of ANet’s first big benchmarks for release. The scope of this test will be more than all of their other betas combined, at least in my estimate from pre-purchases. The amount of strain this will put on the game is more than it has ever taken, the quantity of feedback they will receive will be immense, and if all goes well, it will speak very highly for what must be finished before release. This will be one of the most crucial times to make your feedback heard. Things are still changing, it is not too late for some features to be tweaked. As beta testers, we should try to keep in mind what kinds of elements will and will not be looked at to provide useful feedback. Here are a few things that I am sure they are excited to hear about:

  • Experience gain. Is it too fast, too slow, or just about right?
  • Dynamic events. Do they cycle too often? Not often enough? Was it too easy? Too hard? How was the scaling with more/fewer players involved?
  • Skill balance. Try not to be too reactionary, balance is hard to judge without much time in the game, but feedback always helps
  • Bugs. Try to be specific.
  • Lag issues and system specs. The game is still being optimized, and this data can be very helpful.
You’ll notice that most of these things are “numbers-based”. It is fairly easy to tweak numbers. Damage numbers, gold costs/drops, experience/karma, etc. These, along with bugs, are things that make a large impact on play and are relatively easy to toy around with. According to Massively’s Elisabeth, the experience gain rate was fairly drastically altered between the closed press betas. At first it was considered too fast, having people rapidly out-level the zones they were in without seeing much of them. In the last beta, people reportedly had to do virtually everything in a zone in order to stay leveled, and sometimes beyond. Those will give vastly different user experiences, but I’m fairly certain it isn’t that difficult for them to modify that.
On the other hand, let’s look at a few things that probably aren’t constructive:
  • “This game is boring!” That doesn’t mean anything. It isn’t helpful in any way. Besides, if you just plain don’t like it, that doesn’t mean there is a problem with the game, you simply don’t like it, and that’s fine.
  • “This class sucks/that class is OP!” You may be right, or you may not. What you need to do is provide examples.
  • “I don’t like how X looks.” If it’s a bug, then sure. If it’s not, odds are it won’t be changed and you are being pedantic.
Again, if you don’t like how the game looks or plays, that probably isn’t going to change, and it isn’t realistic to expect it to. Unfortunately, nothing can ever be perfect, or even good, for everyone involved.

The Initial Rush

There is a lot to see in this game. There are also going to be a lot of people playing. Hundreds of thousands. All at once. All in the same starter zones. I caution everyone that starts up to take this into consideration; aside from launch, this will be one of the only times that you will have such a huge crush into such small areas. I recommend that you either spread out a bit, or be aware that not everything works perfectly with hundreds of people all doing the same event. Ideally, the system is designed to scale up, but I think that we all know that no system is perfect, and this will be nearing the absolute peak of stress. As such, remember that this is passing and most of the game won’t play out quite like the first few hours. As people spread out, the events will feel much more manageable and personal. As I said at the beginning though, this post isn’t about advice on how to play, it’s about the mentality of the players and testers. Input will be useful if the starter areas are packed, but not nearly as useful as feedback once you are past the throng of eager, hungry fans. Lag will be at its worst in the very first few hours, so don’t get discouraged and write the game off.

This will be an exciting time for many of us in the GW2 community. Even those members who were in the closed beta will be seeing something new: their friends. They will be able to talk when they previously had to silently and patiently wait. No longer. This beta is not under an NDA, so all of us can now screen shot, record, discuss, and publish all that we want about this weekend, and I for one, as a non-press-blogger, am thrilled to take some footage to show and discuss. See you all in beta!

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3 Responses to Priming Your Mind for Beta

  1. mordakai7 says:

    Excellent post!

    It’s going to be soooo crazy at Beta I don’t even know what to expect.

    And since everyone and their mom has a blog now, it will be very interesting to see all the feedback.

  2. ArcherAvatar says:

    The sentiment of this entire post is quite helpful and very much needed, especially because many of the participants in this April BWE will have already paid for the game, and I’m certain more than a few of those will confuse this with paying for the opportunity to be in the beta… which of course brings with it an attitude of entitlement that will not be helpful or needed.
    (We paid ahead of time for the completed game… getting into the BWEs is just a nice perk associated with making your mind up early.)
    .
    Hopefully the messaging from fansites and developer alike will echo what you’ve done here and strongly emphasize the fact that this is still a BETA TEST, and not a demo, or early entry – at least not yet. It’s practically inevitable that many will fail to take this into account no matter how forcefully it is advertized, and that’s a shame because (as you pointed out) the game is still “formative” and constructive feedback could still provide help to the developer that would be much appreaciated.
    .
    Players will of course have their own agendas as well (even if this is still a beta test) and I know I have very specific things I want to check out about the game.
    I will be spending time in the PvP area with several different professions, looking at various “builds” with their traits and skills, and firming up my own list of which characters I will want to create first once the game goes live.
    Unlike some folks, I will take a look at the PvE content also, and I’m sure that ArenaNet are very much looking for feedback on it as well (especially any bugs like pathing issues in an area, or graphical anomolies.) I have no major concerns about “spoiling” myself. As an incurable altaholic I’m quite used to going through content many, many more times than other folks, and actually enjoy the “Rashomon” feeling associated with that process.

  3. Jimmeh1993 says:

    Very well written. You raised very valid points that hopefully everyone takes into consideration. Nice to see a viewpoint that focuses on the community instead of just the game.

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