Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why the beta will be better than the release version

I’ve always been a firm no-sayer to beta testing.

No matter how done and over with we are with the current content – I can’t see how anything would become better by starting the next expansion in advance. It’s like ripping up every single Christmas present at Thanksgiving, leaving nothing for Christmas day. You’ll just get bored with the new game quicker, starting to crave for the next expansion (Emerald Dawn?) even quicker. It’s an evil, evil circle. Don’t enter it!

A reason to play the beta
That has been my standpoint until now. But as I read a paragraph in a recent post by Syncaine at Hardcore casual, a new thought crossed my mind.

I could have been wrong all this time. Maybe there’s actually a good reason to play the beta. Maybe the beta is where you get the best gaming experience?

Yeah, I know: it’s buggy as hell and anything you “achieve” will be vain, for nothing. And as it isn't finished yet, you can expect the classes to be rather unbalanced. But let’s assume the bugs aren’t worse than that you still can find fun things to do. And the argument that you can’t keep your character – well, that’s not much different from your “real” character, is it? In the end it’s just a bunch of 0s and 1s in Blizzards servers. Nothing in this is real or lasts forever anyway. And balance... well, they'll never make that perfect anyway, will they? There's always one class that is OP or at disadvantage, either it's in beta or live.

So, what exactly is it that changed my mind? What is it that the beta servers can offer that the normal game can’t?

The answer is: Innocence. Lack of knowledge. The state of mind when you're fumbling in the dark, leading to a playfulness that at least I fail to maintain in the real game most of the time I’m online nowadays.

Playing for fun
The quote from Syncaine comes from a post which in fact was about the planned XP cap in Final Fantasy that I wrote about the other day. So yes, I’m taking it out of context, but I liked the way he put the words and thought it was worth to spread:

“when you DON’T offer a direct path to a shiny (or it’s not yet know what’s the most effective/painful way to get it), MMO players actually, wait for it, play for fun. And, even more shocking, actually HAVE fun. The hour before UO servers went down (they did not record that hour), the first week of a new MMO (before the ‘optimal’ path is discovered, wiki’ed, and youtubed), the final days before a server wipe or a game shutting down, etc; all of this leads to the drones waking up and doing what they find fun. Amazing how that works eh?"
The first week of a new MMO before the optimal path is discovered, wikied and youtubed.

So true! But actually I wonder if it isn’t too late even during that very first week. A lot of the wikis and optimal specs and paths and the min-maxing and the guides will already be in place by then, thanks to the generous contributions by them members of the beta testing squad.

The closer you get to the release date, the more likely is it that you’ve already done your research, chosen the optimal spec and made up your mind what will be the quickest and most efficient way to level.

I know I will do that at least, even with the knowledge that it will take away a little bit of the magic. It probably sounds a bit weird. If I don't enjoy indulging all that information at once, I could easily chose to stay away from it, not taking part of any blogs or websites or video guides. But it’s easier said than done.

Boosting XP/hour
I know myself too well. When the expansion hits I’ll immediately start worrying that I’ll fall behind all those who can take a week off from work and just level up, getting ready for the next raid tier, while I – if my predictions about the release date are correct – will be in the middle of the pre-Christmas frenzy, and also planning for a two week trip to India. Which will be totally cool and amazing, but not helping a bit when it comes to keep up the pace of leveling with everyone else in the guild.

So I will look up the advice and I’ll try to boost my XP/hour as much as possible.

Now don’t take this from the wrong side. I'm not negative about Cataclysm and I'm looking forward to finally take part of it when it goes live as much as anyone else. But after reading Syncaine I’ve changed my mind about the value of participating in the testing.

In the beta you don’t need or want any guides – there aren’t even any around yet. You can be as clueless as you want to and just let yourself become enchanted and immersed as you conquer the world in your own random way. I would be irrational, guideless and absolutely thrilled.

I wouldn’t even look at my XP bar, anxiously wondering how long it would take to get me to max level, because it wouldn’t’ matter. The leveling would just be a side effect of what I was doing in the game and not my main goal of everything.

I don’t believe it would go on being “fun” like that forever. Finally it would start to itch and I would get raiding rashes. In the end that's the essence of WoW playing to me. Even if it includes using the optimal path that others have discovered on my behalf.

But from some aspects I definitely think that the beta, for all its imperfections, is more fun than the release version. There's a crispness and freshness over it that the finished game will have lost.

How I wish I was there!

PS. Another reason to want to be in the beta: it has turned out that half of my guild is hiding there. In the beta. No wonder Stormrage feels empty and lonely these days. :(

22 comments:

Fremskritt said...

Well written post as always, but for once I have a question:

Just because all the "optimal" ways of doing things are being posted on third party sites, does that mean you actually have to visit them? I understand your desire to be the best you can, but if you find the game more fun when not following a guide, why do so?

I'm going back to lurking now, again thanks for a nice blog which I enjoy a lot. :)

Iapetes said...

For me, what makes beta enjoyable is experiencing the development process. You get to try first-hand all the different things blizzard is trying with your class, and even have a decent amount of influence in how that turns out.

I'm definitely ruining the zone stuff for myself, playing a zone is nothing like seeing a few spoilers. But I figure I gotta have a first time through a zone sometime.

Dàchéng said...

How did your naked raiding go? From your remarks today, it seems your guild isn't planning on repeating the experience. What went wrong?

spinksville said...

I think you could have a little more faith in the WoW development team :) I don't ever remember finding it necessary to look up levelling guides for TBC or Wrath. If the new zones are well designed, then if you just go play then you'll level at a decent lick.

Instances will be a different matter, and I find that kind of sad. There are already videos and probably will be extensive beta guides before the thing goes live. It won't matter what one person wants if the others know the tactics or read the guides. But again, I think you have to trust Blizzard to make fun encounters that will be fun to learn even if someone is blatting out the guide they read on some beta testers blog.

But yeah, it's not the same as actually getting to see it when it's new to everyone.

It also sounds quite miserable and I bet it feels unfair if so many of your guild are in beta and talking about it a lot. *vibes*

Gevlon said...

Or you can just ignore the XP bar. Get an UI addon that doesn't have XP bar, and play.

Or decide: I will not level more than 1/4 level one day. After that 1/4 is done you are free to explore the world or fish or craft or whatever. Also, after the first day you will see that you can level unefficiently and still easily reach your 1/4 quota.

Syl said...

you're probably right - yet I would never spoil myself in this beta. wotlk is soooooo old now, you really wanna wait with cata until it's out or you'll be as bored there as you are now pretty soon.

if anything, you should force yourself to play in your own time when it comes out, there's really no reason to rush and it's sad to lose that part of the game just because you want to keep up with others. turn g-chat off and have some time to yourself. you won't miss anything, you will be running those new 5mans and 10mans to death just like we did in wotlk.

Chimpeh said...

@spinksville "But again, I think you have to trust Blizzard to make fun encounters that will be fun to learn even if someone is blatting out the guide they read on some beta testers blog."

I second your seeming thought on this point. It's so hard to actually discover fights for yourself if you're not playing in an atmosphere or guild that aims to do everything first.

Of course it's a bit different with beta as it has some more general access but I remember plenty scenarios where new raid content was launched and people from my guild would be all over the internet trying to find strategies for the bosses instead of running in there and trying to find their own stuff out. For me it takes out at least half the fun of practising and beating new encounters.

It's not so much the same with 5 mans as they usually allow you to get away with not knowing the tactics anyway. But it's still cooler to suddenly have fire elementals chasing people instead of knowing beforehand (Nethermancer Sepehtrea - Mechanar).

Syl said...

@chimpeh

then again it is really every player's and guild's self-responsibility if they want to read up on encounters and spoil it all. you dont HAVE to go and read guides just because you can. start of ICC my guild made the conscious decision to refrain from any preparations and raid 'blind' for the sake of more fun and firsthand experience.

if you're in a more casual environment then surely there's no need for spoilers at all?
i don't understand why people are in such a rush all the time unless you really wanna be there among server firsts / top ranks.
when i play cata i will enjoy every single level as if it were my last lol.

tufva said...

Apart from the fact that I have a huge bucket list to complete before Cataclysm (I am quite sure I will be lucky to get half of it done) - even if I had the time to spare I wouldn't want to be in the beta.

My main is the experiencer. She is a Seeker, a Loremaster, an Explorer. When the Cataclysm strikes the world she will be out there in the thick of it, experiencing for all her worth - reading every scrap of quest text.

I don't want to spoil that experience by being in beta and then just doing it over again.

Firespirit said...

Not to mention, we have all these in game addons that help too, such as the recent quest helper build in, and such.

I, myself, completed loremaster without the use of any leveling addons. And I don't enchant/gem/spec optimal until I get to end game. And only when I really need to. And I fully intend to play Cata the same way. I will go on a media blackout for the entire leveling process, which I will take my time on, btw. No addons, no help. I refuse to become a lazy quester. Plus, I like the lore anyway :)

Of course, it will bug the crap out of my leveling buddy, but its funny when I can later identify things of interest, know the maps, know the lore and story line BETTER than her, as she skips everything.

Hugmenot said...

Anxiety is serious business.

The fear one will be left behind because he or she did not "perform" as well as his or her peers often leads to decisions one come to regret later.

One thing I did to lessen that fear in my guildmates was to inform them I will attend and lead my first raid 6 weeks after the expansion is released. Several guildmates were relieved because they are dying to make a goblin and experience the new beginner's region, and not focus exclusively on the mains upon release.

Has your guild leader scheduled the first raid already? How important is it for you to attend it? Is your guild focusing on server first?

The answers may give you a good idea how much time you have to level, and how prepared (gear-wise) you need to be.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, Larisa. The "beta" servers are there to test the content/mechanics. To test them exhaustively.

I sincerely hope that very few people actually consider beta testing to be their playground. Search your damned "fun" elsewhere, because this shortsightedness is detrimental to you as well.

Stumps said...

@Anonymous: You're testing A GAME!! If you're not having enjoyment while doing it, what on earth are you testing exactly. Sure it should be tested for functionality, but you're still testing the functionality of an entertainment product. Since unable to provide even a name, I'm sure you're suitably embarrassed for the abusive tone, I can only hope so anyways!

Len said...

I also was dubious about Beta, thinking 'why would I want to get ruin the fun of a new expansion for myself and risk getting bored quicker??'

Then I got a beta invite...

I have to say, I get a lot of satisfaction out of bug reporting, giving suggestions and feedback. It makes me feel a part of the process of the game I've invested a lot of time in over the past few years.

Also, I'm focusing on leveling alts that I won't level again in game, therefore experiencing something different to when Cataclysm becomes live. I'm leveling without heirlooms and trying to put myself in the shoes of a brand new player when I give feedback.

Larísa said...

@Fremskritt: Thank you for your kind words! Well... I know too much of chocolate isn't good for me either, it will leave me fat, sad and with bad teeth. And yet I eat it sometimes. I'm human you know.

@Iapetes: I think that if I was in the beta, I'd probably level a worgen and a goblin. I suppose that wouldn't spoint too much to me. When the game arrives there's no time for that for a very long time, I'll go straight for my main.

@Dàcheng: We tried it for a couple of raids and we enjoyed it a lot. At least some of us did. But on the other hand - it did slow down our progression a LOT and in the end we decided to not stick to it for the entire ICC. But getting a taste for it was really huge fun imo. Very exciting.

@Spinksville: I followed a levelling guide... hm... don't remember the name of the guy who made them.... They were awesome. In Wrath I think I followed it a little bit for the first zones... then it took so long for him to get the rest done that I just levelled on without bothering anymore.

@Gevlon: Yeah... it actually depends on when Cata is released and when my guild decides to start raiding. I'd hate to miss out the beginning due to not being ready.

@Syl: Yes and no. Sure you can mind your own business but really, at least I think the raid instances are always best the first time when they're new to everybody. It's not as fun to join in a month later.

@Chimpeh: The most fun 5-man experience I ever had in Wrath was probably when we entered HoS without having a clue about anything. I really enjoyed that!

@Syl: yep, the blind raids were awesome! We ended up leaving it but it was really fun to experience it.

@Tufva: I can understand that standpoint too and I partly think so still. I'm kind of torn.

@Firespirit: Media blackout for the leveling, refusing addons. That sounds challenging but I'm sure it will give a deeper experience and knowledge. As long as you're not in a hurry it sounds fatastic.

@Hugmenot: No, there isn't any announcement yet as when raiding will start in Cataclysm, since we don't know the release date yet. To me it is important to be around when we start. There is a special feeling to the first times you enter a raid instance as a group. We are quite serious about our raiding, although I don't think anyone really is aiming for realm firsts. (We know we're the best guild on the server anyway :))

@Anonymous: I understand that actually TESTING stuff is the point of participating in the beta and I think I've stated that before on the blog. But as Stumps says in his comment: one thing doesn't have to exclude the other.

@Len: You sound like a very good beta tester!

zetter said...

(Boosting XP/hour
I know myself too well. When the expansion hits I’ll immediately start worrying that I’ll fall behind all those who can take a week off from work and just level up, getting ready for the next raid tier, while I – if my predictions about the release date are correct – will be in the middle of the pre-Christmas frenzy, and also planning for a two week trip to India. Which will be totally cool and amazing, but not helping a bit when it comes to keep up the pace of leveling with everyone else in the guild).


I am glad I am not the only one who is worried about this happening when Cata hits the shelves. I want to savour leveling in Cata like a fine wine but I can see the pressure will be there to get to 85 and hit the raids.
Like you we will have some people who will bliz up to 85 and there will be foot tapping to get the raiding going again. The only time I didnt have the pressure was during BC launch as I was fairly new to WOW and wasnt raiding.

Zetter

Anonymous said...

I am not sure about the first week comment.

The first week in WotLK was unpleasant. Crowds of hypercompetive people rushing to get to 80 first. the number of players overwhelmed the drop rate (Winterfin clams and caged murlocks). I also remember a couple of dozen people standing around in BT or Wintergarde spamming macros to target/tag the mob as soon as it spawns.

Vehicles are unpleasant any time, but interacting with addons that first week was especially unpleasant. In fact, the stability of addons the first week is quite low

Besides, the point of all the Betas is that I expect a complete leveling guide to be ready on launch day. Not optimal, but certainly the "first weekers" will not want to randomly explore the world and its quests. I remember WotLK differently than spinksville; one was reading the guides and deciding where to start. There was even discussions about what gear drops for your class in choosing BT or HF.

So the first week will be the most crowded, with the least pleasant people, under the most time pressure with the least client, server and addon stability using first generation leveling guides. The last week could be fun, the first, not so much. I think leveling the first few alts will be fun; getting your main ready to raid is serious business.

SpiritusRex said...

I had a beta key for Wrath and lasted exactly 2 hours using it. Rolled a DK and couldn't figure out how to get out of the friggin' starting area. I FAIL! In addition, I really was somewhat new to end-game at the time and truly was overwhelmed by the game mechanics, etc. Blizz kind of screwed up giving me an invite! Now that I look back, I'm glad I really didn't do much with the invite as I enjoy the journey to level cap too much.

Given your own situation and need to be ready to raid as soon as possible, you could always do what I've done. Make sure you have a raider toon and a leveling/lore toon. For instance, as you know, my main is a hunter and once the expansion hits I will attempt to level him as quickly as possible (nothing extreme, but I'm thinking within 10 days or so, depending on release date, holidays, etc.). However, I also have a level 80 fury warrior who is *puts fingers very close togethr* this close to completing loremaster and world explorer achievements. She also has a tanking set (at which I suck, but, hey, I never claimed to be good at everything). It will be this character that I will sloooooowwwly level to 85 during the down times, enjoying the quests, the lore, the various dungeons at level - to smell the flowers (well, in Cata's case, the fires burning) if you will.

Bottom line, perhaps you need to get yourself an alt to level cap - maybe level a worgen/goblin hunter. From what I've been told, the hunter class is faceroll easy. In fact, so easy a certain mage I know MIGHT be able to handle it :p

Gronthe said...

I've never beta tested anything, so any opinion I give is purely speculative. That said, I think for many raiders the reason why they can't just take it easy and innocently explore the world once Cata goes live is that many raiding guilds already have mandates out there to get to 85 and geared asap for the new raids.

Obviously a lot depends on the instructions of the guild leaders in these types of guilds, and if there are mandates currently in place I agree with you that a beta period could be a really great time of innocence and fun. However, if the only thing telling you to get to 85 asap is your own conscience, then you'd simply be limiting yourself by not taking the time to wander aimlessly or play without the help of pre-set "best in" anything.

Then again, I've never done any beta testing...ever, so what do I know?

SpiritusRex said...

@ Gronthe

You're comment has sparked a thought, albeit not full thought through, so please bear with me. I'm not so certain that "mandates" per se have been decreed by guild leaders. That being said, I know at least for me, the reason I will be leveling to cap with my raider as quickly as possible is that I don't want to be left out. It seems very rare are the guilds anymore where people cannot be replaced, or at least passed over, in favor of some fully-geared, raring to go person. And as most raiders, and almost all non-guilded raiders, can attest to, is the fact that once you're out of "the" group, it's awfully hard to get back in. It honestly saddens me tremendously that this is the type of raiding world we live in nowadays, but, since I love raiding so much, even with it's associated warts, I feel compelled to continue the cycle.

Further, and even more unfortunate and downright unfair, is the perception in today's Warcraft that if you are not on the cutting edge of content, you are somehow an inferior player - which such perception I personally find repugnant and just ridiculously stupid. This of course, just feeds the cycle of everybody go-go-going all of the time, instead of remembering that for many the game is all about relaxing from the go-go-going of real life.

Sorry for the digression, Larisa.

Larísa said...

@Zetter: Yeah... It's not as if someone else is putting pressure on me. It's more about myself. I don't want to miss out the fun bits.

@Anonymous: that's true about the first week. It was really crowded - even with two starting zones and not just one like in TBC. Maybe we put on some rosy lenses there. This doesn't change the fact though that I think the beta is enjoyable with its lack of stress.

@SpiritusRex: So much to do, so little time. My first priority will definitely be my main. I can't spend an hour on anything else before she's at cap. After that it's a devide between my druid alt or levelling a worgen. I'm not sure. It won't be something I do quickly in any case.

@Gronthe: doing it in your own pace is easier said than done, at least for me. I'm fairly competative in my mindset and I want to join the raiding as soon as it starts. Even if it means that it takes away a bit of the pleasure of enjoying a brand new (oh well... sort of) world.

Oscar said...

Ok, I'm *very* late to the party, but the truth just struck me:

Beta bra, men hemma bäst.

Sorry, couldn't resist :)