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Friday, March 23, 2012

[BETA] You Can't Change Everything...

The last thirty-six hours have been a bit of a revelation, to be honest.

When I checked my mail yesterday and found my Beta invite I automatically assumed I'd be joining a set of servers with tons of people I knew: after all, most of the people I play with in Guild have been there nearly as long as I have. I am aware just how many people took the Annual Pass not simply for the shiny mount: you were told you'd get to see the new expansion before anyone else. For someone like me who's always wanted the opportunity but never had it, it was simply too good an offer to pass up on, and as I pay for my game time in advance, not a terrible stretch to afford. What I didn't do at the time was consider the practicalities of what Blizzard were proposing. Now we are here, in Beta Time, and it's apparent what was promised isn't quite as attractive as it was when originally offered.

There is one overriding practical issue to consider: one million people signed up for the Annual Pass. Without a massive investment, having servers to accommodate all those individuals on release... I think it's fair to say that it was never going to happen regardless of what people were expecting. It's also clear, that if you go look at the sequence of events leading up to yesterday, Blizzard haven't actually done anything horribly bad either. Mat McCurley has done a write-up in the last hour on WoW Insider on the legalities of this subject and frankly, if you're reading this and you feel aggrieved about what's happened since the Servers went live, you should go read that instead. When all is said and done, this is all about practicalities. Sending out a small number of Beta invites in the first wave makes perfect sense: lots of stuff is broken, more stuff simply doesn't exist. Just because you're not there now does not mean you won't be there eventually either, but patience is something many gamers don't have when it comes to subjects close to their heart. If they don't like something, they want to believe they have the power to change it, and that's good... most of the time.

I'm going to have to mention Mass Effect 3 now, aren't I?

The gaming world occupies a unique position when telling narratives, and also in the way it develops its future content. Can you imagine what it would be like if a TV station allowed it's audience to decide the fate of a popular shows spin off by taking over the minor characters and directing their actions? Maybe one day this will happen, but for now the Beta allows developers to 'test drive' their plans and interact in a totally unique way, but only to a point. That was the rule, until those people who decided they didn't like the way ME3 ended stepped in and caused a coup d'etat. For me this is a worryingly dangerous precedent: what's the point in people coming up with what they think are good narrative strings if they can be changed to something else that a vocal majority decide is better? What's to say they are any better over time anyway? Once you have a creative narrative, should it not have the right to remain untouched in its particular context?

I've heard a few people comparing what happened with ME3 to what has happened here, that by people power Blizzard could be forced to invite more people to be involved, and that's all well and good up to a point. It seems to me, what Blizzard needs above everything else, is people who can provide them with decent feedback. That means getting those who (I know) run the best sites around the Net a chance to log in and do what they do best: data crunch, theorycraft and stress test. I really think a million random people all mucking about because they can is a waste of time and effort. Reading Syrco's post on Being a Good Beta Tester is as thorough a demonstration as any of what you ought to do without thinking: it's not just about standing in SW with a L20 Panda showing people you played for four hours and got this far. It's about understanding how things work, and if they don't, being able to intelligently explain why.

The Beta Invitation system frankly shouldn't be nearly as random as it is, not after seven years. Blizzard say they know their community and want to foster a renewed sense of understanding within it. Why shoot yourselves in the foot then by leaving out people for Invites whose insight could be vital in strengthening the fabric of the game? I can think of many, many people who I follow on Twitter who are vastly more intelligent and articulate than I am, who should be playing this game and reporting back on it even at this early stage who aren't. I think, rather than just letting anyone in, a sense of order and distinct selection would have far more benefits than drawbacks. Maybe I'm being overly simplistic, I don't know, or maybe I'm missing a ton of people who are reporting findings that I don't know about, but if you have as much information as Blizzard clearly have at their disposal I think I'd want to start inviting people a little more intuitively.

When all is said and done, Blizzard's one half of the problem here. However, without them there would be no game, nothing to fight about, and ultimately this whole world we live in, with its real and virtual overlaps wouldn't even exist. You have to ask yourself what is acceptable in certain circumstances, and sometimes you just have to chalk certain things down to experience.

Next time someone offers you something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. You then have to decide whether you take a chance, or you don't. It's up to you. I just hope Blizzard learns the lesson that maybe next time it would be better just not to invite everyone to the party, and instead spend a bit of time and thought writing out the invitations first...

8 comments:

Andy said...

Yep, turns out democracy's not really such a great idea after all.

The Godmother said...

Democracy is a great idea, if everyone is using the same version ^^

Andy said...

The mythical version where everyone knows enough to make an informed decision? :D

Also, about the ME3 thing: I may be wrong with this but I thought the issue wasn't so much the ending being "non-Hollywood", but rather that the player's actions had too little effect on it, despite the game giving the impression they did. I'm kinda trying not to read too much about it though, as I haven't even finished ME2 yet (got bored by the 'all rooms are cubes' and infinite waves of enemies).

The Godmother said...

I was thinking more of the version where everyone has a good grasp of what is actually practical within a particular time frame, but perhaps I am being overly simplistic...

El said...

Your later arguments would make sense if Blizzard were capable of processing individual feedback and bug reports. But they aren't. For example, Cataclysm was riven with professions bugs, all lovingly documented, all completely ignored until release. Upon which Blizard ran around like headless chickens, hot-fixing things that had already been anticipated by anyone that bothered to check. From my perspective, it's frustrating.

Why test like this? I suspect:

1. Formal Quality Assurance is fundamentally difficult for WoW, due to the overall scale of the game, and the breath of game knowledge required. It must be one of the most complex pieces of software ever created.

2. Blizzard are primarily testing analytically. So instead of primarily reading bug reports, they are analysing player behaviour automatically. If enough players fall over at the same point, that point is broken.

That means it doesn't matter precisely who gets invited to test servers. The method works fine for the path well travelled, and saves time by not having to read the same Paladin QQ 10,000 times.

Unfortunately more marginal elements of the game tend to fall through the gaps: Few player-testers ever play through the obscure game content, and simultaneously Blizzard's own QA doesn't instinctively know enough about such content to test it manually.

The Godmother said...

I fully intend to get as obscure as I possibly can, and I do realise I'm not going to be the norm, but very much the exception :(

Thank you for the lesson, I do realise there's a lot of history I need to get caught up on...

Ratshag said...

"There is one overriding practical issue to consider: one million people signed up for the Annual Pass. Without a massive investment, having servers to accommodate all those individuals on release... I think it's fair to say that it was never going to happen regardless of what people were expecting."

Agrees. I'll take havin' fer ta wait a month ta get me invite over not bein' ables to get on fer a month 'cause servers is down or queue time is 2 hours any day.

syrco said...

I had both WotLK and Cata beta and did my best to test everything and give good feedback. I signed up for the annual pass but I never expected to get into the beta the first day or in the first wave. I really hope I get in soon, but I'm not sure if they take last beta feedbacks in consideration, I hope they do tho. Many people I know of who are in the beta now aren't actually testing that much or not as I think Blizzard want them to. They are playing it as a demo.