Wednesday, June 18, 2014

ALPHA: Friends like These

That all depends on the definition :P

There may have been a fair deal of lamenting the lack of actual content in game of late, but there's plenty of new experiences to be had in the Warlords Alpha, and this week another wave of 'family and friends' got the nod for entry. I've seen more than a few people complaining about their lack of access, for whatever reason, and it has made me consider the meaning not simply of the word 'friend' (I recommend this article for a brief overview of how that term has evolved since the advent of social media) but of the reasoning behind exactly who it is that gets the nod to test in these early rounds of content (because yes, it still is very early days.) The Holy Grail for Blizzard must be, inevitably, to pick the right combination of players who will provide the most useful range of feedback. What was abundantly apparent from their experiment with the last round of Beta Tests in Pandaria was that sometimes, quantity is never a substitute for quality.

A LOT has changed in 3 years.

Blizzard have learnt a lot about selection processes in three years. A cursory glance at the people currently streaming or writing about the Alpha will show a clear move toward those who aren't simply here because they paid for the privilege, or that it was part of an agreement. Targeting information at the right people has become a massive growth industry (/looks at social media again) and this inevitably results in getting feedback that helps designers poke the games in the right places. Blizzard also enjoy the use of the targeted survey: I've completed one in the last three months that put a lot of emphasis on features for the new Expansion, and what I was interested in as a focus. It also asked some fairly pointed questions about my gaming habits, because it isn't simply about the Blizzard titles I favour, after all. However, in all of this, sample sizes don't give the whole picture. You just have to look at the various female characters in gaming discussions going on to know that sometimes, the people you ought to be targeting aren't the people your data says you should be.

Often the people you want to target are never the ones making the biggest noise.

Not just the ones you hear.

As I have discovered with my World Cup of Warcraft, sometimes it takes a while for people to complain about something they don't like, but there inevitably will be those who won't complain at all, they'll simply leave. Ironically, when you unsub from Warcraft you'll be given a fairly comprehensive list of reasons to complete as to why, but nobody is expecting you to pick any of them. There is a world of difference between being given an option and actually taking it. How do Blizzard know that they are actually getting the right messages? I assume ultimately they assume that people who are given surveys and respond to them care enough to want to change things they don't like. Players who push for Alpha access (for whatever reason) feel a need to play because they want to understand what has changed. Anyone who makes an effort to take the time to write a Blog or open a Forum post clearly wants to gain *something* from the action: then you have to decide the relevance. Is this person simply wanting to take part because it means they now posses a unique manner to improve their visibility as a 'personality' or are they genuinely here to help the efforts to produce a better game?

Either way, it is free publicity for Blizzard's products, so in the end it really doesn't matter. Everyone still 'wins.'

Fel Reaver Redux.

The next couple of months will be crucial for the game, because if Blizzard want to hit that Q4 deadline for release, some major stuff will have to drop fairly soon. We'll need a couple of months to get used to the new ability squish in the Old World, for starters, which is already pushing us very close to Blizzcon time. I also suspect this is the calm before the storm, which is why when I get back from Real Life today I'll be running the Horde Garrison experience one last time before I (suspect) it could get switched off for a while and we end up in Shadomoon Valley. I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure this time I deliver decent feedback and make my choice as a tester mean something. Not just for the game, but for me, because I have begun to realise that doing the right thing regardless of the situation is actually more important to me in the long run than being part of the experience.

It is, as always, a case of priorities.

1 comment:

Raymond Hafner II said...

There is no unified WoW community, so the forum community is as good a litmus test as any. To dismiss it by saying not everyone goes to the forums is to dismiss the twitter, blogger, streamer, and other various types of fan sites.