Free with your pre-order
written by Eric Nusselder op
If there’s one thing we’re not good at in the gaming industry, it’s creating definitions for our gaming terminology. If Metroid Prime was a remake, why is The Last of Us: Part 1 a remake? We’re now—thanks in part to Diablo 4—another richer terminological confusion: beta vs. beta.
Last weekend, the beta allowed players to get their hands on the first few hours of the long-awaited Diablo 4, and this weekend fans are also on the digital queue to enter the brave sanctuary. It’s a great preview of the game, which will finally be released on June 6th.
Unfortunately, the beta didn’t run smoothly in its first weekend. Players lined up for hours on Friday night before they could begin their diabolical mission. The servers seem to succumb to the great interest. Social media was filled with complaints: Why can’t I play?
It seems people have kind of forgotten what exactly beta means. The beta is a way for developers to test their game, to see if everything is on track and what technical wrinkles still need to be ironed out. But also: Can the servers handle the stress?
The developers also benefit greatly from player feedback after this beta session. Are skills and classes a bit balanced? What features have you already turned off? Finally, the developer learns a lot from the player data, for example which class is chosen often and which class is never chosen.
So playing a beta is a bit like volunteering. You put your hours into an unfinished product, as oftentimes your progress isn’t saved. The developer gains valuable knowledge from that, and you only get a nice taste of a game that has yet to be released. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as all parties know exactly what they are joining.
However, by complaining about the poor technical performance of Diablo beta, players are showing that they no longer understand the meaning of the word. Technical issues are part of the beta version. In fact, this is exactly what the beta is kept for, to be able to deal with these issues upon release.
Blizzard General Manager Rod Ferguson also took note this week. The word beta is misinterpreted these days. People call things beta which is a lot like ‘beta marketing’ which is another term for demo. That’s not the case with us at all. Our beta is meant to test the technology, especially in terms of servers. So It was a tough start last Friday.” He notes that several updates have already been released, which will only make Diablo 4 better.
That’s all well and good, but whose fault we got to see these kinds of previews as a demo? Did angry gamers think they were “entitled” to a working product this past weekend, or was that perhaps motivated by push marketing companies like Activision Blizzard? Last Weekend was not just a beta, but only available to people who pre-ordered the game. In other words: you had to pay the luxury to be able to play the demo.
Once you pay money for something, I think the situation changes. Of course you’ll pay the same amount for the pre-order as the final game, but with the beta as root you’ll be tempted to open your wallet now. Publishers have been trying to boost pre-order numbers for years so they can sell more copies to retailers. Well, if you also get what you are promised once you spend your money. But if that trial doesn’t work, it’s a different story. The trial version is part of the package you’re paying for, so you’ll obviously be disappointed if it doesn’t work.
Of course, nowadays we’re used to online games not really working flawlessly on release day, but that’s a different case. After all, the closed beta was only available for one (long) weekend. If it doesn’t work out for a full day, a quarter of the promised playing time is cut off.
Moreover, Activision Blizzard never missed an opportunity to put the beta in this way. I’ve had ad after ad on Instagram asking if I don’t want to pre-order the game, so I can ‘try it’ for free this weekend. This actually looks more like a demo than a beta. It is logical that this creates anticipation among the players.
So if developers like Blizzard want players to get to know the definition of a beta again, they should stop pre-ordering it as a bonus or advertising it as a free beta. Just clarify what it is: an unfinished version of the game, which helps to improve the game in the end. It’s fine print somewhere now, but that should be the main message. Especially if you are going to get paid for the privilege of doing that volunteer work.
On the other hand: you already know that when Diablo 4 comes out, the servers are going to fire on day one anyway. It’s the same with all online games: publishers don’t want to shell out enough servers to handle the unique initial player peak. That wouldn’t be very smart economically, because that huge peak wouldn’t come back after the first few days. But of course it’s not really customer friendly.
The beta last weekend was an excellent demo in this regard. It was a perfect preview of what to expect upon release.
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