The Legend of Beta Part I: WTF Happened?

Part 1Part 2Part 3

There are certain key words that have become natural triggers for people who are gamers: free, epic, loot, newb. But none have the lasting power or influence over our minds that that one, magical four letter word: Beta. Say it at convention and 20 heads will turn your way. Mention it online and your traffic boosts by 10%.

At PAX, I must have gotten 30 different invites and codes to sign up for them. But there is a huge loss that is hidden behind those enticing strings of digits. What has come lately is a huge shifting mindset regarding beta-testing from gamers, and more importantly, developers. Times have changed as gaming becomes more popular and mainstream. Infiltrated with twelve year old boys with tender egos and attention-whoring house wives, this sub-culture of the hardcore gaming comes with it’s own set of social rules, heirarchy, and bragging rights. Just like high-school all over again, everybody’s trying to be the cool-guy and forget the point of school is to learn. Well, once upon a time the point of betas was to test a game and improve on it. But that has been completely ruined: now betas are feared by developers and savagely sought by gamers, and for all the wrong, unfortunate reasons.

The issue is that Beta invitations have become a status symbol in recent years. As the popularity of PC gaming grows, so does the desire to be “in the know” and on the inside of exclusivity. Everybody’s blogging about it, posting about it, tweeting about it, and they are driven to be the one of the firsts to get their hands on it. And no matter who you are, if you’re an online gamer, you have definitely experienced that uncanny urge to Beta. I know I have. I am part of this pandemic. And so are you.

“So why is this a problem?” you ask. Because when status among peers becomes a driving force behind something, that something loses it’s “something”. See: teenage sex. See: iphones. They do it just to do it, they buy it just to buy it, because they want to be the cool guy and the object of envy from their peers. The real meaning and merit is lost in this struggle for status. We forget sex is supposed to be meaningful. We forget iphones are supposed to have utility in day-to-day life. That’s what betas have lost. The “testing” got dropped and hasn’t been able to find it’s way back, and it’s killing this important part of online gaming.

“So what’s this about developers being scared?” you ask.

The first issue is that gamers don’t respect NDAs. NDA Stands for Non-Disclosure Agreement: that’s a binding pact that during certain phases of testing, no information or media regarding said game is supposed to be coming out. You will always inevitably have that guy, or those guys, who ignore this and post screenshots, videos, and bits of information.

In small amounts this isn’t too big a deal. In fact, it’s even a good thing. Small leaks often keep the masses craving more. In droves, however, it becomes dangerous. It’s kind of like the density of water. It shrinks a bit before expanding. Likewise, for a small moment in time, leaked info is ok but then it becomes a problem that leads to the next big issue:

Gamers prematurely base their opinions on betas, and developers have become all too aware of this. How many times have I heard “Ugh, is that armor clipping?”, “How come these animations are so glitchy?” “WTF? LAG ON MY BETA SEVER? I’m not buying this game.” and I cringe every time. One of the biggest reasons Betas are postponed closer and closer to release is because people decide before it comes out whether or not it’s worth time based on glitchy, laggy, incomplete versions of the game. Sometimes they haven’t even tested it: they’ll make conclusions based on a screenshot and some angry guy’s blog post. Soon enough, if not already, having an open beta early in development will be marketing suicide and companies won’t be able to do it even if they wanted to. The suits will forbid it.

Gamers don’t fucking test in beta testing. Seriously. While I don’t have any official numbers, just from experience alone I can safety bet no less than 75% of players who get into betas haven’t contributed an ounce of useful information to the developers. All they do is cry in public chat. So basically there’s these droves of people posting screenshots and videos and running around wasting data and sever space just to say they can, will, and have.

That’s like having painters come over to work on your house and all they do is sit around, eat your food, order porn on your TV, and kick your dog. Wouldn’t you be pissed? Can you understand why developers are fed up?

Once upon a time, the point of a beta was to break a game. Testers purposefully pushed the client to it’s limits, and the developers wanted this. They wanted you to overload an area, they wanted you to walk through walls and fall through the world. And once upon a time, the bragging rights wasn’t about who was -in- the beta but rather who was able to find and report the weirdest bug and best exploit. It’s called beta testing after all, not beta leeching.

The only company that can pretty much put out a beta whenever they want is Blizzard because if someone complains about something, they can basically say “Fuck you, it’s beta, if you don’t like it, there’s 3,000 other people willing to take your place.” Blizzard has a large enough following that by sheer numbers, there are enough reliable testers around to make it worth the 80% of others who do nothing but spout bullshit about low-res textures and nerfs to their class.

It’s a crying shame, too, because with technology and social networking being what it is, there has never been a better time to test out games and help developers dig up the sorts of bugs only players have the magic ability to find.

We’re likely to find in the next few years that game companies no longer release open betas at all. Instead, fans are likely to get a “demo” a few weeks, maybe a month or two, prior to release when the game is essentially done and simply needs the sort of en-masse testing for stress, servers, and population issues. And we only have ourselves to blame. Yes, our number-crunching, epeen evny-ing, status obsessed selves.

Anti-Lurk Q&A: Have you ever beta’d without testing (DO YOU FEEL GUILTY? J/K)? Do you think companies are right to worry? How do you feel about the impending Death of the Beta?

Aion wants you back. No, really. They’re desperate.

Aion announced earlier this week in a news update that they were going to automatically reactiviate all accounts for the weekend, and offer a double XP reward event as well. They originally had also offered free character transfers since merging

This is semi-exciting news for anybody who had been toying with the idea of playing again. Even I was tempted, if only for a  stark reminder of why I quit in the first place.

AION hasn’t crossed my mind since I rage quit a after level 10; i had made a scout and upon choosing my destiny as a ranger, found out that the mechanics were horrible. Everybody kept saying “oh they get better after 20″ and such, but 10 levels of suffering is hardly worth it, IMO. How can one justify that? A delicate leveling bracket (10-20) being insufferable is worthless.

I’ve played a lot of MMO’s of different kinds, and for a combat mechanic from one class to cause me to pretty much quit the game entirely is pretty bad. I usually just switch classes and start over. I mean, level 10 is nothing, right?

My leveling experience aside, I’ve heard nothing good about the end-game past 30. It becomes a grind for levels and gear, worse than anything many players have experienced, and the pvp is completely lopsided since server merges downed the maximum realms to 5. I don’t even know where my useless ranger is at this point.

Anyway, if anyone is interested in picking the game up again, this weekend is the golden ticket. The biggest let-down is that they dropped the free server x-fers for the time being, making any re-activated accounts who have no clue where their toons are now (like myself) can’t move over to a server with friends. Go figure.

PS:

Day 3 of the Hurricane RealID, Damage is Begining to Surface

Brief recaps:

Day one, the official announcement is made during regular sever maintainence. The initial shock and repulsion by fans is unprecedented. Blues are overwhelmed by the response and attempt to keep the massive response under control. Blizz Employee reveals his true name and the backlash is intense, he is forced to take down his facebook.
http://izziebytes.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/blizzards-realid-forum-shitstorm-is-cat/

Day two, the scope of the reaction reaches new heights. Blizzard officially announces that RealID -will- happen, and that they were aware it would turn away many current posters and were ok with this consequence. Activision’s announcement that RealID will be integrated with Facebook and their partnership begins to raise eyebrows. Enraged gamers start to make a connection between Activision’s increased involvement in Blizzard’s marketing to their decreasing integrity.
http://izziebytes.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/the-irl-maelstrom-continues/

So it goes on

Here we are at day three of what is easily one of the most impacting events in the history of gaming and the gaming industry. The world-wide attention of this is much more far-reaching than we expected. I said this was history in the making in my first post, but even I didn’t realize just how big this was going to be.

Fellow blogger Zaldinar has been keeping rigorous track of as much information as he can. His lists are much more organized and comprehensive than mine, and I feel his posts are beyond a must-read:

http://zaldinar.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/the-case-against-realid/
http://zaldinar.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/the-problem-with-real-id/

What is stunning is the list of mainstream news sites that have covered this since it’s fruition on Tuesday, including the BBC. With all this publicity going around, it’s amazing at how inappropriate the developer’s reaction has been, which leads me to this interesting new factoid:

Rumor Mill
A moderator from the Guild Wars 2 Guru forums, Neo Nugget, pointed us in the direction of this posted rumor on the Starcraft Inc-Gamers forum:
http://starcraft.incgamers.com/blog/comments/rumour-blizzard-realid-unpopular-internally/

Although the validity of the comments is here-say at best right now, it may suggest that Blizzard creative team are just as miffed at this system as we are, have little control over it, and even possibly left a little in the dark. Whether this is directed at the RealID forum change or the Facebook partnership I’m still unsure of. The post was quoted from the 40,000+ thread on the forums, so it’s hard to say. While it’s definitely a case of he-said, she-said there are a few things that anybody who’s seen this sort of corporate push and pull will recognize:

• The creative team (artists, programmer, designers) having little to no say in the business aspect of any company is nothing new. It’s unfortunate, but a reality.
• Corporate hush-hush is a huge problem when it comes to big business and PR. Just look at BP and their Gulf fiasco. Press are being forcefully turned away and anybody working with them in the clean-up efforts are forced to sign non-disclosure contracts.
Needless to say, I have little doubt that Blizzard employees are under similar pressure from the higher-ups. They are remaining rather cold and neutral on the subject: the only blue that has been saying anything of note has been Wryxian of the EU forums.
Both this scenario’s are common in big corporate decisions like this, and thus lend themselves to some validity. The poster on Inc-Gamers is trying to dig up more info / confirmation on the subject, so I will keep an eye out for any updates.

US vs EU
That brings me to another interesting and final thought for now: why is it that Europe has been much more open about it than the US? Albeit, it’s just one poster, but I do find it interesting that all we’ve gotten State-side has been a whole lotta copy-pasta “please post in the main thread” spam. A lot of posters are assuming we’re being ignored, but Wryxian insists that all feedback is being looked at and considered and is urging gamers to continue providing suggestions and comments on the matter:

I can only reiterate what we’ve already said, that is that we are listening and compiling your feedback for review and consideration. We cannot foresee what will be the outcome of that and thus we cannot make predictive statements about future events and decisions. However, when there is further information to share, as is always the case we will endeavour to share it here.

At the same time he says that RealID is going live in it’s current form … basically regretting the loss of constructive posters like Flanks:

Privacy is very important and if you’re not even slightly comfortable with revealing your real name in the forums, then I think it is perfectly understandable that you err on the side of caution and just don’t post. It’s a shame that some perfectly constructive and decent folk predict they will no longer be posting in our forums when we make this change.

Lots of mixed information in that regard. It’s hard to believe they are seriously considering what we’ve all said when it seems pretty clear that this is happening in it’s current iteration. Maybe there’s something to be said that Blizz has little to no say in the future marketing of their products. And I can’t help but wonder if the silence from the US suggests they are under stricter non-disclosure rules than the EU reps.
More to come!

Special Links / Updates Section

Factoids: • 22% of all cyberstalking involve online acquaintances. • Over 4,000 posts have been deleted from the RealID Megathread

• A pro-RealID poster challenges the masses to find him. A fellow WoWer takes up the challenge and within 20 minutes is talking to him on his work phone. Read the tale here, it’s extremely interesting, and kudos to both parties for going about the entire thing in a mature, classy manner. Despite the fun-ness of the story, though, it still sends a huge warning about how easy it can be to find someone / be found with just a name.

http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=25626461439&sid=1
As plans to move forward with the facebook partnership continue, little is said about consumer reaction.

http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=25626051708&sid=1
Somewhat of a self plug: posted a thread to try and extend my thanks to Wryxian, and some discussion on the state of US Employees has started. I’m not the only one who feels they are in a pickle dealing with parent company policies.

• Treesdiel continues to provide us with more content: coverage from reputable news sources
Wall Street Journal –
http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2010/07/07/real-names-rile-online-warlocks-and-wizards/

Washington Post –
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2010/07/world_of_warcraft_real_names.html

• In a twist of savage but warranted irony, someone posts a slew of information about Robert Kotick, the soul-drained CEO over at Activision, including but not limited to political donations. This gets more and more interesting:

The IRL Maelstrom Continues, Blizz apparently is OK with it.

Note: In keeping this up to date, the end of the post will include quotes and a lot of links to threads, posts, blogs, and outside sources of interest to this topic. So be sure to check back down there for any updates and additions. And a huge “Thank You!” to Treesdiel, Jake, commentors and friends who have been pointing me to new content and helping me keep this updated.
More Izziebytes Coverage:
Day 1 : Initial Impact
Day 3 : Continued Damages


Alright, well, good morning America.

As an update to my post yesterday, since I went to bed last night and checked the forums in the AM briefly at breakfast, it would appear the madness of the General Discussion Forum hadn’t slowed down one bit. I replied and true to form, ended up three pages behind. By the time I got to work (now) posts have eclipsed 20,000 on the American forums, reaching 5,000 on the European forums, over 1,000 on the Starcraft 2 forums and thousands more comments across other WoW-related platforms.

One thing of note is that the OP in the American forums has been edited down to a brief summary and is now pointing to the Battle.Net / Starcraft 2 thread that has the full and updated explanation. I suppose they’re trying to push the flood over to Battle.Net, where Warcraft Players can’t actually post, but it hasn’t seemed to stop anything.

To be expected, right now most activity is coming from Europe as the work day hasn’t started in California yet, and they have actually been addressing some of people’s fears. Most importantly, they’ve made it pretty clear RealID is happening regardless of what players say, but that they are reading as much as possible and considering the reaction of the players. America -should- be seeing some replies coming in an hour or three. Some quotes of note:

We have been planning this change for a very long time. During this time, we have thought ahead about the scope and impact of this change and predicted that many people would no longer wish to post in the forums after this change goes live. We are fine with that, because we want to change these forums dramatically in a positive and more constructive direction.

There’s a lot of scare-mongering going on about the change, but there seems a need to make something very clear. The forums have always been an optional extra — something you can choose to participate in if you wish to. With our Real ID changes for the forums, this is still the case. The only difference will be, if you do choose to participate in the forums, then you will do so by using your real name. But only after you’ve been warned and accepted this in advance. [Source]

So there you have it, folks. RealID Forums are happening whether we like it or not. They go on further to explain that they feel the over-reaction of a few has lead to scare-mongering and wide-spread panic and confusion.

The saddest part about all this is that the fact that we don’t trust -each other- and that’s the problem. We’re not afraid of Blizzard, or the FBI, or anything like that. We fear each other. We’re afraid of having our personal lives targeted by fellow gamers.

The other sad part is that Blizzard would have -never- even dreamed of something like this before merging with Activism. Pig-Headed or not, stepping the bounds between gaming and something a little less desirable.

I’ll keep this post updated as more information comes along.

Special Super Links Section

Here I am keeping a close eye on as much relevant information as possible. Some of the links are of extreme interest to anyone that is deeply concerned with this development, while others are simply further reading. Feel free to add suggestions via comments.

• A disturbing rumor floating around finds itself all but confirmed on WoW.com. Apparently the plan to “show the danger” of RealID by revealing the brave Blue’s personal information has backfired: Blizz has apparently taken back their original statement that their employees names would be also be displayed, meaning theirs will be hidden while players would still be forced to use theirs. Thanks again to Trees for the update.

•  A wonderful thread post consolidates the most popular concerns as well as links of note from among the masses. It includes links to articles and quotes regarding Acitivsion Blizzard’s plan with intergrating RealID with Facebook, another issue that is likely to start more issues, especially given Facebook’s recent trackrecord of privacy breaches with its own users.

A great effort on part of this poster and others who have contributed.
http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=25552355289&sid=1

• A lovely piece of irony. Exerted form an interview about the integration of Facebook and RealID: [Thanks to Treesdiel for the link!]
Do you expect any push back from diehard Blizzard fans from the Facebook features?
We don’t anticipate any. We are going to be very clear and upfront with the user. Once they log in and create a Battle.net account for the first time, if they choose to participate in Real ID, it is of course, an optional set of features that you don’t have to participate in. Beyond that we are going to notify them upfront their names could be used to populate via Facebook and how their names could be used via this Facebook feature.

A little too Conspiracy Theorist for me, but an interesting post here recounts the US Military’s interest in MMO’s and how they use these games to predict mob behavior.

Those concerned and wanting to stay updated can join a Facebook group here, dedicated to those of us who are against all the changes. Big thanks to Naktab for the heads up.

• A quick recount on Blizzard’s plan to merge Battle.Net and Real ID With Facebook. Thanks to Jake.

• Annndd Activision’s official investor page announcement on said merge.

• Ctrl+Alt+Delete mocks RealID’s fail troll-spray in today’s comic, as well as shares their thoughts on what this whole system means. Thanks, again, to Jake for the tips.

• 4chan not surprisingly has a rather active thread on the subject. Caution: it’s 4chan. Read with care.

• For an epic reply from someone who’s name I cant even find:

When they offered race changes, some rose up and said, “This is a harbinger of things to come!”
I laughed. Silly, I thought.
When they offered faction changes, some rose up and said, “This is a harbinger of things to come!”
I laughed. Ridiculous, I thought.
When they offered pets and ponies in the store, some rose up and said, “This is a harbinger of things to come!”
I laughed. Optional, I spouted.
When they offered ReadID, many rose up and said, “This is a harbinger of things to come!”
I laughed. Uneasily, I laughed.
When they forced forum names on us, we all rose up and said, “Enough!”
I hung my head. I, and many like me, enabled this day to happen. I am so very, very ashamed.

Blizzard’s RealID Forum Shitstorm Reaches Category 5

Note: In keeping this up to date, the end of the post will include quotes and a lot of links to threads, posts, blogs, and outside sources of interest to this topic. So be sure to check back down there for any updates and additions. And a huge “Thank You!” to Treesdiel, Jake, commentors and friends who have been pointing me to new content and helping me keep this updated.
More Izziebytes Coverage:

Day 2: IRL Storm Continues, RealID unchanged
Day 3 : Continued Damages

Anybody paying even minor attention to the gaming industry today will probably have heard about Blizzard’s uncanny announcement that RealID would be used in future Battle.net2.0 forums for all their games. What this means is instead of posting on your realm forums under your main, a Blood Elf Pally named Shnookums, it’d post as you, your real life self, John Doe.

Needless to say, this raised more than a handful of eyebrows. And by handful, I mean over * 10,000 replies in the official posts on the WoW forums and almost 1500 on MMO-Champion at the time of this writing (and counting, I assure you).

Replies and concerns vary greatly:  those who’d rather not have some shmuck they ganked google their pictures or sign them up for porn on their e-mails, females worried about being harassed, etc. Then there are those legitimately fearful of abusive exes or overly-judgmental employers who are sometimes warned not to hire Warcraft players or gamers. The most extreme, and unlikey but very real threat, is that of unstable / borderline pscyhotic players who can now more easily get a hold of personal information about someone they may want to target, such as the case of a counter-strike player stalked and stabbed by a rival.

The biggest argument for it is that it will thwart trolls. That’s the idea, anyway, that no one can really anonymously post their Gentleman T-Rex ASCII art or call you a fucking newb without you knowing now.

But wait. You can still technically hide because it’s optional to have your character name displayed with your real name. So basically someone named John Smith can go flame some random pug tank he disliked on said tanks home forums, but nobody will know who they are in-game, only who they are IRL. And if he’s named John Smith…well, you get the idea.

Others say that forum posting is optional: and they’re right. This is blizzard’s site, they can technically do with it what they want. It’s also somewhere in the fine-text of the TOS, but nobody knows when that happened. But if it goes through, it’s digital suicide for the official community. People will stop posting, migrate to other outlets like MMO-Champion, and Blizzard will have lost a very vital tool: official control over their community. They can no longer delete posts bashing their products, mentioning other games, or threatening their mods, GMs, and other staff. They can’t monitor what’s being said or gain official feedback.

Sure, the trolls will be gone because there will be nobody left to troll.

My thoughts? It’s counter-productive, stupid, and a mistake from all angles, both business-wise and social wise. I have a huge doubt it’ll go live. The fact that there’s yet to be any official reaction from the Blues in my mind indicates that this is was a very unexpectedly massive and negative reaction and they have no fucking clue what to say.

It’s tough for them I suppose. The entire system is likely almost ready to be implemented meaning resources have already been spent. But it’s hard to ignore the outcry. This is the biggest reaction to anything ever in the history of Warcraft and Blizzard games. This, my friends, is history already made.

Things with Blizzard have changed since they’ve become the monopoly they are, between becoming greedy with overpriced services, bullying other companies with immature and unethical marketing tactics, and milking their devoted playerbase for what it’s worth. Blizzard is falling prey to the same poison apple other formerly cool-for-the-everyman company (IE google, apple, facebook, etc) has savagely devoured once the big bucks roll in.

Thanks to a good friend and fellow wow-player, Jake, there’s a great read on how Blizzard’s business model has changed here:

http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=128252

Whether it’s soley pressure from Activision, their own inflated egos, or a combination of both, one thing can definitely be said: this is not the same Gamer-Next-Door group they once were.  The only thing that will stop it is if we, the players, make a stand for what gaming should be about; if the above links are any indication, this is something that we are ready to do.

Edit 1: * Grand total of posts reached 11600 as of 9:40 pm


Edit 2
: As of 10:00 the total has reached 12,000. Additionally, I found out what all this Micah Whipple crap is about. Blizz poster Bashiok posted his real name  on the forums, a move i’m sure he deeply regrets as now his phone number, facebook,  picture, and personal information about himself and his family is now very public.


Edit 3: 10:34 PM. The plot continues to thicken. In another creepy twist, apparently cancelling your subscription to WoW is no longer instant. Instead, you have to fill out a form and wait for a confirmation e-mail, and an odd glitch seems to be keeping players trying to cancel in an endless loop
. WoW.com reported earlier in the day that a loophole allows some in-game addons to actually have the ability to access RealID names without that person having been added. Activison Blizzard stock falls almost immediately after the announcement is made.

Blizzard responds with a handful of shallow responses that completely dodge the main concerns of players.