EQNext Landmark: The Reality of Alpha

With the EQNext Landmark alpha right around the corner, Veluux provides this cautionary tale about appropriately setting expectations for what the alpha release of an MMO actually represents.

EQNext Landmark - The Reality of Alpha

The second half of January has finally rolled around, and the EQNext Landmark Alpha is looming closer than ever, especially after John Smedley’s tweet last month that has done more than set the stage for the first pseudo-public release of the game:

Those of you who have purchased either a Trailblazer or Explorer version of the Founder’s Pack, you will get to be the first outsiders to play the game. You have probably kept a close eye on the planned time frame for release - which is still very much unknown at this point. If that unknown time frame upsets you, then you’re probably going to be equally angry, disappointed, or in an otherwise generally unpleasant mood when the Alpha does finally release.

The Founder’s Packs that SOE has been advertising for Landmark offer some great perks, primarily the privilege to set foot in the game prior to any other non-SOE affiliated players. However, there are several things that one should keep in mind prior to purchasing (or if you have in-fact already purchased) a Founder’s Pack with access to Alpha. I don’t share these to rain on anyone’s parade (particularly SOE’s funding for continuing to develop and improve the game); but the following facts shouldn’t be ignored, and players should know what they’re getting into beforehand.

The reality here is that Landmark Alpha players will be exactly that: Alpha-players. If you’ve never been an Alpha player (most people outside of game-development companies never have) then let me share some information with you.

EQNext Landmark 1

Games make their most radical leaps and bounds while in the Alpha state. Alpha is the place where ideas, thoughts, concept-art, and all the other “discussed” topics and decisions of a game are actually put into code and fully fleshed out. Some of these ideas, concepts, and so forth end up turning out to be completely terrible in real-time; and get changed, heavily modified, replaced, or completely scrapped altogether. Also, for those features, mechanics, models, environments, etc. that do make the final-cut - they are often totally raw and riddled with bugs as coders and programmers struggle to make the artists’ and designers’ vision a reality. It’s not that these code masters aren’t good at their jobs, it’s that their workload is ridiculously demanding and a large portion of their work is spent doing things that nobody has ever done before.

That’s what game developers do. They push the envelope and mix and match things, and create a brand new design and concept that’s usually never been attempted - unless you’re a WoW clone. It’s not an easy thing to get right on the first go around. Hence the reason that an Alpha state is so necessary.

Alphas are oftentimes a totally hollow shell of the game-to-be. Many alpha-state games have hardly any polish to them - since putting a boatload of effort and time into the details of a character model, texture, or environment design that’s going to end up getting cut from production would be an incredibly large waste of time. Many measures are taken to ensure those time and money sinks are completely avoided.

Alphas are worlds littered with bugs, glitches, proxies, to-do-lists, and a whole lot of patches. They usually aren’t extremely enjoyable places for most gamers - that is, unless you’re the kind of gamer that not just enjoys playing a game, but also understanding how one works, is made, and grows - from beginning to end. The part of an Alpha that you’ll likely enjoy the most, is all the developers’ patience and effort when you actually get to see the obstacles they have to overcome to include certain elements and features.

For those of you lining up at the digital-gates of Landmark, ready to storm the front door the moment Alpha goes live - brace yourselves. There's a good chance it’s not going to meet your expectations or preconceptions if what you're expecting is something that resembles a launch product. If it was, it would already be in closed (or open) Beta. However, it’s just not there yet.

EQNext Landmark 2

I see so many people clamoring for more information, complaining about features that won’t be ready, and becoming disgruntled about the unknown release date and its continued ambiguity. I personally don’t think it’s wise set hard timelines for any official release in an industry where 90% of the work is first-time-ever-tried; but that’s just my opinion. I guess enough people must enjoy that excitement/disappointment roller coaster. That, or developers really just don’t understand how irritating it is to be on the other end of the hype.

In any event, just remain patient, future Landmarkers. Alpha will arrive soon enough. Will I be super excited to join the party and explore this new world and new concept of MMO gaming? You bet! However, I’m also going into the game understanding what the reality of an Alpha is. And that, fellow fans of creativity, is an unfinished product with an unpredictable future.

Hope for much, expect very little - and you should greatly enjoy your experience of helping SOE develop and progress Landmark into what will ultimately be its Beta release. You should stick around too, because it’s only going to get better with time. Even after its initial “release” Landmark will continue to be added-to, and expanded upon for years as the concept of “building-your-own-MMO” begins to take life (and evolves with future mechanics and technology).

Welcome to the new world of online gaming, where even the development process is a marketable commodity (and an enticing one too)!

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