By Danny "Ralsu" Gourley
Jillions of Beta "Testers" out
Last week, I asked readers to weigh in on their view of games that use a lobby to join players. Should they be given consideration as true massively-multiplayer online games? Only megaflux was brave enough to respond. I prefer thinking that more than one person reads the Top Ten Free-to-Play Games each week to asphyxiating myself with my mouse cord, so I'll assume megaflux speaks for everyone or that no one cares. Henceforth, I will consider games with a lobby as viable for this list, which means I will spend more time in the future with games like Warrior Epic, Rakion, and Exteel. Case closed. Moving on.
As Runes of Magic gets set to roll into Closed Beta Phase III in early November, I have been pondering the importance of a solid beta test for a free-to-play (F2P) game. Ever seen a free-to-play game advertised on television? I have seen ads for Maple Story and maybe Dungeon Runners. That's it. And that's my point. With hundreds (maybe thousands) of F2P games out there, and little startup money left after development for marketing, it is critical that companies generate some positive word-of-mouth prior to the official launch of their games.
The best way to create buzz for a game is to get people to play it, so FTP games typically have huge beta tests with thousands upon thousands--possibly jillions!--of "testers" who are really there to try the game instead of help make it better. Quite honestly, the strategy fails much of the time. The so-called testers don't bother to report bugs. They play until they encounter something that turns them off to the game and leave. They tell their friends only about the offensive gameplay element, and the game is relegated to the anonymity that comes with a glutted market.
Frogster Interactive, the folks behind Runes of Magic, wanted a different fate for their game. When Closed Beta started, Ten Ton Hammer was fortunate enough to receive 50 guaranteed invitations for its readers. The small number was part of Frogster's strategy to make sure the game had dedicated testers. The goal was to refine the content and fix bugs. It was not the normal advertising scheme employed by so many competitors.
Only after it was satisfied that the foundation for Runes of Magic was polished and solid did Frogster admit a large number of new testers to perform stress tests and fill the servers. This time, Ten Ton Hammer was granted up to 1500 beta slots. Closed Beta III in November looks to be the last invitation-only phase of beta for Runes of Magic. December will likely bring the open beta for the window shoppers of the internet.
Frogster deserves praise for treating its game like a real game where production value matters. Free-to-play does not have to mean low budget and poor quality, and the careful approach Frogster used with beta will ensure the release product is one worth playing. Since the Closed Beta is under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), I can't say what I have or have not seen in the game--or that I have seen anything at all. Instead, I will drop a few links to some public information that should properly showcase the potential of this game and help readers understand why I am so excited about it:
- Aslan Valley Zone Preview - Note the attention to detail for the lore. A game with a solid story will keep players hooked instead of feeling the grind.
- Combat Dev Journal - Since much of a gamer's time is spent in combat, the system needs to be good.
- Combat Screenshots - We can see enough here to understand the comparison to World of Warcraft (WoW) in the area of graphics. If the rest of the game is as good as WoW, can Frogster go wrong?
- Combat Video - Stills are great, but you know you want to see it in action.
- Faction Screenshots - Further proof of a detailed backstory. A world with conflicting factions feels more alive.
- Armor Screenshots - We're all vain when it comes to our virtual avatars. We want people to be jealous of us just by looking at our cool characters.
- Dungeon Screenshots - This collection only has four screens, but each dungeon looks distinct. Nobody wants to play the game where every new dungeon looks like the one he just left.
- GCDC 2008 Awards - Runes of Magic won the Best Free-to-Play award from Ten Ton Hammer.
Are you excited about Runes of Magic? Think you know how F2P games should handle beta testing? Let us know in our forums.
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Ten Ton Hammer network or staff.
October 30 2008
Last week: 1
|Atlantica Online - (http://atlantica.ndoorsgames.com/)
Why you should try it: Atlantica requires players to think. Yes, think! Every time I play, I see a newbie ask how to defeat Hellish Fairy (the first boss) in Peer chat. Age old tactics of "whack it until it's dead" do not apply to this game.
Last week: 2
|Wizard101 - (www.wizard101.com)
KingsIsle Entertainment, Inc.
Why you should try it: Eventually, you will have to pay to unlock all of the content in Wizard101. Meanwhile, the content available for free is polished, balanced, and fun. Read the first impressions over on the Hamster and check out the Halloween video.
Last week: 3
|Mabinogi - (http://mabinogi.nexon.net)
Why you should try it: Mabinogi has a deceptively simple combat mechanic that stays fun for a long time.
Last week: 4
|Dungeon Runners -
Why you should try it: Dungeon Runners has the best sense of humor of any game you can play. The game even makes fun of itself.
Last week: 8
|Runes of Magic -
Why you should try it: Runes of Magic has a lot of promise. When Open Beta comes, the world will get to see if Frogster can deliver on that promise.
Last week: 5
Why you should try it: Magic World Online tells a tale and puts your character at the center of it all. In doing so, it provides an element that is missing from so many other games on the market--even subscription games.
Last week: 6
|Rohan: Blood Feud - (www.playrohan.com)
YNK Interactive Why you should try it: Rohan is as solid a game as any for the first 20 levels. The graphics are nice, and the world feels alive because of the factions. The player base continues to dwindle, though.
Last week: N/A
|Warrior Epic - (http://warriorepic.com) Possibility Space Why you should try it: Warrior Epic is poised to offer a fine dungeon romp with unique character classes and a grand story. The Closed Beta ended some time ago, and little had been heard from the game until the recent promotional video.|
Last week: 7
|Dream of Mirror Online - (http://domo.aeriagames.com)
Aeria Games & Entertainment
Why you should try it: Dream of Mirror Online features a lively and active player base. The players are pretty generous, too. The dual class system is fun and allows more versatility in a group. Good thing, too, because you must have a group to progress.
Last week: 9
Why you should try it: Florensia allows players to break the tedium of land adventures with sea combat and travel. It makes the world seem more realistic and gives players with limited time options.
Please refer to the Top Ten Free-to-Play Games Portal to find out how to get a game you make or like on this list.