Gaming's Struggle for Survival in a Tough Economy

The US economy is in recession. Some
people and news sources
href=""> style="">recognized
the recession before economists admitted it, but
almost everyone
agrees about the situation now. In fact, many other nations are feeling
crunch now, and the reduction in discretionary cash has hit the gaming
very hard. style="">Sony
cuts to eight thousand jobs but says href=""> style="">the reduction won’t affect
Sony Online Entertainment. Rumors of developers going without pay
abound, like
the one about href=""> style="">the
workers at Factor 5
. MMOGs already on the market
are looking at style="">server merges to
compensating for the loss of subscriptions. Meanwhile, href=""> style="">NCSoft trimmed personnel
but still href=""> style="">couldn’t
save Tabula Rasa.

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Unable to
resucitate: Tabula Rasa is doomed.

Ten Ton Hammer readers href=""> style="">recognize
MMOGs as a great value for their entertainment
dollars and are
committed to them, but the flailing economy likely will continue to
affect the
production of MMOGs in 2009. Companies will be forced to adopt new
and retail strategies to recoup escalating productions costs. They may
have to
alter their revenue models as well to finance support of their games
once they
launch. With the new year just around the corner, let’s examine four
that could become prevalent in 2009.


Martuk hits the nail on the head when
style="">he identifies three types of
beta testers
in his Hyborian Beta Tester Guide
for Age of Conan. Some people beta
test to
help the developer iron out the bugs. A good chunk of the beta tester
merely wants to preview the game before it launches. Everyone else
somewhere in the middle. They want to see a game before it comes out
and catch
a few bugs in the process. Typically, beta testing comes in two waves.
beta is an invitation-only affair with smaller numbers. The focus is on
polishing content and squashing bugs. Open beta usually allows anyone
to jump
in and is a good test for server capacity, performance, and social

Some gamers argue that beta testing
is an important
marketing tool for a game, and href=""> style="">NetDevil’s
Scott Brown agrees. Despite the use of a
non-disclosure agreement
(NDA), it seems inevitable that information on a beta will leak to the
Allowing gamers to play in a beta can often sway them to purchase the
title at
release. Open betas have almost replaced the trial version of games,
players roughly a month prior to retail in most cases to get attached
to game.

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take note: Ralsu beta tested DDO, and it' still alive and kicking.

The general consensus among gamers is
that beta testing is
performing minor quality assurance work for the developer without
getting paid.
No company can afford to hire thousands of QA testers to sift through
all of
the content in the average MMOG, so beta testing performs a service for
developer. Often beta testers develop a sense of entitlement; they
expect something
for their efforts. I’ve seen threads titled “Reward for beta testers?”
something similar for the last four MMOGs I have beta tested. Sometimes
developers do offer rewards ranging
from reserving character names to small in-game items, to an easter egg
in the
game to commemorate all beta testers. As far as I know, the name Ralsu
still be read among the other beta testers at the fountain in the
newbie area
of town in style="">Dungeons &
Dragons Online

The old method of selecting beta
testers may be endangered
as the slumping economy forces developers to find new ways to finance
production. One solution to financial woes I have heard bandied about
pay-to-play closed beta. This theory asserts that a pay-to-play model
the beta testers are dedicated to finding bugs. The resulting higher
quality of
the product at open beta ensures more positive word of mouth
Proponents argue that gamers already pay to beta test in a lot of
cases, citing
the thousands of beta keys given away at gaming sites where only paying
can win or are heavily favored to win. Benefits of this model include
the supposed
better quality of beta testers and the cash flow going directly to the
developer instead third parties. The major drawback is that it required
to pay though thousands get in for free under the current standard. An
that forces people to keep a close watch on their expenditures may not
be the
best circumstance to introduce this model.

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