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WildStar Burst: Beta Restrictions and Men in Suits

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 2014 by Lewis B

WildStar-Burst

Yesterday should have been a day of celebration for WildStar. With the launch official announced, pre-order details and an enormous patch on the Beta client everything was looking pretty good. Like all good things it wasn’t to last and players quickly jumped on the fact that the Beta is coming to an end, in its current form, on March 16th. For anyone who hasn’t yet seen, Carbine stated the following:

  • After March 16th, everyone is being removed from the Closed Beta. No exceptions.
  • On March 19th, if you pre-order the game your account will be reactivated to give you access to the four Beta Weekends we have coming up in March and April.
  • Beta will no longer be on a 24/6 schedule. Instead, we'll be running 4 beta weekend events between now and open beta. The first weekend begins March 21st and runs through the 23rd. The full schedule's up on the pre-order site (but is subject to change, of course).
  • "Permanent" Winter Beta testers who have a level 32 or higher character on their account will also have their account reactivated so that we can continue to test high-level content between now and launch. You'll still need to pre-order if you want to receive all those goodies, though!
  • Stress Testers and Weekend Testers are ineligible for this opportunity, but are welcome to pre-order to continue playing their existing characters!

WildStar

As far as statements go, it’s a little washy and for many raised more questions than answers. Fortunately Scooter was on hand to provide some transparency, with a copy of it placed here over on Reddit. What Scooter discussed some way alleviated some fears from players but in other areas stoked the fires of anger relating to the delivery of this news and the justification behind it. 

Okay, here's the deal. We're always talking about how we fully support transparency at Carbine, so I'm going to dive into the details behind the reasoning so everyone understands a little better how we came to the program we're at today. The core reasons state:
We know how much you guys want to play and help test, and we're sorry we can't give you any additional time to do so before launch. The reasons why are due to the four primary parties:

  • The executives - These guys hold the money and have the most experience knowing what's healthiest for a game's success.
  • The Sales/Marketing teams - These guys' core purpose is to make sure the sales of our game are as high as possible. This is crucial because without sales… we as a company can no longer exist and you guys don't get to play WildStar.
  • The Live and Operations teams - These guys need to make sure the servers are launch-ready.
  • The Dev team - These guys want to get as much feedback as possible before launch.

I can’t claim to have taken a product to launch nor can I claim to be part of a development team. What I can claim to be is an experience Beta tester, MMO gamer and lover of the genre. Having only yesterday highlighted the strong arm of publishers and shareholders that ruined launches of many recent MMOG’s. The rational attached behind ending the 24/6 Beta does however defy any and all logic. 

Dissecting the list provided by Scooter (and I very much appreciate his honesty and transparency) something isn’t quite ringing true for me. The executives so kindly placed first in the list unfortunately hold the purse strings, but it’s the statement “have the most experience knowing what’s healthiest for a games success” that made me laugh and shake my head simultaneously. Perhaps it’s just me, but if that’s the case for the industry I’d go out and fire all of them with immediate effect. With the exception of Guild Wars 2, every other MMOG to launch since World of Warcraft has collapsed the moment its launched. These products collapsed because they weren’t fundamentally ready and were rushed before a paying public. Gamers aren’t stupid and while we’ll happily throw money at our screens for a product that catches our eye, if you’ve sold us a lemon we’ll know about it and we’ll quickly bugger off to the next product. If these executives know what’s healthiest for a games success it is only their money that gets them a seat at the table, not their experience. 

WildStar

If they did have any experience (I’ll come onto the sales/marketing teams in a moment) they would know that what makes a successful MMOG is one that keeps its promises and one that launches in a polished condition. We want questing to be slick, elder game content to be present and functioning and everything in-between to be up to a standard that small bugs are negligible or forgivable. I’m not suggesting that WildStar is in a poor state, it’s incredibly polished, but it’s fair to say that “elder game” hasn’t been tested anywhere close to the amount it needs. By reducing Beta tests to weekend events only, we’re wasting a huge amount of time throughout the week that would be better served allowing players to test that very content. Instead, the Beta workforce (free labour I might add) are put on the sidelines for fear from the marketing departments and executives that they’ll “burn out”. What absolute nonsense. 

I’ve no doubt that there are metrics for quantifying “burn out” (though whomever gathers this data sounds like a quango to me) and I have, in the past, experienced it to a certain degree. But for anyone who enjoys their time with WildStar they’ll know their limits and they’ll know when to stop. What the metrics Carbine gather won’t know (I suspect) is that most players stopping after a 4 week period isn’t attributable to “burnout”, but likely attributable to the fact the individual is satiated with what they’ve seen, whether good or bad. Those Beta testers who continue to play past the 4 week period are those who:

  • Are simply seeking a new MMOG to play and have nothing better to play.
  • Are genuinely attempting to test the game for bugs and exploits.
  • Are individuals who love the product and are testing and playing because they have nothing better to play.

The proportion of these players is insignificant compared to the number of potential WildStar purchasers. I’d guess there’s around 10,000 closed Beta testers at this time (if not less), with only several hundred active on the forums at any one time and perhaps only 25% of those active in game. If we’re to go down the executives route of “burnout risk”, would it really matter if 2,500 active closed Beta testers burned out and didn’t buy WildStar, if it meant that the game was in a better launch condition because of it? Of course it wouldn’t. 2,500 potentially lost players helping to guarantee a polished product is a worthwhile sacrifice. 

When it comes to the sales and marketing teams I can sympathize with the constraints they are working with. Carbine isn’t as wealthy or as prominent as the likes Zenimax or ArenaNet and so they not only have to choose their launch window very carefully but add enough hype time beforehand to market the game within their budgetary constraints. The fact WildStar isn’t launching with a Collectors Edition suggests to me they’re at the ends of their finances in terms of development coin, based on the fact such boxed specials are costly to produce and take up significant time to play and orchestrate: I don’t believe Carbine have the ability to outlay that sort of money.  

WildStar

So when I refer to unnecessary Beta restrictions and men in suits, my gut instinct tells me that the executives had all the say in these meetings and felt in their “experience” that WildStar, based on countless positive press pieces surrounding the game, didn’t require further testing to the degree it’s having now. That of the metrics they’ve crunched (queue another quango) WildStar would be a success irrespective of any initial fallout from any disgruntled Beta testers or launch bugs. Frustratingly in all of this, WildStar has been in development for 5 years and shows every sign of being the next big thing. If it all comes crashing down as a result of the 24/6 Beta testing schedule due to a myriad of bugs at launch and notably elder game, we’ll all know who to blame. Worse still, gamers love to say “I told you so” and they never forget. 


"When it comes to the sales and marketing teams I can sympathize with the constraints they are working with. Carbine isn’t as wealthy or as prominent as the likes Zenimax or ArenaNet..."

I would be led to believe this is an assumption of the matter at hand. Carbine isn't just working off of their own dime here. NCSoft is directly funding Carbine for the sole purpose of establishing a brand new IP in the US and EU to replace or parallel Lineage. NCSoft's net worth is somewhere north of a billion dollars, US, and I seriously doubt one game is bringing them down.

As for the prospects of a lack of a physical Collector's Edition, I think it all came down to market trends. Pure and simple. It's not just because producing a collector's edition box is expensive, it's also because a majority of the PC gaming market has begun to shy away from physical discs and more towards the digital download services such as Steam, EA Origin, or Stardock. Steam itself is rumored to hold around 75% market share of PC gaming, and that's pretty significant exposure. Possibly NCSoft is gauging a Steam release after the initial one to increase their potential userbase several times over if they offer the right kind of perks and packages for new players.

Testing Elder Game content is also something worth mentioning. Players at launch likely will not see Elder Game proper for about 3-6 weeks give or take the average player's time, so it's quite likely they will be tuning Elder Game stuff right up until players start butting their heads against it. I would also venture to say Carbine might not be 100% confident with their closed beta testing pools and are waiting for early raiders to feed them more opinions and metrics to properly gauge what happens next in raid and dungeon tuning at the higher end.

I think the biggest issue with why they're rushing to market, or at least putting their foot on the gas to wrap up whatever's left to wrap up, is because of external pressure from both NCSoft, competition from other developers, and the player base itself. They were close to already hitting the market in December 2013, but they firmly believed the game still was not ready for launch despite already locking in a rather narrow release window. It was smart to stop, re-organize, and try again with more tests. I firmly believe if Wildstar DID release back in December, it would not have nearly as much positive press and community reaction as it does now. NCSoft is much more experienced with MMOs (seeing as that's all they practically develop and fund), but too many other companies make this mistake of rushing to market and not double, triple, or even quadruple checking if their ducks are all in a row. Look at what happened to Project Copernicus (a.k.a Kingdoms of Amalur) - The team was being pressured to rush to release because their funding was drying up too quickly and their investors were not totally experienced in the matter. NCSoft, I think, ARE experienced enough to think they're on the right track because they have already launched several hit MMOs and they came out at just the right time every time they did release. Carbine is in a PRIME position in 2014 to launch because they're dodging the early-Spring blockbuster releases and right before Summer (statistically a lower activity period for most MMOs), but also dodging the massive Fall and Winter releases that will likely make them get lower release numbers or flat out drowned out from the noise of other high-profile games releasing then (i.e Bungie's MMO Destiny, which is currently on track to release in September). The April-May-June time period is almost perfect for them, and I think this was their plan all along after the December push-back.

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