Word has leaked through the internet that the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria internal alpha has begun. Yes, weÂre finally on the road to the new expansion and today weÂre going to look at exactly what this means.
From Alpha to Gold
Games donÂt just arrive, fully formed, on the store shelves. They are made in stages. The earliest builds are usually clunky and full of bugs with basic areas created to give the press and players a tantalizing taste of what is to come. This is what was shown at last yearÂs BlizzCon, a working sample of the starter zone which is likely to change over time.
To give you an example, I had a go on the Friends and Family beta build of WotLK at the WWI in 2008 and the Death Knight starter zone was just a scrap of land in the Eastern Plaguelands. It wasnÂt until much later that the floating stronghold of Archeus was added in, towards the end of the press beta.
The same has been the case with both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. The basics were there but things like cinematics and female avatars come later.
What This Means For Us?
So weÂve reached the internal alpha. What does this mean? Well, basically, Blizzard is letting its employees - probably the QA folk, developers and GM teams - have a look-see. We also know the press tour is happening in March in which select members of the gaming and mainstream press get to visit BlizzardÂs HQ in Irvine to learn all the details weÂre dying to know.
ItÂs likely that at some point between now and the embargo on this even lifting that Mists of Pandaria will go into the Friends and Family phase. This is where Blizzard gives access to those in the outer rings of the company, the community managers, the PRs and their relatives. ItÂs also usually the first time that the launcher leaks and people start datamining, even though the game will be under an NDA.
Alphas mean betas are coming.
After Friends and Family comes the mediaÂs chance to get hands on. Blizzard then opens its press closed beta in which a more complete build of the expansion - hence the use of beta - is offered up the fansites and the press. While nowhere near complete and probably still under NDA, this allows games sites to plan their coverage and start writing previews.
The big even for everyone else is, of course, the closed beta test and itÂs very likely that everyone who bought an Annual Pass will get to participate. Of course, these invites always go out in waves but Blizzard has expanded the size of the events year after year. After all, just look at how many people have been invited to the Diablo III beta since it launched last year.
The closed beta usually lasts around six months and as time passes itÂs possible to watch as the expansion grows, an organic process of bug reporting and added content before the game is released into a waiting world. This, of course, leads to the question of a release day. I think itÂs safe to say, weÂre probably not going to have to wait till December before visiting Pandaria. It all depends upon Blizzard and the speed at which the next few phases proceed. ItÂs safe to say though that this is where everything starts and the excitement begins.
Are you excited about the alpha? Do you have an Annual Pass and canÂt wait to get in the beta. Let us know in the comments below.