With H1Z1 and Heroes of the Storm both launching paid tests this week, the community is reacting in a bit of a fury over not just spending money to test, but spending money for broken games. I have some mixed feelings about this, which seems to now be an industry standard, and I guess since I've written and read about both of these games so much in the past week or so, pay gating player testing is really on my mind. I can't really complain, since the last column I wrote was a little too emotionally draining. I think I'd rather do some dumb comic strip in MS Paint, but my brain's creativity doesn't seem to work in those terms.
I haven't bought into Heroes of the Storm, I have not played Heroes of the Storm, nor have I signed up for Heroes of the Storm beta. However, I do not understand why the forums are so full of rage right now. Yesterday, I was trying to dig up worth while information for an article I wanted to write and the forums are a complete mess right now. As someone who has both volunteered and worked on forums, I feel for the Blizzard community team right now, especially on the Heroes of the Storm forums. I'm sure the madness is bleeding over into the forums for other Blizzard games, because people always seem to do that for some dumb reason. Here's a pro-tip: if the actual community for that game doesn't want to hear about your sour grapes, the community for a different game definitely doesn't. I thought it was extra special that someone went to the Heroes of the Storm forums just to ask that the game be removed from the Blizzard launcher, because apparently having it there is so bothering. I can't even tell you what the scrolling banners at the top are currently showing, since all I do is pull up the launcher and press the PLAY button for World of Warcraft. It's that simple. I don't play Diablo, but I'm certainly not going to go to the Diablo forums to demand that button be removed from the Blizzard launcher. You know, that one that has all Blizzard games on it.
So yeah, the forums are a bit of a nut house now and finding good information is like wading in a sea of literal shit. The Heroes of the Storm subreddit are kind of in the opposite direction right now. Last night, while researching for the same news article, it was hard to find helpful tips and guides because it was flooded with information on who's having a beta key contest or giveaway. I know that most people out there right now want keys without spending the money, but it's a little much. At least mods there are volunteers, they can just walk away when they want to. Or, they can be like one of the mods in /r/WoW and throw a temper tantrum by shutting off the subreddit for a weekend. At least /r/heroesofthestorm isn't full of shitposts currently. Whether that's a community thing or an A+ moderation thing, I don't know, but I thank everyone for not spewing verbal diarrhea all over the damn place.
If you haven't been following Heroes of the Storm, you probably have no idea why people are upset. Basically, it brings us to the latest trend in the gaming industry: paying for testing access. People used to always say on game forums, “I'd pay for a chance to test this game!” and well, you've been heard and this is the hand we've been dealt. Now, you have a few choices still: sign up for play testing and cross your fingers, pay for access to the game in a broken and buggy state since it's beta/alpha, or you can just wait until open beta, which is effectively a soft launch for free-to-play games. There are choices here and no one is forcing you to spend money.
What people don't like about Heroes of the Storm is that you can buy things in the store. Here, again, you have choices. You can buy Heroes with either gold you get in the game, or you can buy game gold with money, which you can then use in the store. You already start with Heroes, and if you throw $40 at Blizzard for a Founder's Pack, you get three new Heroes, as well. In theory, you have enough to get started, and buying Heroes is optional. There seems to be a consensus that earning gold in Heroes of the Storm is really slow. This could be true, and if so, leaving good, constructive feedback is crucial. This doesn't mean that you cannot be critical, because devs need to hear the bad parts, too. However, there is a huge difference between “game sucks lol u loosers” and “I think there's a huge disparity currently between those who purchase gold packs to buy Heroes versus trying to earn enough gold to buy Heroes at the current rate that gold is earned. I feel that there would be less contention about buying Heroes if the rate of gold acquirement was looked at.” See the difference? You can pretty much say the same thing, but in two different ways. Example A, when posted to the forums, creates no discussion. Replies with NO U or YEAH LOL SUX are pretty much all that can be said, meanwhile Blizzard doesn't even know what to do with this sort of feedback because it's empty.
Then, there's Example B. Example B states what is wrong, why it's wrong, and a suggestion for fixing the issue. This kind of feedback is valuable and it will let a company like Blizzard have a better understanding of the community's perspective, especially if it's an idea that has a lot of support. Blizzard can then take a look at gold earning rates and determine if it does need adjusting in Heroes of the Storm. I've worked in Community for awhile and I've put in even more years volunteering. Community work isn't always about removing posts and banning people from forums. We're also the people who look for hot button issues and gather the best feedback for developers through daily/weekly reports. We're there helping newbies out by answering their questions when we can or letting you know that the developers are aware of your pet bug and are trying for a fix. Even when you don't see us, we're there and we're always reading what you're saying. Even though I liberally still use “we” I'm now back on the other side of the fence, doing my best to come up with useful feedback that's not an entitled, ragey “do this Blizz or I'm cancelling my CE” kind of post.
Another big part of the uproar is in regard to the state of these games. Like it or not, these are not games in their production stages. Whether or not it's a good idea to buy into these alphas or betas is one thing, but recognizing that these games are in alpha or beta is something that seems to be one of the major points people keep forgetting. Any issues that H1Z1 and Heroes of the Storm have right now could become non-issues while the games actually do launch. Having good testers is vital to move a game out of the testing phase into production, which is why I think it's a good idea to offer testing time to your playerbase in addition to relying on those who will pay for access during testing. Paying for testing, what the industry is now calling Early Access (remember when early access were those few days you got as a headstart when the game launched?), has become an unfortunate norm that most of us now begrudgingly give in to. While I haven't paid for Heroes of the Storm beta access, I did for H1Z1.
I knew what I was getting into with H1Z1, though. I have zero expectations with the game right now. When Early Access start was pushed back a few hours on the first day, I was monitoring Twitter updates posted to /r/H1Z1 while I worked. When it was finally up, I got that patched and realized I couldn't fully log in. This turned out to be an issue with the authentication servers. At some point, I gave up for the evening and decided to play something else. It took me a few days (mostly from doing other stuff), but I did eventually get into the game. At this point, you're probably thinking I might be some kind of SOE apologist, but I'll say this outright: H1Z1 in its current state is not a fun game for me. I bought into Landmark alpha, and that game has not been fun for me, either. I'm pretty realistic with my expectations with these games, at least. I'm okay with them not being fun to play...for now. I understand that it's highly possible that these games will be completely different when they go into the open beta cycle, and then I'll be sad if they're not fun. Open beta for free-to-play games is essentially a soft launch.
Another game I've recently picked up (thankyou Steam monies for Christmas) was the Long Dark. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I've been in love with it visually since I first began writing about the game over a year ago. There's a risk with indie games not delivering a full game or even seeing the product. I'm also not a huge “buy into Early Access” kind of person, so The Long Dark is an outlier for me. I bought into the game's Early Access, which is still in alpha, solely because I want to support the game's development, which is also why I've bought into Landmark and H1Z1. I will be honest, though. Buying into Landmark was more to support EQ Next than anything else. Honestly, I'm perfectly okay with Landmark staying unfun for me, because I really want to support Next that much. Am I setting myself up for supreme disappointment here? Well, possibly.
I think the bigger question overall is, when does this end? We've had pre-orders for as long as games existed. Then, pre-orders came with beta access. Now we have pay for alphas, some of which are pricey as hell. I think it's becoming far too common now. I fully understand it when you really do want to support a project. I also understand when people say it's gone too far and this needs to end. I'm honestly trying to think of when a game launch went smoothly, and I have a feeling that paying into alpha hasn't contributed positively to our industry, nor our community.
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