You Really Shouldn’t Be Playing The SW:TOR Beta

Jedi Consular

Standard Jedi pose: squat, extend lightsaber in right hand, pet imaginary dog with left

I have a thing about betas. I used to love them and try to get in as many as I could. I remember being giddy as a school boy for the Age of Conan beta, as desperate as a lumberjack for the Aion one, and horny as hell for RIFT’s. Then recently something in me changed. A switched was a flicked, a lever was pulled, a light bulb went off in my brain and I realised that playing betas were killing the overall enjoyment for me. It’s like celebrating Christmas early.

Sure, I get the point of them. Big online games need to be tested by lots of people. From a technical point of view, betas make a lot of sense. However, I think it’s fairly safe to say that they have come to the point of being completely and utterly disingenuous. They are less about testing now and about more about marketing and promotion for the developer (obvious by NDAs getting lifted earlier and earlier) and free, early access for the player. No one actually plays a beta to, y’know, test anything, they simply do it because they want to play the game as soon as possible. It’s like offering a kid a candy bar right now or in a weeks time – which do you think they’re going to choose?

Likewise, the hype, promotion and free marketing generated from these beta events is utterly insane. You literally can’t stumble across a gaming web site right now that isn’t spilling its guts over every single tiny piece of detail in SW:TOR. It’s like there’s a big party going on and only a select few are invited – everyone else is left to stand outside and listen to the music blaring, forced to wait another month before they can enter. And when the game finally comes out, the sense of exploring a new world is completely lost as players whizz past content they’ve already experienced, quick and eager to spoil it for everyone else. No wonder we burn ourselves out of MMOs so quickly.

I know Bioware gave out some ridiculous amount of beta keys but it’s still a number that pales in comparison to the amount of reported pre-orders. I’m going to be melodramatic and say that betas are disingenuous elite events that kill the fun for everyone else and serve little function other than to fuel the hype machine. Perhaps if developers really wanted to seriously test their game they should keep those NDAs on right until the day of launch. Or if they are truly concerned about launching a perfect product, why not go in the other direction and just make the game completely free for everyone for the first month so we all have an equal opportunity to take part and try it?

Maybe I’m getting more patient as I age, maybe I’m getting more bitter, but I don’t want to take part in betas any more and neither should you. They just ruin the final game for ourselves and kill the entire concept of suspense and anticipation in favour of instant gratification. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Go open your Christmas presents now.

And I’m only mainly saying this because I’m not getting to play SW:TOR this weekend.

-Gordon

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58 Comments

  1. bhagpuss says:

    I’ll be logging into the beta this weekend. I wasn’t planning on it. I didn’t even apply. I just happened to log onto the forum one day and found I’d been given access to the Beta boards so I thought I might as well see if I was in the beta itself and it turns out I am.

    Oh, it’s not the SW:tOR beta. That’s another one I didn’t apply for. No, the beta I found I was unexpectedly in is for something I had already decided to buy. Which is why I didn’t apply for it.

    I also used to apply for everything. I have a more nuanced attitude now. If I’m interested in the game but I don’t think I’m likely to buy it, then i will apply. If I’m extremely interested but the game is a loooong way from launch and there’s a beta then I will apply. If I think I’ll buy and the game is only a few months from launch then I won’t apply. And obviously if I’m flat-out not interested (e.g. SW:tOR) then I won’t apply.

    Once I get into any beta I test it. That is why I am there. I try to break stuff, I do massively wordy, over-detailed forum posts, I send impassioned feedback in game, I do scores of bug reports, I chat to devs and QA people who are foolish enough to poke their heads over the parapet.

    I think it’s overly cynical to assume that people no longer go into betas to test stuff. I know (as in I know their in-game personas) many people who routinely give up hours, many many hours, of their time to test MMOs and give useful feedback to the makers. Testing MMOs is a whole heap of fun, often a lot more fun than actually playing them.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think it’s overly cynical, especially when we get to beta events like the ones SW:TOR is having. It’s essentially a free-for-all gameplay event. Sure, it helps test the devs hardware but it also intentionality creates a huge amount of hype and buzz. I know I’m being hyperbolic in my stance against it but it just seems to spoil the fun a little :)

  2. krel says:

    A beta at this point is less about bugs (although I reported a couple) and more about the free trial. I was on the fence before the last beta, and I preordered right after I got to try the game. The story got me… gameplay-wise, it’s WoW in Space. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the cutscenes, and the voice.

  3. Ralkarin says:

    While I totally agree with the marketing opportunities… I think it’s spot on for them to run an official beta before the public release. I’m in the boat where I understand the nuances of game design and game development (are you a developer?), but I think there is a very large population that don’t. Final Fantasy XIV has been running a “1 year free trial” right now and they are catching a ton of grief because the game wasn’t ready (and I don’t think it’s in “beta” anymore). Vanguard I feel had a similar fate (I don’t know if they ran a beta or not). And the community at large is very unforgiving. 1 free month of terrible gameplay when the game is labeled as “released” is far worse than a few free weeks of “open beta”. Makes me think of games like Minecraft too, that run under the beta tag for a very long time before “releasing” the game, which is really just another content update and a version number bump.

    So, I can see it both ways. MMOs as a whole are a long running investment of development and changing game designs, and from a technical standpoint, they’ve gotta get people playing it, and starting a feedback loop so they can grow the game in the direction the players want.

    • bhagpuss says:

      Vanguard had a very long beta. I got in sometime around September/October 2006 in the tranche that I think was known as “Beta 3″ and I believe the beta had been running for at least six months by then. It launched in January 2007 so it was probably in Closed Beta for nearly a year.

      I don’t recall if there was an actual Open Beta but the short final beta (Beta 5 I think) was very easy to get into.

      There were huge changes made to Vanguard while I was in beta, some good, some terrible. Feedback was intense and often furious. I sent some of the most blisteringly negative in-game feedback I’ve ever sent. Some of the things I was mad about are still in the game now (I’m looking at you, Kurashasa starting area! ).

      The oddest thing was that I never experienced many of the real game-breaking issues that sank Vanguard at launch. When I first got into beta my PC could barely run it at all and I bought a new one specifically to play Vanguard.

      My new PC ran Vanguard pretty much as smoothly as it ran any other MMO, so I never bug reported or did feedback on any of the technical issues that ended up giving Vanguard its reputation as “buggiest MMO ever”.

      • Gordon says:

        I don’t think VG was as bad as people said it was… I enjoyed it quite a lot and I still sometimes feel like playing it again. There’s nothing quite like it on the market any more (other than maybe EQ).

    • Gordon says:

      True but an open beta for a game like FFXIV would’ve caused just as much damage as their poor launch… in fact, it probably would’ve given them less revenue because fewer people would’ve been duped into buying it. I just think developers are using betas as marketing events more than testing ones.

  4. Barrista says:

    I agree. I participated in the previous test weekend for SWTOR, but not as much this weekend. And even last weekend I had decided that I would play each toon to see which story and play style I enjoyed, but that I would quit playing the toon once I was able to leave the starting planet with it.

    This weekend I played the 2 classes I wasn’t able to get to last weekend or didn’t get far with. One of them I just picked up to try out some group content with a friend participating this weekend.

    Other than that, I have some dungeons in Skyrim to run.

  5. AFK says:

    Betas haven’t been betas for a long time now. I understand this. I have logged in this weekend, not to test but to see what the hype is all about. I have no intention of, “testing,” the game, and I doubt Bioware really expects me to at this point anyway. They will be running their own tests in the background as thousands of players spend time on their servers. I have yet to pre-order the game, so I considered this weekend a test drive for me. I haven’t been putting in too much time. Just enough to get an overall feeling for the game. As far as immersion and ruining the story… I plan on rolling a Republic character at launch. Therefore, I’ve only been rolling Empire toons during the beta. This should at least keep the story line fresh for me once it goes live.

    • Barrista says:

      I did notice some graphical changes from the last beta weekend to this one. I’m not sure if they made changes to the beta client or if the client we downloaded for this weekend was there hiding all along.

      But I do agree that this weekend, with all the keys given to gaming sites and such, is likely more of a “try before you buy” weekend for Bioware..

      • smakendahed says:

        “But I do agree that this weekend, with all the keys given to gaming sites and such, is likely more of a “try before you buy” weekend for Bioware..”

        While there is some value in making it openly available to mass amounts of people to get some hype going (so long as Bioware is confident in the state of its product), this mass invite was mainly for the purpose of generating a lot of users who are going to bombard the log in servers and overload the game world servers doing actual user things.

        It’s a stress test.

        Very difficult to automate or simulate this sort of use short of open betas.

        I noticed a number of changes (mostly good) around the log in and server queues.

      • Gordon says:

        Or a ‘tell everyone you know about it’ weekend :D

    • Gordon says:

      Wouldn’t it be so much more fun if everyone played it fresh right from day one and explored the game together though?

  6. Leah says:

    the fact that you didn’t get into Beta is seriously weird. not only did they give out the keys practically to everyone registered on BSN, EVERYONE who was registered on SWTOR forums and for the Beta pre 11/11/11, but there were also Beta keys available from curse and multitude of other websites. everyone I know who had even the slightest interest and a few who didn’t – got into Beta.

    in other words.. very very weird.

  7. Tesh says:

    I’ve only ever played two MMO betas: Allods Online and Perpetuum. Allods was just a game I was interested in, and I actually did “test” that one and reported a couple of glitches. Perpetuum I was also interested in, but I largely tried for the beta there because it’s a sub game and I’m not going to pay a sub.

    I found each of them to be… adequate, so I’m not about to complain about them or say I got burned out on them. I’m just burned out on the whole MMO scene, but I keep looking at new pieces of it. I see potential there, and I keep hoping I’ll find someone working at something great. Right now, that means I’m looking forward to Storybricks and Guild Wars 2.

    …and I finally got RIFT. I’ll play it for the 30 days and then wait until it goes subless.

  8. Azuriel says:

    And when the game finally comes out, the sense of exploring a new world is completely lost as players whizz past content they’ve already experienced, quick and eager to spoil it for everyone else. No wonder we burn ourselves out of MMOs so quickly.

    If you can burn yourself out of MMOs by “whizzing past content,” then arguably it isn’t an MMO, yeah? I thought it was all about doing things with other people. :P

    Re: Open/Limited Betas in general, they are free trials + free promotion. You may as well be complaining about Tiger Woods wearing Nike clothes or in-movie advertisements. The days when these companies can simply expect to release a $60 box and have a million-plus community ready to go is over – especially when all of their competition is A) established, B) polished, and C) have free trials of their own.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed but if you’ve already played a bunch of toons to level 10 then what’s the incentive to re-do the same content at the same pace? And I thought MMOs today were about hitting the level cap as quickly as possible :D

  9. pkudude99 says:

    I’m planning to be a Trooper when the game comes out. I did the Trooper 2 weeks ago in that beta, up to level 10. I wanted to know what I’m doing on it so as to be able to “clear out” of the newbie zone come launch.

    I also did a few other classes up to level 4-5 as well, just to see what I thought of them. I love the idea of an Imperial Agent Sniper, but the 1st few levels of it. . . the story’s fun, but the gameplay mechanics don’t impress me much.

    I did want to see what a double-bladed lightsaber looked like in-game, so I did get a consular up to level 11 today. I don’t actually plan to play one after the game’s live, so now’s my chance to do it and not care when it gets erased. That’s also why I won’t do the Trooper anymore — I don’t care to lose “noobie stuff” but anything more than that I would care to lose.

    And. . yeah. I’m beta’d out. I’ll be back in Rift tomorrow.

  10. Doone says:

    I do wish there were more clever ways that devs could get hardware and such tested while leaving gameplay testing to a dedicated group. I think both parties would get more out of it than the free-for-all PR runs current Betas seem to be.

  11. Kisai says:

    I’ve played plenty of betas. I think the worst had to be FFXIV, where the game seemed okay at first, but then when I bought it was was like … wait this is way to grindy and boring than it seemed during beta.

    On the other hand, SWTOR is not a flying elves game. It’s in space, it’s tech, it’s science, it’s less “magic makes it work” and it’s based on an existing licence. If Bioware didn’t have the licence, they’d have just made Mass Effect Online and it would be just as good. In theory anyway.

    If I hadn’t a clue about Star Wars (and most of what I know comes entirely from the movies), the game is still a fun MMO, and it’s significantly non-grindy. All the quests are voiced and logical, and don’t repeat (except Heroic’s) and unlike FFXIV, the landscapes are not copypastes, and the developers are reading bug reports. It’s not quite as pretty as FFXIV in some aspects, but that has more to do with the amount of details in clothing and armor.

    At this point I can’t pass fair judgement on the crafting system as I haven’t tried it. Other games are stupidly grindy for crafting, to the point that a lot of time has to be wasted, wasting materials or spending money in the game buying them from other players, nobody does this during beta tests, because the beta tests are too short.

    MMO Games get nerfed over time, so most of the fun in the game is to be had in the first 3 months of release. After that point, you may as well skip the game entirely unless you’re joining only to play with friends.

    SWTOR has a single player scenario (one per character class) that you can play if you don’t have any friends to play with, otherwise there are Group missions that you can join early on that are storyline-related.

    The one thing that the people on the SWTOR server I’ve been playing on is that people complain about WoW, constantly.

    I’ve never played WoW. I’ve only put money into two MMO’s of which both I quit cold-turkey and never came back.

  12. camenecium says:

    I generally agree, although I’m playing in the beta anyway. I’d sworn off betas after Star Trek Online beta (and most of it since) left a very bad taste in my mouth and Gods and Heroes left none.

    There is still one thing companies require a beta to reasonably test: the stress/load of thousands of people banging on the game simultaneously. That’s a notoriously hard part of testing large multi-user systems. The media hype and ulterior motives of modern MMO betas have overgrown valid reasons to have such tests much like the art of the movie trailer has in some cases surpassed big studios’ art of making actual movies. However, there’s still value in it from a system testing perspective.

  13. Njessi says:

    The way I’m treating beta is to play the Empire classes now and the Republic classes on launch. That way I can get an idea of what I like now without totally spoilering the story for myself. (So I guess that’s like shaking your Xmas presents but not opening them?)

  14. Telwyn says:

    I have deliberately wanted to get into the SWTOR beta for the last month or so for the “free trial” aspect, I was against getting yet another sub game but since close friends were interested I wanted to play it before putting down the cash for the box.

    Slight problem is now that I’ve had the one day of intensive play I actually think I might like to play it. Damn that KOTOR nostalgia!

  15. Jay says:

    I can agree with this post.

    That said, Im in the beta (lucky enough to be in for a couple weekends) and I have had to play. When I was kid, I knew where my parents hid my Xmas presents, and I always snuck to see what I got. Thats my mentality :)

    However, I do try to ‘test’ the game a bit too – even though, admittedly, that’s not my main motivation.

    Gordon, I think its a great game. You will really like it when you get your chance…

  16. [...] is a bit odd in a Star Wars themed game.”We Fly Spitfires didn’t play the beta, and thinks you shouldn’t have either – “I’m going to be melodramatic and say that betas are disingenuous elite events that [...]

  17. spinks says:

    The beta actually serves a really useful purpose for prospective players, which is to test how well your hardware will run the thing.

  18. bonedead says:

    I’m curious as to how desperate lumberjacks can really be?

  19. Ferrel says:

    I’m with you here. To be honest I’ve gone from that same desperate lumberjack to an apathetic, jaded person. I don’t sign up for betas anymore and somehow I still get into some. I’ve gotten into a few of the SWTOR ones but didn’t actually try it until this week. I wanted to see if it was worth the hype. After all, I had heard it was “the most polished beta” ever.

    I was not surprised to find out it wasn’t. It is, without a doubt, a beta. Lighting effects were pretty broken on my PC, some NPCs were the wrong size, I had graphical and cut-scene hitches. Rift’s beta was more polished in my eyes.

    Either way, a beta used to be a beta, not a preview of the game. I’m just not interested anymore!

    • Gordon says:

      I know I’m being hyperbolic and overly cynical but I do think developers are using betas as a marketing tool more than anything else. By getting feedback like ‘the most polished beta ever’ they are laying a foundation for positive interest and reviews. If it were a true test beta without a NDA and people were reporting bugs all over the place, the attitude towards the game would be very different.

  20. Anti says:

    i applied for the beta months ago(if not over a year).

    i am a software developer and have been playing online games for over 20 years. before that pen and paper RPGs and offline computer games. up till this point i have never been in any MMO beta.

    if they want to not utilise a valuable resource like me until their synical marketing weekend i’ll happily try before i buy and not give it a second thought.

    as far as my impressions of the game itself. its a pretty awesome single player game. they do what they have always done in the past so very well. it will be interesting to see how they handle pvp, end game and the multiplayer aspects. if they can them even half decent they are on to a winner.

  21. Aethena says:

    I totally agree. I applied for a beta invite, but when it finally arrived for this past weekend I left it untouched. I’m finding that my anticipation for the game is building more than I thought it would as I read more about the game, and I’m really enjoying that feeling of ‘OMG I can’t wait til launch day!’.

    Plus I know that eventually I’ll get bored of the game or burned out or just plain tired of it. And I figure there’s no reason to hasten the inevitable…

  22. jethrus says:

    I disagree with its not about testing. I’ve been beta testing this game for over a month now, and there were pages of bug, glitches etc that have been reported and fixed due to testers. The game is far more playable, without so many annoying issues, graphic errors etc.

    On a side note, I had no interest in playing this game at all before I was chosen to beta test (signed up as my friends wanted to get in on it). I disliked the early screenshots, the last KOTOR (yes I know bioware did not make it) was sold UNFINISHED, and Dragon Age 2 was noticably rushed. After testing, I actually want to get this game. If you dont want to spoil the storylines (understandable) then dont test it. If you like to skip all conversations to rush through the game as fast as you can, don’t get this game.

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