AKB’s Auto Korrect Blog: Fan Accessible Betas and the Future of the Elder Scrolls

Because I wanted a fancy name for my own entries, I will now be presenting these under the name of AKB’s Auto Korrect Blog, because I like playing with acronyms.
One of the most interesting things about Elder Scrolls Online is the fact that despite the game release date still being a month away, millions have already played it (or at least that number of invitations have been sent out). So really, the whole official release date is just the point where getting to play it when you want to will be less of a pain, as countless ES fans have already gotten the chance to experience it and make up their minds on it. In return for providing  relatively free scale testing and bug hunting, we got a chance to take an early look at the game. For the developers and the players, this is surely a great working relationship. We get to make a more informed decision before buying the game, while ZeniMax gets free testers and the chance to address our concerns.
So if this publicly available beta is so good for all involved, why doesn’t everyone do it?
Well, the answer is, everyone is already doing it. I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you about the wonders of services like Steam’s Early Access, which allow you to play your favorite games before they are even out. Of course, this is blurring the lines between when a game is out, and when it is in development.  And that is not necessarily a good thing. Take a game I looked forward to for ages, Starbound. Months ago, I got my first chance to play it after they announced it would be available as an Early Access game, and quickly set it down again. While the developer, Chucklefish, did do its due diligence in dealing out the information that it would be rather buggy and not finished, I still had to play this game I’ve been looking forward to since I heard about it through the Terrarria fan base. And I hated every moment of it for it not being done. And I imagine a lot of people are like me in this regard, you can’t just not play the game you’ve been looking forward to for ages, even if you know it’s not the game you’ve been looking forward to for ages yet. So thanks to Early Access experiences removing the barrier between the content complete product customers are expecting and the barely functional garbage most games are early in their life, you have a lot of people tired of the game before it is even “released”.
There are other issues, such as the lowered standards that go with this, and the fact that a lot of games that shouldn’t really be getting money for their half-thought out ideas are now selling themselves on assets that simply do not exist yet, but that’s the biggest issue for me. First impressions are a big part of any experience for me, and when my first expression is vomit inducing, I’m probably not going to stick around for the end product. And this has happened to me for ESO. I took my first shot at the beta when I got it during the NDA portions of it, and didn’t play it much after that. I just could not care as much after hearing Microsoft Voice Simulators sing my praise for completing a quest, learning a lot of the things I was specifically looking forward to are not in the game yet, and seeing my character deleted the moment the weekend playtest was over. I never felt motivated to play the future rounds of beta as I did the first one, since my first shot at it was such a mess.
Still, unlike with Early Access games, I can disassociate my experiences with ESO beta from games like Starboound for the simple fact that I haven’t given them a red cent to play their game as of now. I did not buy ESO into the beta, so as far as I’m concerned, the beta won’t be the ESO I have to put money down to get. And in the little time I tried the later rounds of beta, I do feel like it is getting better than worse as the release date approaches. So with that said, letting the fans play test the game for the developers, at no cost to the fans, is a pretty fair way to go about developing your game. Because the simple fact is, we can either bug proof the game now, or after we buy it. Even the most casual fan knows ES games are buggy, especially at launch. If you give the fans a chance to squash those bugs before the game comes out, well, you might just release the very first working launch ES game ever.
So do I think future ES games in the main series should do something like Early Access? No, I don’t think you should provide a single player experience that is not at least completed to a reasonable level should see the public eye, especially if I’m giving you money for it. But should they try giving it out to more of their fans for free, so they can help make the game a better experience. Absolutely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *