The future is now
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 May 2012, 12:30 am
Once upon a time people on the internet talked about the games they were currently playing, and websites as well as print magazines reviewed existing games. Alpha versions of games weren't accessible at all, while betas were for a few select testers to give feedback. It appears that this was very long ago, with those habits now forgotten. Today a beta attracts millions of players, who are even willing to pay for that access. Blizzard sold a million Mists of Pandaria beta accesses at the hefty price of a year's subscription to World of Warcraft. ArenaNet sold access to the Guild Wars 2 beta at the price of the full game, and was so successful that their own website listed the digital edition of GW2 as being "sold out". I know of several games which are available for the general public for alpha testing. And in print magazines as well as on websites and blogs it seems as if 80% of the talk is about games that haven't been released yet, or are still collecting funding via Kickstarter. It seems as if we are living in the future of gaming, instead of in the presence.

The advantage for the game companies is clear: The digital edition of Guild Wars 2 costs *more* than the price you are going to pay on release day in a brick and mortar shop, ArenaNet gets all the money instead of only part of it, and by having to pay that price before the beta the customer can't reverse his buying decision if he doesn't like what he sees in the beta.Blizzard pretty much ensures that people are going to buy Mists of Pandaria, as they already paid for the subscription. Kickstarter is a way to monetize the hype for a game, with the first scammers just having been discovered and kicked out instead of kickstarted.

The advantage for the customer is less obvious. Personally I find it somewhat frustrating to read a magazine about PC games and find that I can't play all these nice games they talk about, because they haven't been released yet. And I can't help but notice that months later when the game is actually release, the review is a lot cooler than the glowing enthusiasm of the preview. I liked the old-style *free* beta access as enabling me to make a purchase decision (I got into the Diablo 3 beta for free and decided that I will buy it, I played the free TERA beta and decided that it was not for me).

But to me the biggest problem is that the future by definition is uncertain. Did you get all excited by the previews of Prime: Battle for Dominus, later renamed Dominus, promising to bring back Dark Age of Camlot like 3-faction PvP plus sandbox gameplay? Well, that game just got cancelled. Games getting several hundred thousand dollars, or even a million or two on Kickstarter sounds great, until you realize that it takes about a hundred thousand dollars to pay one guy for one year (about twice his salary due to other costs of employment). That million only pays for 10 man years, which might result in a great iPhone game, but probably not a triple-A PC title. And if funding runs out before the game is ready to ship, you'll never see it.

I wonder whether this focus on games that aren't released yet has something to do with us being disappointed by the games we actually have. Do we still have the time to play games that came out, or are we already too busy to actually play while getting excited about games that are still far away?
Tobold's Blog

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