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Monday, October 15, 2012

Time of death; 1 month before release

A common complaint I hear these days is that gaming is too formulaic. A new Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, Battlefield, FIFA, Madden and so on are expected every year. Critics note that E3 in recent years has most sequels than original ideas. Concurrently, I've been privy to joining several closed betas in the past year, and I begin to wonder if the gaming community is working against its own interests in how it handles them.
If I were an outside observer using only the closed beta forums of some games as my means of learning about said game, I would find that not only are most of these games discussed as though they have already been released, but that they are often already tragic failures which should have been closed. Think about that for a second; a game hundreds of thousands of dollars and human-hours have been sunk into is being declared dead by its own players before it even hits the market.

I begin to wonder how this happens; why do players in betas view themselves more as customers than as testers? I am not even talking about the so called "market" open betas that are becoming popular, but the still NDA locked closed betas. I was under the impression that the purpose of those was for the developer to try different things and make changes based on what works and what does not...and yet I see players declaring the game a failure, threatening to move to a competitor, and giving complaining generally ("The game is terrible!") rather than giving useful critique ("I feel like X ability on Y class is not effective enough because _____")

We seem to hate being called "entitled' but this sort of behavior hardly helps fight that stereotype. This problem is endemic to the gaming community; players view themselves as being at odds with developers rather than co-authors of a work of art. I think it is this very conduct that pushes developers to communicate less and less meaningfully to players; a promise never made can't be broken.

In all fairness, the onus of this is not entirely on players; developers are also frequently guilty of labeling things as "betas" which are only serving to drum up interest and market awareness. All too frequently players will feel that when they do provide meaningful feedback it falls on deaf ears of developers who have already made up their minds.

Ok Clock you've ranted enough, what is the point? Simply put, the issue is that declaring games dead before release is antithetical to the desire to have more originality in gaming. Development of a game is a costly endeavor, and declaring a game "bad" simply because it breaks conventions or isn't like "that other game" stifles creativity. Treating developers as an adversary who must be berated if they don't provide exactly what a specific player desires limits their willingness to communicate. I may not like what Ghostcrawler has done, but claiming that he "killed" WoW or dissecting everything he says is not going to get him to open up on the forums. Just because you dislike a design decision, does not instantly make the game bad.

Perhaps as a community we could open our minds a bit; and stop declaring a game dead a month before it comes out. Perception is a powerful tool, and maybe its time to look at games for their strengths, rather than tallying their weaknesses.

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