Quote of the Day – Why Charge for Beta Access?

We’re simply not interested in letting freeloaders gain early access to the game, not provide meaningful – if any – feedback, while we foot the bill for the backend services, servers, bandwidth etc

-Derek Smart on the $99 price for Line of Defense Beta Access

Saying that Derek Smart can be a polarizing figure might the understatement of the year, at least in the gaming industry.  Polygon did an piece on him a couple years back that covers a lot of past ground on the topic of Derek Smart.  He gets online and says what he thinks.  Sometimes what he says looks to be self-defeating, like the extra drama piled onto the Quest Online vs. David Allen lawsuit, which ended up with Quest Online giving David Allen some money to just go away.

And sometimes he stabs right at the unvarnished truth that others are skirting around, as with some comments about the demise of 38 Studios two years back.

The latter is the case with the quote at the top about Line of Defense.

LineOfDefenseLogo

We have been wringing our hands about companies like SOE charging for what they call alpha access to Landmark… in a world where “alpha” apparently now means a stable platform devoid of most of the planned features… but this is the real reason you ask for money up front.  Sure, a bit of income is nice, but if your company is at a point where it needs that revenue, you are probably have other problems to worry about.

No, what charging for early access like this does is put up a barrier to entry that filters out all but those who are truly interested in what you are creating.  This gets you the people who really believe and want to help you out.

It is a double-edge sword however.  If you are going to make people commit, you had best have something ready for people to commit to.  You have your true believers, the core of your core audience, lined up and ready to go, so you screw them over or leave them hanging at your peril.

We have seen quiet periods with Landmark where the user base starts to idle as it waits for the available tool set to take another step towards the vision of what the game might be.  Not much testing getting done.  And then there is the true believer syndrome, where the forums start to feel like the domain of a few such who are committed to a particular version of the vision and who shout down any who challenge their orthodoxy.  Such are the risks.

You can read more about the Line of Defense early access program on Steam at the 3000 AD web site.

13 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – Why Charge for Beta Access?

  1. bhagpuss

    When I read that Derek Smart piece yesterday I just knew I’d be commenting on it here pretty soon afterwards. I also have a post pending on Landmark that ties in, if I can get time to write it.

    Couple of quick thoughts:

    Firstly, Mr Smart has a fair point if by “early access to the game” he actually means “getting to play a near-finished game before other people”. For that he’s entirely entitled to charge a fee. If, however, we are talking about giving non-employees access to an unfinished product or service so that they can test it and “provide meaningful feedback” then that’s arguably something HE should be paying US a consultancy or freelance fee to do.

    Secondly, if you charge an access fee for a test/early access build you pre-select individuals who are willing and able to pay a fee to play a game. If you plan on launching with a pay-to-play model that might give you the kind of feedback you need. If you plan on launching with a totally open-access F2P model, however, it’s hard to see how you’d even be fishing in the same pond.

    I can see how attractive this trend is both for developers and fans. God knows, I liked the idea well enough to buy into Landmark at the earliest opportunity and I feel I’ve already had my money’s worth from that deal. I am increasingly coming to believe, however, that it’s going to come round and bite both sides in the seat of the pants.

    I’d go out on a limb and say this is a trend with another year or two to run, not the sea-change for the industry it currently seems. Moreover, I suspect that when the trend runs it’s course it will be the developers pulling the plug on paid access not the players declining to pay.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Well, I have commented on this topic before. There was that whole democratic money thing back in February.

    There is always a risk when you ask people to give you money when you haven’t finished up the product in question. Taking people with an emotional investment in your game and asking them to double down with a cash investment leaves you very exposed if you cannot deliver. The core of your core audience and all.

    The smartest thing SOE did was give people their money back if they were unhappy with Landmark, given the gap between what was there and the long term vision.

    And, while getting a very dedicated, self-selected group together to test a product will get some results, any company has to remember that this will represent only a small part of the full audience at launch. We always hear about how things were better in beta, and I am sure that is, in part, because the group in beta is more homogenous than the broader group of gamers who will eventually play the game.

    Anyway, I thought it was worth noting that somebody came out and said what I had been thinking about finding dedicated, committed beta testers by putting up a monetary barrier. We’ll see how it plays out.

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  3. kiantremayne

    Much as Mr Smart can indeed be a jerk of biblical proportions, he has a point. When you want to do actual testing and expect feedback (as opposed to sheer volume testing or a marketing exercise), you want a bozo filter. In the old days, that meant getting wannabe beta testers to fill out a long form detailing their experience and computer specs. Arguably, what you put down on the form wasn’t nearly as important as the fact that you were committed enough to fill the damn thing in.

    These days, there’s a simpler test of commitment – show me the money. That has the added bonus of turning your early testers into advocates for your game, because if they don’t like it then they’d have to admit that they’d just flushed their money down the pan. Cognitive dissonance can be a bitch :)

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  4. UFTimmy

    Another potential land mine for the pay for early access idea: What happens when your core audience is tired of the game before it comes out?

    Without the vocal core community to spread praise of the game during an exciting launch, will you have as successful of a launch?

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  5. ordoministorum

    “says what he thinks”? are you people living under a rock!?! He’s not only a full time troll who uses the worst aspects of the internet to prey upon people who have no idea this guy is a documented con-artist.

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @ordoministorum – Living under a rock? No, though we do have a slate roof.

    I am well aware of who Derek Smart is, having first run into the mighty Battlecruiser 3000 AD threadnaught back on usenet in the mid-90s. That Polygon story I linked goes into him and his behavior, though not in all the depth it probably deserves. Oh, the stories that are out there.

    But it isn’t like he is Serdar Argic. He is a game developer, he has shipped games, and he clearly speaks his mind, pushing back hard when faced with criticism. But even Notch Persson, chill though he may seem (though Notch is pretty quick to dish out negatives himself, he just isn’t a complete dick about it) gets all worked up when somebody actually criticizes him.

    I am not sure I would ever give Derek Smart a nickel for any of his games based on reputation alone, but he is out there making an FPS MMO and commenting on something that has come up before in discussions of the genre.

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  7. Stabs

    Betas generally suck. I’ve opted in to many betas over the years and not one have I felt was a better moment to start playing than when the game actually worked.

    I’m not even sure about new releases any more, my feeling on many titles is “give it a year then try it when it;s free to play.”

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  8. weritsblog

    Based on his Battlecruiser days, I would not give Smart a dime, no matter how great the game is. The very fact he is against this makes me take the side of being pro free beta.

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  9. Samuel Silbory

    Honestly half the reason I joined Betas of an MMO is to determine if I liked the game enough to buy it. On rare occasions I pre-ordered for early access to an MMO, but found I was just a late beta tester. Kickstarter rewards that give me access to the Beta or Alpha are just plain odd to me. Why pay more for access to something that is buggy, and missing features when you can just wait and get a less buggy product with more features? Honestly with most MMO now my approach is to wait a month for them to get the game working, and read the reviews/talk to friends to determine if I wanted to buy it.

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  10. sid67

    This isn’t a conclusion that I would have come to own my own but I think charging for early access is the right thing to do.

    If you are a “believer” than the beta experience (even if it’s a bad beta to start) is a worthwhile experience. If, for no other reason, than you get to see the game evolve and sometimes even contribute to that evolution.

    I’ll pay for that experience — particularly if it also keeps out the non-believers.

    Now what I won’t pay for is Kickstarter. To me, I’m not buying a game through Kickstarter. I’m buying the “hype” for the game. That’s an entirely different commodity and one I’ll consume for free (thank you, very much).

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Samuel Silbory – “Honestly half the reason I joined Betas of an MMO is to determine if I liked the game enough to buy it.”

    Well, the two examples I gave in the post are for games charging for access to beta but which will eventually go live as free to play. Not sure your argument is germane to that segment of the market, but there have been plenty examples in the past of pre-orders getting you access to beta. I did that with SWTOR… and then I cancelled my pre-order.

    And from the dev’s point of view of wanting feedback from a beta… a real beta not a marketing beta… you can see the point of limiting it to those who actually will help out.

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