There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.
The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things. This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works. You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.
And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense. It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious. Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.
That is the idea in my book. I have fought for that ideal now and then. But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile. So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).
But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself. Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else. Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.
Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell. I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there. I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight. So while they
fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.
Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.
Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount. That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.
I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale. How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99? I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?
And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit. The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:
ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.
Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.
We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.
For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.
The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks. But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!) There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.
While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different. If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things. There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play. SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.
So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game. And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted. But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway. So I will probably pass.
SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well. They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.