Friday, 13 November 2015

Paid Beta: problems vs genius #GW2 #GW2HOT

Lewis at TTH has just posted what looks to be a decent article about how HOT could be improved. I don't have HOT so I can only guess how accurate the article is but it looks sensible enough.

However, as I just said to him on Twitter, I have to take exception to the opening line:
There's no doubting that Heart of Thorns is a fantastic expansion pack
I have doubts. I have such strong doubts that it's even a decent expansion pack that I haven't bought it. Maybe my expectations were too high? Who could be to blame for that?

Anyway, the 2nd closed beta for Blade and Soul starts in an hour or so and I'm lucky enough to have a key, so I'll be taking a look at it. Sadly, that's not something I had the opportunity to do with HOT. Lewis did get several looks, even prior to the beta, and I'm not saying that biases him but it might have helped to temper and balance his expectations. For everyone else you had to buy the product.

OK I concede that, in retail, that's hardly exceptional, but it's pretty exceptional for video games. Demos or trials have been around since I was buying magazines with cassette tapes sellotaped to the cover. And it's all to encourage you to buy the full product. I really don't get why Arenanet shunned that tradition.

The exclusive paid beta means that people like me (cynical, "miserable", thrifty, old) didn't "test" the game. Or to put it another way: the only people that "tested" the expansion were the people that thought they'd like it enough to buy it.

It should be obvious why that's not a good thing UNLESS your business plan is to literally double-down on "fanboys", thereby ensuring that you're only listening to people who have already decided to back you and tailor your product to them. Is that a bad strategy? Well, again (as I so often say!), no it's not. It's probably quite smart. It avoids that whole "trying to please everyone" trap that I think many developers fall into.

Of course, the other way to avoid that trap is to have some creative integrity: decide on a direction and stick to it. However, this is clearly NOT part of the Arenanet business model and I think that, ultimately, without that clear, uncompromised developer vision, Guild Wars 2 will always rest in popular mediocrity.

But, again, that's hardly a bad place to be, is it?