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The Beta Philosophy Behind Rift

As my interest in Rift has been growing, I’ve become much more curious on the creative minds behind Rift. Even if you don’t buy the concept (and why wouldn’t you?), you have to appreciate the sheer amount of experience this team brings to the table. So, last night I Googled Scott Hartsman Studio GM and CCO of Trion Worlds. I found his personal blog, which is a good read by itself, but, given our current HOURS away from Rift’s first big beta event, I found this article most interesting: MMO Betas: Tying Budgets to Beta Size to Production to Fun. In it, he touches on many aspects of the beta scene as we know it (marketing push), how it got there, and what we might glean from how a company pulls it off.

One of the more interesting points is that Scott clearly ties the size of a beta to the developer’s confidence in their product. In effect, if there’s no big beta, there’s something to be worried about. It’s also interesting to note that, while many of us consider betas a “free preview,” that developers hope to capitalize on the player’s desire to feel like they’re cheating when the game goes live. Now, that may sound bad within the context of this paragraph, but what Scott is getting at is that player’s enjoy feeling like they have an edge on the game. It assumes that players have moved beyond the purchase-preview stages of beta testing and into the content-peek; that the beta is about getting an edge on the content, rather than the other player, if you will.

He also goes on to discuss why some betas are plain out un-fun. He quotes a colleague (link now defunct) that sums it up pretty nicely.

By the time that beta comes around the meat and potatoes of the game hasn’t had enough time to marinate in the juices of fun, but the stock took so long to cool that you can’t throw it away. (Man, do I love metaphors)

He’s talking about the length and process through which modern MMOs are made and it’s an insight I hadn’t really heard before. As he describes it, oftentimes the tech behind a game is built up so far in advance that by the time it’s time to fun-test, much of it is too far gone to change; systems are tied together, dependencies have formed, and, looming over it all is the impending launch date, preventing devs from giving overhauls the consideration they truly deserve.

What does all of this mean for Rift? Good things, I hope.

First, I think we can glean that Trion is pretty confident in their product. Their beta page has three big events listed spanning a total of 20 levels each. This weekend is the first and they’ve visibly ramped up marketing leading up to it. While the others are not dated, nor elaborated on in terms of length, I think it’s safe to say that this is a “big beta” as Scott describes it. Thousands of VIP keys have been given out this last week alone and, if past is any precedent, thousands more will be given out before they’re done. The combined manpower being put into the beta will surely combine into the dozens of years and, if that’s not big, I don’t know what is.

I am a little concerned about crafting and some of the other small fluff features, however, as very little has been said about them to date. They’ve touched on some winning points, though, even if they’re small. Non-combat souls, crafting it’s own level path, collections? Yes, please.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that this article is a good indicator that they’ve dodged some of the pitfalls common to past development. If we look at the date it was published, April 2009, it’s a safe bet that Scott and Trion were already deep in development, probably nearing a state close to what testers will get this weekend. As a rule, people don’t call out a problem that they’re guilty of themselves. So, looking back through the promotional videos and interview texts, when Trion says they’ve developed a scalable system, one that’s built with the future in mind, I believe them.

All told, the article is a great read and definitely worth checking out. There are lots of others up there and, like other MMO dev blogs, it offers some insight you’ve probably not seen elsewhere. Check it out.

3 comments

  1. Longasc

    Interesting, but let me add this:

    Behind both Trion World Entertainment / Rift and Turbine / LOTRO are Time Warner.
    Both games – LOTRO F2P and Rift – had/have this almost absurd NDA that you may not even state that you are in the Beta.

    Betas have not been Betas for a while, they have turned into Marketing/Promo for quite some time. But this apparently changed, at least for Time Warner companies. They are aware of the harm or benefits of a bad/great Beta and apparently try to make Betas useful again: To really gather some feedback from the interested target group, instead of a trial for free Beta without much feedback.

  2. Scarybooster

    Man, I keep thinking I’ve comment on your blog posts but I never see my comment. Anyways, I think the new Rift video sucked. They were tooting their horn way too much. If they ate not perfect, they are in a world of hurt.
    Scarybooster recently posted..Plea to Abigale CM of Rift for VIP beta key

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      I just checked the spam folder and the last one got flagged somehow. Quit putting pr0n links in your URL! Nah, seriously though, I’ll keep an eye out. If it doesn’t appear right away, it got flagged. Happened to me a while ago where Akismet wouldn’t let me comment anywhere. I had to email them to get it fixed.

      I’m with you partially though. I thought the video was good and they showed some neat stuff, but there was way too much horn blowing going on.

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