I remember the glory days of Beta testing. You know, a new product would come out and you’d sign up to Beta test it, hoping to be one of the lucky few who have managed to make the list. Years ago, it was a prize to be cherished.
That’s changed a lot now, and while there are still the Beta lists of invites, Beta doesn’t exactly mean the same anymore. Companies now offer preorders which allow you to get in on the Beta testing of a product. I’ve Beta tested four games in the past few years, two I got in on merit of invite, two others I did preorder (one of which I really wanted to get, which was Guild Wars 2).Some might say I’m being hypocritical to complain about paying for something in order to be involved in it, and yes, I’ll admit the decisions to pay to Beta test were prompted by the aspect of monetary availability. I had the money, I wanted to try it out, so I paid.
But the problem with this comes from paying for something, which includes a pre-order, to try it out before the official launch. What if you think it stinks? You’ve just blown X amount of dollars in order to “try” something out. In some cases, name branding will help the product succeed. Knowing that a brand name that’s been trusted will help in the decision making. That has the adverse effect, as well. And it’s very confusing when it’s a trusted name brand that is being developed by a company who has a shoddy track record.
“I know it’s X game, and X game has always been cool, but it’s being made by Z company, and they’ve proven to be really shitty with development and customer service. So, do I sink money in order to play a really great franchise, all the while supporting a really crappy company?”
It’s a very complicated issue nowadays, considering how video game companies are pumping out products which just seem to be complete carbon copies of what’s been done before. And the consumer has this attitude that the video game companies don’t have any obligation to deliver anything to the players once they have your money. Well, yes, they do. They’re still a business and they still produce a product. When you give someone money to buy something, even if it’s digital, it’s still a product. There may not be a physical thing to hold in your hands, but you still did get something in the transaction. And to say it’s just the entertainment industry is nothing more than a cop out.
Consumers are now paying for the privilege (because, that’s what it is, a privilege) to join in during the Beta, and often, unless you’re really confident about the game or product, that’s like playing Russian roulette. For every one Beta test you get involved in that’s really good, there could be three or four that are just crap. And is it easy to get your money back from such a venture? Most often not. Sometimes a company will claim that the time you spent beta testing, is money to them. You, the consumer, basically rented time in the beta to play it.
Video game companies have really gone full bore with business attitudes that they are money making machines first and foremost (which, to be honest, all companies are), instead of trying to make a decent product and having good customer service to help out that product move along. There are cases where some products (in this case, video games) have gone by the way side, but let’s look at one in particular; Neverwinter Nights. Years after Bioware stopped production of the game, they still made a patch for it, and they still had servers and support for the game after that. Almost ten years after the game was launched, Bioware still supported it. And it wasn’t only until a couple of months ago that GameSpy, the company that ran the master servers for multiplayer aspects of Neverwinter Nights, finally shut those servers down. 11 years after the game was launched. That’s dedication to a product, that’s customer service. It helped that Neverwinter Nights had a massive community, but they also had a huge respect for that community.
Another example of excellent customer service and listening to the customers was the now defunct City of Heroes. CoX (as it was called) would often send out Beta invites for their expansions, never charging for it. Often, however, if you were playing the original game, there was a very good chance you would have gotten their expansions (City of Villains and Going Rogue). The team at Paragon Studios kept fans and players up to date on events, issue releases (patches or updates to the game were called Issues, like comic book issues), and a whole lot more, before NCSoft pulled the plug on Paragon (both the studio and the game). And if there was a problem in game, it was often handled fast. Paragon Studios and CoX was the fastest response time I’ve ever had with support problems, often times while I’m still attempting to find a solution on my own in game.
Those two previous examples seem to be the exception to the rule, as it now seems companies and development teams are less and less interested in customer service and more interested in pushing a product out.