Beta Blues

A few days ago a very early form of Legion beta appeared on, and some few streamers and pros and favored sons were given access. This is apparently not the actual Beta, more of an “alpha beta”, if there is such a thing. From what I have read, it is extremely limited play, basically just the Demon Hunter starting experience, with lots of the bells and whistles  — such as the transmog UI — not yet implemented.

(There are some supposed “shocking” story line spoilers, which I understand many people are furious about. Not sure I understand that, I mean I am not a lore person and even I could have guessed the track of the Legion story line from the Blizzcon cinematic. My suggestion to those sensitive souls annoyed about having the “shockers” revealed is to stick your fingers in your ears and shout LALALALA for the next several months.)

Anyway, I digress. Back to the beta, or the alpha of the beta, or whatever it is. As I said, currently it is available only to a few handpicked players, mostly streamers and Blizz-friendly bloggers, with a few of the devs’ BFFs thrown in, I believe. I suppose this is a good idea, as it might ensure the widest dissemination of the experience with minimal server overload and whining from people who have no clue what a beta is. I am certain that as we get further into it, the base of testers will increase.

Some years ago, in my Army days, I worked for a commander who always did his best to try and retain obvious misfits, even though they were constant troublemakers. I asked him why he always went to so much trouble for people clearly not meant for Army service, why not just chapter them out and be rid of them. He said one of the reasons institutions become inbred and stale is that early on they weed out those who do not “fit”, and he felt there should be some way to promote some of these misfits to the highest policy-making ranks without making them conform and therefore be beholden to the system. He wasn’t sure it was possible, but giving the troublemakers a few extra chances was his way of at least trying to keep the institution fresh and creative.

I tell you this, obviously, because I have a suspicion that Blizz had a problem with the way they picked people for the WoD beta, and I hope they realize that and do a better job for the Legion beta. I think for WoD they tended to pick mostly those who conformed to dev ideas of hardcore end game players, and to pay attention to their comments, while discounting or ignoring the comments of the “misfits” selected at random. We see where this policy got us.

To be fair, selecting effective beta testers is very difficult. You want someone who will spend time test driving all the various aspects of the game, who is observant, who will go to the trouble of recording their observations and back them up with numbers where possible, who is patient when things break, and who can articulate their observations clearly enough to be of use to the devs. This is a tall order, and I am sure there is a great temptation to pick known players who have the same game vision as the devs do. Picking large numbers of players randomly is a real crap shoot, as most of them will not have the skills necessary to be effective testers, resulting in little feedback of value for Blizz.

However, this in my opinion is what they need to do in the next and subsequent iterations of Legion beta. They need to de-emphasize (note I did not say eliminate) participation from high performing semi-professional players and bring in a large segment of the “normal” player base — the questing crowd, the LFR crowd, the log-on-a-couple-times-a-week-and-just-bop-around crowd.

They will get low rates of participation and feedback from this approach, true. But they will get a better assessment of the expansion design from it. If necessary, they can track logins on the beta and remove testers who have not logged in, say, in two weeks, making room for others. I am not implying this is easy, or that it is not resource-intensive, but I am saying if they are serious about making the beta useful, they need to do it.

The other thing Blizz needs to do on the beta is make it completely transparent to everyone. Publish all the comments somewhere accessible, and indicate which comments they intend to address and which ones they do not. The popular notion after WoD is that some of its worst features were commented on in the beta and ignored.

Another part of transparency is for Blizz to make public the composition and numbers of beta testers — how many “friends and family”, how many semi-pro bloggers and streamers, how many random from each region, etc. And what is the basic method of selecting “random” players (because honestly I am not believing it is strictly a function of turning on the beta test request in your account.)

I want this beta to work. I want it to result in a remarkable new expansion, one that returns to the model of making the game accessible and fun to a diverse player base, not a game of, by, and for hardcore gamers only.

And now to the real point of this post: I have never been selected as a beta tester. I fit none of the semi-pro or friends and family categories, plus I am notoriously unlucky so will never be selected in any kind of “random” invite. I think that is too bad, as I believe I would be a responsible beta tester and would give good feedback. So come on, Blizz, give this misfit a chance!

Hey, even a long shot is still a shot, right?

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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