Earlier this week Evolve launched, and if you're not familiar with the concept it is a 4-vs-1 game style that features a collective of (four) hunters working together in order to take down (one) large monster creature. It is a concept that nearly exclusively features online-multiplayer and progressive character building. Our review should be up shortly, but is unfortunately delayed because of my diminished interest in actually playing games.
Well because I was burnt out on the beta, which is what I wish to spend a little bit of time talking about today.
During its Beta phase, I got to play Evolve twice (over the course of two weekends). My first weekend I went HARD and tried my damnedest to unlock all of the characters, so I would have a first-crack at what each of the different classes and their second-stringers felt like in-game. I played the holy hell out of the game and unlocked everyone's second form (except for the monster, which I never could get the handle of dealing massive damage with a dash).
The second time I knew what I had to be done: Focus on the monster and unlock that final piece of the puzzle. Again, I spent many, many hours working my way through the character progression of the monster to try and unlock the secondary... but at the same time, my weekend was less free than the first, and I wound up coming just short (once again).
Finally the game officially released, and on launch-day Shogun was provided a review code by the fine people at 2K Games (specifically their PR department) so that I could now try out the game in its full-release glory... and I'm struggling. Seeing the reset of the character progression bar for the third time now is a little more than "disheartening," it's nearly soul breaking. I'm sure there was a time, back in the days of buggy saves, that I restarted a game from the beginning more than once, but I'm getting old and tired and the idea of seeing that progress bar reset itself for the third time has caused me a serious amount of personal disinterest in the game, which isn't fair.
This isn't the only game with this problem either. Most online-multiplayer games these days have character progress. Recent games I could cite would be Halo 5: Guardians with its ability and armor unlocks (all of which I'll have lost a few times over by the time the game actually comes out nearer the end of the year). There's also Battlefield Hardline, which I've been both Alpha and Beta for. To unlock certain weapons in that game means hours and hours of character class progression... which will inevitably be reset.
Now, to be fair, this isn't a new concept. Betas and character progression have been around for years. The only thing that's really changed is my outlook on the concept of character progression from Alpha to Beta, to Beta weekend 2, to actual launch. Seeing that bar reset itself that many times are a disservice to people that are looking forward to the full-release of the game. So why we do we allow ourselves to "ruin" the game early like this?
Well, from my personal view point I'm not only a consumer, but someone that has elected to work inside of the industry. It's kind of my job to make sure I'm aware of these games as they progress, to keep my finger on the pulse of production and have an idea of what people are going to be interested in next.
In the example of Evolve, I said throughout the production and betas (if you watched our live-streams) that it felt like a game that is going to have a painfully short life-span. The concept is an awesome one, but didn't see a lasting appeal to the game format. It's especially true when you've had multiple runs at the core game-type through multiple beta tests of the game and its server structure.
So the question I have now is: "What's the solution?" - There's a major part of me that thinks that wiping out betas from our cycle is a great idea if you want to be able to enjoy a game without dealing with the constant resets. There's another part of me that feels like that's probably not a good way to handle things, especially if you're looking to claim yourself as an industry insider. It's also not fair to the people who are making the games. With the release issues of games like Diablo and Destiny, the need for beta/stress testing on servers is abundantly clear.
Because everything is about perspective and scope I have to assume for everyone one of myself, there's at least a few hundred or a few thousands more that feel the same; people who might have purchased Evolve if they hadn't burnt themselves out on the Beta. For the developers/publishers of games where the online multiplayer/progression is a key factor it then becomes a risk vs. reward scenario where you need to weigh the loss of potential income (when people like myself get burnt out on your game in the beta and opt not to actually purchase the game on release) vs. the value of stress-testing your servers to make sure everything is working at launch.
Unfortunately I don't believe there is a universal solution. Game developers will each need to weigh the positive and negative aspects of beta testing (public and private) each time they prepare for the release of a new game. As a consumer I'm done with the concept, and I would much rather wait and see what the game is like at its launch than exhaust myself on the continuous character resets inherent with gaming; as someone that works in the industry though, I acknowledge that I will need to continue participating in the endless loop, my hope being that for those like myself I can act as a bridge. I can tell you whether or not a game, currently in beta, is going to be worth your time at launch so you can avoid exhaustion or frustration in advance.
That's pretty much the only thing that will keep me going back.