Guild Wars 2 | Thinking outside the beta invite box

Guild Wars 2 does like to be different. Their latest idea? Instead of sending out beta keys by mail you can get one as a drop from the game.

In various studios across the globe there are game designers sitting in their office. They are reading how Guild Wars 2 has made beta keys into a drop. You get them in Dry Top and the Silverwastes, the newest areas of the game. They drop from any enemies. And those developers are thinking "Lets watch this carefully and see how it goes". Because this is a good idea, with the potential to change the way you get access to beta tests. Instead of checking your email, you play the game you want to test.

What normally happens

Typical routes into a closed beta test of an expansion are via one of two paths:

  • Sign ups and the lottery - people are randomly selected from those who expressed and interest
  • Giveaways - keys are given to various sites and given away in competitions

Both are largely random. You might get lucky and win a key, you might not. Sometimes developers make adjustments to the random nature to ensure their tests are successful. They might develop a questionnaire that looks for key things from their testers. They might take an image of your PC to ensure they test on a variety of systems. They could use the data they collect on your play habits to check.

From the player point of view, however, they sign up and wait. And fill in competition forms and wait.

There are a couple of exceptions. There is the trend towards 'Founder's Packs' for free to play games, where users can pay to get in early. This has not been used for an expansion, however. The other is the infamous Warcraft Annual Pass. If players paid for a year up front, they got a key. The success of this was mixed. Blizzard could not get all the people who took up the offer in at once, as they needed to gradually increase numbers. And a lot of people who got these keys never used them.

Why this could work

In many ways (despite the forum QQ) what ArenaNet are doing is just a variation on a lottery draw. Its still about RNG. You can still put in effort to improve your chances (like entering a competition) by playing more. There is still the risk that players who get a key won't use it.

The big difference is in the productivity of the time spent (for ArenaNet). Normally all that waiting and effort is outside of the game. In fact, as expansions near, people are likely to play less. The expansion limbo effect is seen across all games, with players drifting away, feeling their current efforts are somehow lessened by the new content on the horizon. With this idea, that effort is spent playing the game.

Even better, that effort is spent in a concentrated area of the game, bringing large numbers of players together. This is the best way to play Guild Wars 2. With no tagging or sharing penalty, other players can only help you. ArenaNet has come up with several ways to concentrate players throughout the life of the game. With their overflow system, large numbers on the same map rarely cause an issue. Bringing players together allows them to defeat content that would otherwise be impossible. Dailies and in game events have been used to do this before.

What are the risks

There are not a lot of risks that would not be associated with a normal access route. Probably the biggest disadvantage for players, is that they need to have a different kind of time available for this. Game time means being in a location where you can play, on a powerful enough PC with the game installed, doing nothing but gaming (and maybe watching TV). In contrast, the lottery can be joined from any internet enabled device. It can be done on the train, or during your lunch hour. This will exclude some players. On holiday this week? Bad luck.

The other potential risk is player burnout. The decrease in play leading up to an expansion is not always a bad thing! This is probably hard to explain to your CEO, and its definitely hard to explain to your raid team. However, my feeling is that the breaks the end of expansion lull provide can help a game. If they are too long, this becomes a problem, but a short term break can ensure players come back refreshed. And they come back to new, better content which reminds them why they loved the game to start with.

In conclusion

My feeling is that the best system is one that gives players multiple routes. I certainly think that the in game route should not replace the out of game routes, but it could absolutely compliment them. And it feels natural that playing the game should be the best way of increasing your chances of getting into an expansion beta. The effort required should mean that the tester pool you get from this will be more dedicated (though I suspect its not that simple) and at worse its likely the level of engagement will be the same as in the lottery. All in all, the benefits would seem to outweigh the risks.

How might other games implement this? It would be a great way for mature MMOs to encourage people to go back and experience any content they feel was a bit underutilised or that won't have been seen for a while. Old zone content, old dungeons, old raids, for example. It could also be used to incentivise grind. Levelling up a profession like Archaeology in World of Warcraft, for example.

One way to improve it might be to vary it. So perhaps for 3 days, the keys drop in the Silverwastes and Dry Top. Then for another 3 they drop in Orr. It could also be complimented by the daily system. At the moment you need to choose whether to grind for a key or do dailies. If the dailies focused on the area for the key grind, this might feel less grindy. You are at least getting your dailies done, even if the key does not drop.