Beta Off Without
Last weekend I was among the countless throng that was able to participate in the Diablo III stress test beta. It is one of three betas I’ve had some degree of access to over the past few weeks, the others being Firefall and Mists of Pandaria. Now, this weekend I’m informed that it’s time for me to get a taste of Guild Wars 2.
These are all games that I have a passionate interest in, and the idea of getting to play in the sandbox to come is an enticing one. I think the opportunity to beta test, even if those words have come to mean something different than originally intended, is a hard one to pass up. There is an allure to touching this thing that is still in a state of creation. It’s like when people use that hoary old analogy about not wanting to see how the sausage is made.
Every time someone says that, I immediately want to see how the sausage is made.
So I go into these betas, like countless before, with that coppery sense of anticipation in my mouth, ready to dive in and at least indulge in the illusion of being part of the creation process. And inevitably, usually sooner rather than later, I come to the conclusion that doing this thing, taking part in the beta process, was a destructive idea that ultimately diminishes my enthusiasm for the game to come.
I really liked the Diablo III stress-test beta, when I was able to circumvent the login firewalls that seemed intent on telling me — a legitimate user — "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" As I said on the recent episode of the show, for me this was shaping up to be a game that is at or well beyond all of my expectations. I can see myself drowning in this game upon release, but drowning in the sense of being enveloped in an ocean of warm, loving hugs.
So you might assume then that I am glad to have been able to participate. And yet now that the time has ended, I must admit that I am not. I plowed through that beta, got my achievements, scored some loot and took the first precious steps down this long road, always with the knowledge in the back of my mind that I had writ my Diablo III name in water. Now, after the stress test has ended, I feel the same way I feel when I have a dream about working a long day only to wake up and immediately realize it’s time to go to work.
It’s for that reason that I can’t engage myself in the Mists of Pandaria beta. The idea of being able to construct a character that might at any moment (and most certainly will, eventually) be stricken from the record diminishes any other desire I might have to explore the new continent, classes or races.
It’s sort of like peeking at your Christmas presents two weeks before the holiday. Once you know, you know, and now it’s no longer a cool surprise you can look forward to. The magic of anticipation is gone.
I’ve said before that my favorite part of gaming is looking forward to games. I am energized by anticipation, possibly more than I am actually energized my most of the final results. Games on the horizon have no limits. They never let you down. They are always existing, at least to my own whims and wants, in a perfect state of success, because they can’t yet dash your hopes. Sometimes the games live up to that idealized image, and that’s its own kind of special. More often, the reality is somewhere in between, and perhaps I learn to love the game despite its flaws. But to look through the peephole before the game is cooked is in many ways to steal a chunk of my favorite time away from myself.
I can’t help myself, of course. If there is one thing I hope we have firmly established, it is that I am a being devoid of willpower. Given the opportunity to beta test a game, particularly one for which I can muster enthusiasm, I will always choose to go against my better angels. Aside from those games that really seem to exist always in a state of open beta, where the term itself has no meaning or impact, I can’t think of a single time that I didn’t regret taking part.
I suppose being in betas has at times saved me money, not in the sense that I passed wide-scale judgments on half-finished games, but in the sense that just being let in somehow not only curbed my enthusiasm, but parked my enthusiasm on the sidewalk next to a fire hydrant where it was towed away.
I guess I’m happy that didn’t happen with Diablo III for me, but in reading some of the feedback in various forums, I definitely see people for whom that did happen. And, somehow, I feel this strange sadness for them, because I know how I would have felt looking forward to Diablo III for the better part of a decade, only to lose faith in the last few steps before the finish line. I can’t blame or fault anyone for leaving the stress event either more excited than ever for the game or completely disillusioned. My own personal brand of discouragement is at least limited to just a mild disgruntlement that the things I did this past weekend are already deleted from the face of the game.
Honestly, knowing me and my history with betas, it could have been much worse.