Gamasutra has an interesting article about some comments made by Richard Garriott at the recent Independant Game Conference in Austin. He gave a speech about making MMOs and afterwards was asked what, in his opinion, went wrong with his latest game Tabula Rasa. I think it’s fair to say that TR has undersold its potential by a long chalk. I haven’t played it myself so I’m not going to comment on whether it’s any good or not, however for a title like this with a name like Lord British behind it, most people (including NCSoft) would have expected it to make more of a splash than it did.
Rather bizarrely Richard Garriott believes that at least part of the reason for the underwhelming reception is due to beta burnout.
“I think the formal marketing did fine,” he replied. “They let people know the game existed, and was coming out. I actually think the biggest mistake was made not by the marketing department, but by the development team. We invited too many people into the beta when the game was still too broken.”
NowI’m going to have to be careful of what I say here and beat around the bush a little. As many of you probably know, I’m involved in a project which is still in a beta state and under a strict NDA. I can’t therefore draw parallels between his game and mine, nor am I interested in either sounding like a corporate shill or giving people who want to throw stones at WAR/Goa/EA Mythic any ammunition.
All of that out of the way, I can agree that beta burnout is a very real issue however (and it’s a big however) why are your core audience all in the beta to begin with? That says to me that either your potential fanbase was very small or that your beta was way overweight. That counts double if they’re all in the beta at an early stage where basic systems like ‘fun gameplay’ haven’t been implemented yet.
I’m not unsympathetic. I know that a lot of beta testers have unrealistic expectations of what a game in beta will be like. They are put off by and complain about things like pink placeholder textures all over the place, unfinished UIs, game systems that don’t yet work or that only work to a point. These people however are not your early fan base – these people are tourists. The true fans are those who acknowledge the half built walls around them and can still see the shape of the edifice that you’re building. If you have a game at all these people will hold the faith up to and after release, they will be the ones spreading the word for you and bringing in new members to your fledgeling congregation. If you don’t have these people then it might be time to admit that you don’t actually have a game.