Beta releases for games are usually either free but closed, or priced low with open access. The purpose of a beta is to give the reigns to potential players to test the game on a large scale with the end goal of refining the game, working out what doesn’t work, and fixing bugs. New World went for a closed beta – it’s a server-based MMORPG, and they didn’t want to overload the servers they had active with too many players.
The Beta went great. Players and streamers alike seemed to enjoy the game! There were some balancing issues (streamers have fans, and those fans want to play the game on the streamer’s side, overwhelming enemy forces) but nothing that was impossible to fix. The unique PVP style of the game meant noobs could get into fights with high-ranking players and get destroyed, or they could work as a team, take them on, and maybe win. You could build armies to take over in-game real estate. You couldn’t opt out. That last part in particular was super unique for MMORPGs – to say that PVP combat was almost guaranteed in the game was also saying that climbing the ladder of leveling, item collection, etc. was going to be difficult. Better players or players with better loot would be given a large advantage over the noobs just getting in the game. But, the team had balancing plans on the way, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Right?
The Release Date Loomed
Turns out solving that problem was a lot harder than it seemed. Streamers had the advantage when it came to building armies, and casual players found it hard to get into the game after a sort of critical mass of other high-level players had been reached – they’d get in, become an easy, unarmored target, and then get ganged up on for easy loot and cheap XP points. While small, organized groups could overwhelm larger, unorganized ones, that advantage starts to break down when the larger army is so large it’s slowing down the server – and citing that as a sort of natural balancing is assuming the larger group is unorganized, which it may not be if there’s a Discord server or other outside communication involved.
In the myth of Sisyphus, he’s under no illusion that he’s ever actually going to be done rolling the boulder up the hill, but the new players are working under the assumption that if they just keep going, then one attempt is going to result in a build that will allow them to survive. Every time that doesn’t happen is then more frustrating than the last.
Seeing this in the beta, the game devs then decided to introduce a different balancing system. A level fifty player doesn’t get to smack level ones right off the bat, anymore – they’ll still be in trouble, but the odds are no longer guaranteed. For higher level players, that was annoying, but those high level players were going to be vastly outnumbered by noobs anyway, so from a % of complaints standpoint, this made sense. After all, if PVP can’t be turned off, you’d like to have a chance against a tyrannical level fifty, right? It was going to be an adjustment from the way most other games worked, but it made sense in a vacuum. More experience means you can do more stuff, not that you’re exponentially stronger than the other people out in the world, sort of like it is IRL.
However, other balancing tactics weren’t to balance play, they were to balance the servers. A teleportation system would occasionally yoink players and then slap them down in a different town mid-battle because the server couldn’t handle so many people in one place at one time. While funny, that was annoying – and only a stopgap solution, not something you could do sustainably as player counts increase. It also felt unfair even in the beta! Imagine the colonel of one of your ‘battalions’ is just yoinked over to Pottersville! Did you lose because you were ill-equipped to win, or did you lose because your colonel was gone? When you lose in a game, you’re supposed to be able to point to something you did that made you lose. ‘I didn’t bring enough health potions’, or ‘I took on an enemy that was at too high a level’ – not ‘the game pulled a critical member of my party and then put him down too far away to come over and participate again before the enemy overwhelmed us’.
This didn’t even scratch other server problems, which included long wait times and a lot of slowdown in busy servers, which is the MMORPG’s bread and butter. For New Worlds especially, the game was better when you could cram more people into it, so lacking the infrastructure to do so felt really disappointing to a lot of the players who were promised full-scale wars and sieges of enemy territory.
The Streaming Issue
When you have streamers promote a game, those streamers are going to color the experience of the game. To use a comparison, look at Youtubers playing a new game in a popular series, Five Nights at Freddy’s. Watching Markiplier’s experience with Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach, where he was an enthusiastic fan of the series and was willing to overlook small bugs (and was still pretty forgiving of larger ones, like the ending of the game triggering almost on luck because of bugs) is very different from watching someone like Scott Falco playing, who didn’t have a history with the game and therefore wasn’t sentimentally attached to it enough to downplay the bugs. Money wasn’t a factor in either playthrough of the game, and the vibes were still totally different on both because Mark was predisposed to like the game, and Scott wasn’t.
Meanwhile, New World had sent people free copies and even paid some streamers to promote the game. It should go without saying that paying people to review something is going to lead to a slightly different review experience than if they’d come across the game themselves, bought it for themselves, and then played it blindly for an hour of their own volition. Most people are taught not to complain about gifts in front of the giver!
However, the result of making that the primary form of advertising is that the people on the ground floor go in expecting the streamer’s experience only to discover that, as a new player, collaboration and leveling aren’t nearly as easy as those streamers made it look, hence all of the balancing changes going on. The game may look roughly the same, but it feels totally different.
The Style Of Gaming
The average person doesn’t play Dark Souls. Some just don’t find it rewarding, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s say the company discovers this in beta testing because a % of players complain. There’s nothing glitchy or broken with the game, they just find it too tough – for some reason or another, they can’t get their flask refilled or their equipment upgraded before they die an untimely death to some ghouly on the way to the boss. Other players are also finding it tough, but they’re satisfied at the end of the level because it was tough. The company has a decision to make: do they listen to the first set, or the second? Do they water their game down, and try to fix it for the most common denominator, or do they listen to the second set, and continue polishing what they already have, maybe making it too niche a product to recover what they put into it while developing? Remember, by the time a company gets to beta testing, most of the framework is already built – trying to re-shape it is not quick or easy. New Worlds was designed, intentionally or not, as a grind for new players, and trying to balance that has made the game harder for high-levels who feel they’ve earned their spot. This is a fundamental problem within MMORPGs as a whole, so who do you listen to? And what do you do to fix it for the other side?