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Only Speaking Professionally | The Destiny of Betas

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I love Destiny. From what I played of the alpha and beta, Destiny will be one of my game of the year contenders (behind Dark Souls 2 and Gone Home… shut up). Hell, I even preordered it, and I fundamentally hate the whole preorder system.

Part of the impetus to preorder was guaranteed acceptance into the Destiny beta – even though I could (and did) get an (unsolicited) invite to the beta through the usual game reviewer PR channels. I was excited after the alpha, completely captured in Destiny’s world and mechanics. I couldn’t wait to pour all of my free time into the Destiny beta.

I played the beta for one day.

Yep. One whole day.

Not even a whole day – about six hours.

After downloading the 16-and-a-bit gigs, I played a whopping six hours of the Destiny beta before just… stopping.

I played the new missions. Followed the new storylines. Found loot. Frowned at the lack of wizards from moons. Hit the level cap. And then I stopped.

Sure, I’ve been busy these last few weeks. My real life work picked up. I’ve been planning my trip to TGS in the next few months. Dark Souls 2’s first DLC dropped. I’ve been using a lot of bandwidth in the background to prepare for stuff. Heck, I even went outside a few times. Or a couple of times. Maybe once. But I definitely was outside at some point.

But that doesn’t matter, because if I was really invested in the Destiny beta, I would have made time to play it. That’s what I do when I get grabbed by a game – I organise my schedule with gaming in mind. Playing games and analysing them critically is sort of a thing that I do. I made time for Dark Souls 2’s DLC (review pending). I even made time for a replay of the original Doom.

But I just couldn’t be bothered with the Destiny beta.

It’s not that Destiny is a bad game – indeed, I am still thoroughly in love with it. The beta is thoroughly great. I just… got bored I guess? I have already played through Old Russia. I’ve experienced the early story. I’ve gathered gear. I’ve shot things in the face. I’ve levelled up as far as I could. I’ve spent a whole lot of time in the world during both the alpha and the beta and I don’t feel invested.

I know every mook I kill for experience is pointless. Each skill I learn is useless. Every rare gun I collect is ephemeral. It will all disappear, leaving only memories and familiarity. And, when I get my hands on the game in September, I will have to start again from nothing. I’ll be replaying story content. I’ll be revisiting familiar places. I’ll have no joy in exploration that I first experienced when I booted up the alpha last month.

Been there, done that.

It’s an issue with alphas, betas, and early access games – that you can get sick of the game before it’s “finished”. Isn’t that a sad idea? That you can be finished with a game before it’s even complete.

It’s happened to me before. Minecraft, for one. I spent a lot of time in the late alpha and early beta builds, but by the time the final release (and most current updates) came along, I was a little over it. Yes, the new content is great, but it feels unfamiliar to me. I recently started up Minecraft again with some gorgeous texture and shader mods, and that’s been interesting, but it feels too foreign to me now. I miss my old house, the one I carved out of the hill above the beach with the glass frontage down to the fishing pond and cave access through the basement.

It also happened with Sir, You Are Being Hunted. I love that game. It’s a great, tense survival experience with delightfully British procedurally generated environments. But, come release, I’d already played it enough. I was familiar with the prerelease mechanics. The new creatures and items they added were strange, alien, unknown. And I just stopped.

There is a certain fatigue that comes with playing a game – especially playing a game in parts. There are only so many times I can run through Irenicus’ dungeon before I want to punch something. Sure, the rest of Baldur’s Gate 2 is amazing, but frankly I can’t be bothered getting that far if I have to sit through one more fight with that damned Otyugh.

The same can be said of early access games, or alphas and betas. I can only explore Old Russia so many times before it becomes so familiar in its cut-down prerelease form that any future gameplay will feel like a chore.

But, despite this, early access is thriving. Gamers want to get their hands on the latest thing as soon as possible, never mind how incomplete it is. We’re impatient, and the content can be there to be consumed rather easily, unlike something like a film, which has to be relatively complete before it’s watchable.

The explosion of Steam’s Early Access program is a testament to this. So is the idea being tossed around by major publishers like EA to go the early access route. So is the idea of console providers like Sony considering implementing early access schemes. Getting content to gamers as soon as possible is a huge push.

We want games before they’re finished, and creators are obliging.

I think we’re only seeing developers ask whether they can provide early access to their game, not whether they should.

It must be financially viable somehow – at least in the short term – otherwise there wouldn’t be so many trying to do it. And I get that (open) alphas and betas are helpful, especially for multiplayer games – like Destiny – that rely on server infrastructure load tests. But I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. We’re letting impatience override our desire to play a complete and finished game.

I don’t want early access or open alphas and betas to stop. I think they can be good things. But I would like developers and publishers to recognise that sometimes keeping things from us makes the end product better.

Sometimes waiting for a thing you really want can enhance your experience of it when it finally comes. And besides, some things are better off as mysteries, tricks of the trade, illusions. I love the sense of wonder and exploration I get when I boot up a brand new game that I know nothing about for the first time. I love trying to figure out how developers have hidden the strings. With early access I know exactly how everything’s done before I see how it’s finished, and I think that can take away some of the mystery of video games.

I know early access is optional, and I know that it will never be the norm, but I do hope more developers exercise discretion in implementing it.

Lachlan Williams
Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

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1 Comment

  1. Really interesting article. I stopped playing the Beta around 5 levels in because I didn’t want to spoil the opening hours of my full pre-order when it arrives in September…

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