I do wonder how many times Dave Georgeson and EQN Landmark’s community team had to repeat above line over the past few days. I admire the patience. No matter how many times you explain “alpha” to somebody who is also paying money – and even to those that do not – there’s always a person who thinks your game could really be a bit more polished and optimized right now.
It seems public or paid-for alphas are becoming more and more common in the game industry and many are making their first steps into such early territory. Even more so than betas, alphas need capitalized words of caution; gameplay is fraught with bugs and frustrations, so there better be a conscious choice of what you’re signing up for. While satisfying curiosity is a thing, quite often it isn’t nearly as great to see the gemstone being cut before its made its way into that hopefully shiny diamond ring you intend on buying.
I don’t feel particularly drawn to MMO alphas, let alone paying for one (but hey, that’s what I used to say about betas). Syp doesn’t seem sold, yet Jewel and many other bloggers around the blogosphere have caught the bug of early sandboxing greatness once the servers finally went sort of stable. I can relate too well; when I joined Minecraft pre-launch, I fell deeply into the rabbit hole for several weeks. It was absolutely amazing. And I also burned out quickly once that fatal question of so many sandbox games hit me: and what next?
I know what I’m getting into with game testing. I’ve played in many betas and a few alphas, the latest being the DayZ standalone – one of the more remarkably playable alphas. At the same time, Bohemia Interactive have done a commendably transparent job of communicating what players need to expect from their early game development. Dean Hall, game designer for both Arma and DayZ and frequent twitterer, has continuously warned of joining early access for the wrong reasons, jokingly admitting that even he himself wouldn’t yet want to play it.
As far as I’m concerned, in alphas there be dragons. It’s a stage for implementation and debugging a lot more than gameplay and I don’t usually have the patience. Many of the final features are still missing so it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from anything. For those who are into active feedback and “that NPC didn’t give me any gold” or “it would be neat to have dual specs” – really, wait for beta. Make your wish-list on the forums while you wait and still dream.
Alphas are for the rough cuts and while players are sometimes invited, it isn’t really about the things that tend to concern us later just yet. It can absolutely be exciting and interesting to see a game grow though and to feel like you’re a part of something, a lot more so than in certain open betas that kid players about much fine-tuning three weeks before official launch. Alphas can have their own magic for sure – I just advise to bring your good shoes for the rocky hike ahead.
I will wait a little longer, cheering from the sidelines and savor this Vorfreude while I still can.