Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 24, 2008
 
WAR press beta

I received a mail from Mythic's PR agency, inviting me to the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning press beta. Interesting, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a press beta. In the earlier stages of the WAR beta, press was excluded; so if they are now opening up it appears as if the game is getting closer to release.

What is a beta actually? I think everyone understands that word differently, just look at all the Google "betas". As I could see in the comments to yesterday's thread, the WAR beta is a particularly touchy subject. Mythic made lots of advertising to get people to sign up for the beta, then used the large number of people signing up for the beta as marketing tool ("look at us, we got millions of people signing up for the beta"), and then only let a small number of people actually get into the beta. And as this beta is already running longer than some other MMORPGs had in total lifetime from release to being shut down, that leaves hundreds of thousands of beta applicants unhappy for never making it into the beta.

From the people who actually made it into the WAR beta there also have been some negative comments. These can to a certain degree be explained by Mythic having a different idea of what a beta is than many of the beta testers. Some beta testers just want to play for free, but Mythic actually wanted the beta test to, well, test their game. There are stories that for testing purposes the graphics were toned down up to recently. And you couldn't just make a character and play whatever you wanted, the beta test was very structured, and only specific races, classes, and levels were available at various times. So you might log in and find your character from the last phase deleted, and you having to play a new character of level X of some other race. Which *is* a good method to actually test stuff, but requires a certain dedication from the beta testers beyond playing for free. Mark Jacobs recently explained the decision to cut 4 classes from WAR by the feedback of beta testers, and them watching the numbers and seeing that people didn't play those classes in the beta because they weren't as much fun as the others. Compared to lets say WoW still struggling with the fact that people find protection warriors not so much fun since 4 years, using a beta to make sure all of your classes are popular is probably not such a bad idea.

But for marketing purposes the WAR beta isn't ideal. Because many other companies used their beta very differently, people are used to much shorter beta, inviting everyone who applies, and showing off the game near completion. These "marketing betas" serve better as free trial version, and to fuel the hype just before release. Their testing value is limited to stress testing the servers, and even there beta testers complain if during a stress test there is lag or login problems. Doh! I think Mythic did many things right with their beta to improve the actual game. But they shouldn't have asked everyone to sign up for the beta when they knew that is was still a long process not suited for the general public. It's not good to have potential customers disappointed before the game is even released. I hope they make up for it by inviting every applicant to some open stress test beta two weeks before release.

Personally I'm irrationally happy about my WAR press beta invite. Irrationally because it's for the wrong continent, and I'm already in the regular closed beta for Europe. I won't see anything new, and the press beta is still under NDA, so I can't write any more than I could before. But the simple fact that my status as blogger has risen to the point where big companies send me press beta invites, let me interview their top people, and give me press passes for events makes me very proud. My apologies for that pride, but the blog is a huge amount of work, and I get zero financial benefits from it. Positive feedback from readers and companies alike is my only reward. So you must excuse if I appear to be bragging about things like special invitations, reader numbers, and blog milestones of numbers of visitors, posts, and years. Consider them to be my salary.
Comments:
Congratulations.

Well deserved!
 
You should be proud. No need to apologise.
 
But the simple fact that my status as blogger has risen to the point where big companies send me press beta invites, let me interview their top people, and give me press passes for events makes me very proud. My apologies for that pride, but the blog is a huge amount of work, and I get zero financial benefits from it. Positive feedback from readers and companies alike is my only reward.

With that said, i'd like to see upcoming interviews a little more unfiltered, unleashed, uncaged. You're not a journalist. When studios approach you, you should recognize something smells funny. Let's be honest here. Blogs become a regular PR tool to advertise a product.

As a long time reader though none of your interviews offered different things i could'nt get from any commercial gaming site. I would like to see asking the questions that those site do not come up with, or are not allowed to do so. You're in the luxurious position to be totally independent. Yes, i know this brings the risk of studios blackmailing this blog but you can not lost anything here, besides the trust of your readership. We stick to the site no matter if there are official interviews or not. Stick to your roots, ask the dirty questions, this will add value in the long run. At least i do not read this site for producers praising their products.
 
Chrismue:

I'm not sure i agree with you.

Tobold has been known in the past not to be afraid of speaking his mind.

I guess the interviews published recently are a bit hampered by the fact that they are not conducted face-to-face, and that the questions are constructed beforehand.

Also, gz to Tobold for leveling up in the blogosphere. :)
 
Chrismue, I think you underestimate the ability of these guys to evade answering questions. It's a bit like judo, the interviewer launches a poined attack, and the interviewee skillfully evades and launches his own preplanned move.

And I'm not making a fool out of myself by posing questions to where the answer is "no comment". Asking for the release date of WAR or WotLK or Diablo III will just get me a "when it's ready" response, no useful information.

At the WWI 2008 there was a Diablo 3 panel, at which somebody asked whether there will be a secret cow level in Diablo 3. Answer "that's a secret". I can ask whatever I want, but nobody is going to reveal a previously unannounced feature in some blog interview.
 
On the topic of the "beta" period in game testing, especially MMOs, I sometimes question companies that allow everyone and their mother in from the start of beta.

You're right, I'd say the majority of people just want to get into a beta like WotLK just to be spoiled on the new content and "hang with the cool kids", so to speak. They have very little interest in actually doing what they're supposed to be doing and testing that content.

Again using the WotLK beta as an example, you would think Blizzard would have a ton of data from the BC beta on who was really out there testing (like submitting bug reports and posting constructive feedback on the beta forums) and who were just in it to be in it.

Also, I think a more complex "opt-in" form should have been used, actually asking the user questions, giving them a beta invite based on their answers instead of just blindly letting anyone "opt-in" with the click of a button.

Sure, near the end of a beta a couple weeks before release, let the flood gates open for some server stress tests, let everyone in. But, I think during the majority of a beta, people who actually care about testing content should be the ones in there getting their hands dirty.
 
Well done Tobold!

From one independent writer to another, keep going & just because you are getting noticed/invited to events/press betas doesn't mean you have to write 'good' things about companies & their products.

I get review copies of games sent to me by the likes of EA but also get turned away as being 'too small', by the likes of Sony. This doesn't mean I write what they want to hear mind(just take a look at my recent Bad Company review!).

Nice interviews btw ;)
 
That's fantastic, Tobold.

Now convince them that your good buddy Bildo is press too. :)
 
"Chrismue, I think you underestimate the ability of these guys to evade answering questions."

No one ever broke a big story by only asking toned-down questions. Feel free to ask as many questions as you want, just don't publish the ones that have 'no comment' for an answer. You're never going to get news if all you do is play it safe and ask easy questions. Don't let people walk all over you in an interview. If Paul Barnett chooses to tiptoe around every important element of your questions, then don't publish it. Certainly it is cool that you get people willing to grant you interviews, but don't feel obligated to publish if they turn out poorly.

I would also advise you not to get played by the companies. Giving you a little attention/acknowledgment and sending you invites to 'Press' betas makes you feel special. You're much less likely to say negative things about a company who's patting you on the back. Use the popularity of your blog as a way to hold the companies accountable.
 
" 'Press' betas makes you feel special. You're much less likely to say negative things about a company who's patting you on the back."

If I play a game is it sucks, I'm gonna speak up. Granted I didn't get invited into a "press beta", but if I did I'd still say the game sucks. I'm guessing Tobold is going to voice his opinion either way. It's just a beta invite, it isn't like mythic is giving him the game for free, along with a free $5000 computer to run the game, and a handfull of merchandise. Not to belittle getting an invite to "press-beta". I think that is great. It is what it is however, and I don't think it will stop anyone from voicing their true opinion about the game when the NDA is released. I also don't think mythic is thinking that either. All in all, it is a way for mythic to get the War name thrown around more. Nothing wrong with that.
 
I do love to read this blog, and enjoyed your thoughts on whatever topics you choose.

But I've always thought it was a bit of bad taste to brag about your salary to other people.
 
It's like Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation said:

"I judge my worth as a human being based on daily traffic statistics"

:-)
 
Preston: You're right, the invite isn't, by itself, anything really great. However, the act of extending Tobold that courtesy, is an ego-stroking of massive proportions for a guy like him.
 
I judge my worth as a human being based on daily traffic statistics

I judge my worth as a blogger based on traffic, feedback, and recognition. My worth as a human being is far higher, because it also includes the worth of my private life and the worth of my job life.

But I've always thought it was a bit of bad taste to brag about your salary to other people.

Part of this blog is a diary of my life as blogger. Listing my milestones and achievements as blogger is more done for the record than for bragging purposes.

I would also advise you not to get played by the companies.

No risk of that. For example my published opinion of WotLK being too little, too late hasn't changed from the first Freezing Jihad prediction to today. I couldn't write my opinion on WAR yet due to the NDA, but I can assure you that it will solely be based on gameplay.

You're never going to get news if all you do is play it safe and ask easy questions.

Read my two recent interviews again, but just read my questions, not the answers. Are you really telling me that my questions were easy? Asking Blizzard whether they planned to continue using that same old 10-more-levels model for future expansions wasn't an easy question. Asking Paul how much of the game was actually his idea, or how he plans to manage the hardcore wasn't easy questions.

If you think you could do better, I'd invite you to try. Make a blog, send out questions to game developers, and see how far you get if you antagonize them from the start. I'm a polite person by nature, I'd rather ask interesting questions than aggressive ones. And I think that both interviews had lots of interesting tidbits between the marketing speak in the answers. Paul's view of WAR as a long-term hobby, and not something you should rush through and beat, was very enlightening to me, especially in comparison to the end-game heavy design strategy of WoW.
 
Huge grats Tobold, as someone who was originally inspired by you to get into blogging, I think you getting recognition from companies can only mean good things for the rest of us.

You are paving the way, showing the industry that a blogger can be a powerful entity when it comes to opinions about a game.

If Tobold says it's good, the people will follow. :)
 
Grats!
 
Congrats for dinging.

I think to stick to ones roots an speak up for his opinion is the best way to be taken seriously and constantly show credibility. People are very quick in getting a feeling if someone isn’t honest with them or only speaks for the sake of profit.
There were some scandals recently (gamespot.com or sueing for bad reviews of AitD etc.) and you can see how the industry is buying the press and simulanously how the sales numbers of print media are sinking, cause on the internet you get the information free, faster and often better reserched – and imo independent bloggers are an essential part of it. They’re amateurs in a good sense, cause they have the time and the passion for their hobbies and are not bound to special interests or time schedules.

There recently was an interesting controversy in the german onlinepress how (un)important bloggers are (in this case political blogs, but a lot applies to the general blogger). I know you can read german ;-).

http://www.spiegelfechter.com/wordpress/374/beta-journalisten-und-beta-blogger


And I think people get more sensitive to where collect serious and unyaded information.

If the industry is clever, they will use – and already use - that for their benefit. Giving the bloggers some more attention but not bribing them. And getting constructive and thoughtful feedback of them – and their readers. As long as bloggers are not dinging roXXoR-level and schwinging their purple e-pencil and companies are not totally ignoring the blogosphere, it can be an ongoing winwin-situation for the genre.

As always, entschuldigung for my bad written english ;-)
 
Gratz Tolbold.

Also gratz, to popularity of your blog.

Judging by the amoung blog griefers, "you don't ask tough questions, etc" I'd say your be coming well known name amoung MMORPG players.

When does Blizzard plan to include "Tobold" quest in wow? :)
 
Tobold, I don't think you'll ever get used to the attention you've generated via this blog. Which is partly in your favor, because it keeps a lot of your stuff grounded. Sure, it usually isn't something I agree with, but that is why I still read and from time to time be my heartless self in the comments section.

Mythic is a company, since the days of Tweety, that has really grass rooted a lot of media. I think a lot of people get swallowed up in the hype around WAR and assume it is just because Mythic sold out.

Fact is, Mythic has worked from the ground up on the PR for WAR. From originally not finding any info outside of the Warhammer circle, to becoming a major feature for every website. Yet, DAILY you'll find the developers and people like Barnett on blogs and small websites. The big sites ONLY get info when Mythic is at a press event or con.

Also, I am not sure how many "top people" you've interviewed on this blog. I thought Barnett was the first person and I think you'll find that Barnett likes to talk with a variety of people. Hence, why he went to Lift instead of GDC. His best interviews are found via bloggers. Between the interview here and the one he did with Michael Zenke for MMOGNation, I have new respect for him.

Barnett "gets it" and only suffers from a little over-the-top enthusiasm when talking about WAR, but is that so bad?
 
Congrats on getting some well deserved recognition.

It's nice to see companies take more of an interest in serious bloggers and podcasters and recognize the important role they can have in the user community.
 
Congrats on your invite! It's nice to get the perks like that, and you've really put the time in.

I've always admired the fact that you do this for free... no ads,no anything. Keep up the good work. :)
 
Congratulations Tobold. I'm sure many of us are envious, but you've worked hard to get here.
 
Grats on the loot!

[War Beta Key]
 
If press invites and recognition are your salary, then you are a bragging about your salary. So you're a rich snob.

But seriously, congratulations :)
 
First paragraph, great, good for you!

The rest of it...What?
 
Congratulations! Looking forward to more of your blogs in the years to come.
 
[If you think you could do better, I'd invite you to try. Make a blog, send out questions to game developers, and see how far you get if you antagonize them from the start.]

I have some comparable experience with this. I used to have a website dedicated to a certain filmgenre. For this site i interviewed actors, writers and critics, via e-mail or phone mostly. The interview i remember most fondly was one on the phone with an (frankly has been) actor who was kind of a cult favorite of mine. I started out too carefully maybe as a result of that. But he wasnt at all interested in polite and easy questions he answered a million times before. So responses were minimal. Only when i started to be a bit more cynical and sarcastic the whole thing started rolling. Best interview i ever did (as a total rookie, im no journalist by profession) and probably will do.

Point is, the people you interview do these things daily. They can get fed up with the same old PC questions, and as a result the interview will be of the cookie cutter variety.

I think Tobold asked a few good questions, but the responses were sometimes automatic and really needed feedback, which was impossible since it was apparently through mail. Also a bit more venom is not a bad thing perse Tobold. Used in moderation of course.
 
Pardon me Tobold, but your post is incorrect. We never actually got to play some of the cut classes, as those were kept for the Mythic testing team. Nor new cities. Noone on the outside of Mythic staff ever saw elven or orc cities in any kind of beta phase.
 
"If you think you could do better, I'd invite you to try. Make a blog, send out questions to game developers, and see how far you get if you antagonize them from the start."

I used to be a writer for a UO site a long time ago. Our readership at its peak was about half of what you say yours is; however, you have to keep in mind it was a site about a game with 10% of the english-speaking subscriber base that WoW has. We were VERY critical of OSI. We served the players.

Then, the site changed hands. A new guy took over. In what I think was a great PR move, the OSI PR people started courting the new owner of the site. At one point, they actually paid for his travel to come to one of their conventions. Not long after, official policy became 'no more attacks on the front page'. Our more outspoken writers quit, then our contributors starting leaving, and finally our readership totally waned as we had become just another Stratics. The site was plastered with gold selling ads and was eventually sold outright to a gold seller. It still exists as a shell of its former self, serving only as a goldselling ad with a high google page rank.
 
I'll ask the question no one else seems to have.

If you're already in beta, can I have your new one? :P

But congrats mate.
 
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