Bungie revealed the other day that Destiny is now in closed employee alpha, with the “big, hands-on, pre-launch experience,” being the fan-filled beta event, open to those who have pre-ordered the game.
Many have protested Bungie’s decision to offer beta access as a pre-order bonus, myself included, but now I find myself thinking more and more about the strategy, especially when compared to another game I recently praised for its beta policies, Titanfall.
Titanfall was in effect offering the beta to anyone and everyone as a demo for the game. Yes, it was a stress-test of sorts (which didn’t work, as the game killed Xbox Live on launch day anyway), but it was mainly to show-off the players that Respawn believed in their game so much that you would want to buy it after tasting it. No pre-commitment required.
At the time, I praised this move as it seemed confident without being arrogant, and a great way to combat the doubts of fans.
In hindsight, I think it may have worked against the game.
It’s entirely possible that I spent more time playing the Titanfall beta than I did the retail release of the game. Given the fact that Titanfall was multiplayer-only, and its biggest drawbacks were limited gameplay modes and a more or less entirely absent campaign, I think it was possible for many players to get their fill of the game even during the limited week-long beta.
I played Titanfall for hours a day during that time, and while I really did love it, by the time the original game came out, I played it for another week that intensely and felt burnout setting in as it started to get repetitive. And while I still can’t say for sure that Titanfall hasn’t met EA/Respawn’s sales expectations, it does seem like they’re not exactly bursting at the seams to share sales figures from the game, pointing only to publicly available NPD numbers which show Titanfall as the best selling game of the past two months (for US/retail only). That’s good news, but it also doesn’t seem like a runaway smash hit either, and perhaps the openness of the beta worked against it in some way.
Turning to Destiny’s pre-order only beta, I understand the initial push-back, and even I had to roll my eyes at the idea. it was a new level of annoying “pre-order bonus,” and turned the beta into a full-on promotional tool, a VIP party that required a $5 or more entry ticket.
That said, I understand the concept a bit better now.
I’d much rather have beta access be a pre-order bonus than say, anything else that’s a pre-order bonus these days. I’m beyond tired of games bending over backward to create new content as pre-order bonuses, as I never feel like the game contains everything it could. Even if these items don’t upset game balance (and despite player complaints, few actually do these day), it’s still annoying. See the recent “five collector’s editions of Watch Dogs” drama or “Far Cry 4 announced alongside its pre-order DLC” idiocy.
I cannot guarantee that Destiny will shy away from doing this as well in the end, because it’s a AAA game and that’s what AAA games do these days. But beta access isn’t inherently something that’s giving players a physical item, an outfit, weapon or bonus missions, that can’t be found in the actual game. That said, it’s almost even more enticing as a pre-order bonus because of how much people want early access to the game. It’s going to be a hugely effective pre-order mechanic even if there’s no in-game content given away with it (which again, may end up being the case).
And while it was bold for Titanfall to open its gates to everyone during the beta, it’s almost even riskier for Destiny to open its beta only to those fans dedicated enough to have pre-ordered the game. That’s a crowd who is going to be even more hyper-critical of the game than the general public. If it turns out that Destiny does not live up to their expectations, they’ll be extremely vocal about it online, and it could turn into a PR disaster if there’s a movement to cancel pre-orders, as opposed to simply not buying the game.
This says that Bungie is both extremely confident in Destiny, and that they want to get the feedback of their most engaged fans to tweak the game ahead of launch.
Still, in the end I’m not sure the beta needs to be a pre-order bonus. If Bungie is so sure its player will like Destiny, why tie it into pre-orders at all? Wouldn’t anyone play the beta and want more when it concluded? This isn’t Titanfall with a handful of gameplay modes players can burn out on during the beta. There will be much, much more of Destiny to experience after the trial run wraps.
Bungie seems like they’re opening themselves up to unnecessary risk by charging and entry fee for the beta. Granted, its refundable on purchase, in effect, but still, it’s kind of unheard of and few games would be able to pull something like that off. Customers now have more of a stake in testing than they would if they were just passing by to try it out. Maybe that’s good, maybe it isn’t.
If there’s one word to describe Activision/Bungie’s Destiny campaign since the game’s inception, it’s “confidence.” Activision has publicly admitted they’re investing $500M into Destiny as a massive ten-year franchise “experience,” and Bungie believes the game will impress so much that they’re willing to try the unorthodox promotional strategy of forcing pre-orders for beta, expecting little push-back once players get their hands on the game. And every time I write about Destiny at all, I have PR reaching out to ask me about my thoughts regarding what I’ve seen from the game, what my concerns might be, and how they’ll look forward to me trying the game for myself. Even with my skepticism, they reach out to me personally, absorbing my feedback, convinced the game will quell my doubts. Now that’s confidence. And I kind of like it.
What would my ideal Game of Thrones game look like?