Game Industry, Play

Hiding Behind Beta

Recently, I returned to playing Warframe after about a six month hiatus. The impetus for this being that I wanted to see how pretty it would be on the new PC I built. After waiting about 20 minutes for the game to download, I began the install and was surprised when a beta Terms of Service popped up on my screen. I hit “Accept” while thinking, “Shouldn’t this game have been released already?”

Beta Product – A pre-release version of a product which serves as the focus of a beta test; typically at or near feature complete, likely includes a number of known and unknown bugs.

Warframe has been in open beta for just over two years now (March 2013 to present). It was in closed beta for about five months before that (October 2012 to March 2013). At this point, the game has been in beta in one form or another for about three years.

During this time, the game has had several features added. These have included a private ship for the player to call home, companions like sentinels (robots) and Kubrow (dogs) to help with missions, and the Archwing (space combat). To be clear, these are big additions to the game and might lead you to believe that the game shouldn’t be out of alpha. But these additions are more akin to DLC and not huge reworks of the main frame work of the game. So the feature complete idea goes right out the door.

In all the time that Warframe has been in beta, it has also been monetized. Yes, it is a free to play game, but it does have an in-game currency you can purchase with real money. That seems odd to me – being able to make money off of an incomplete product.

Please realize that I have nothing against a game developer making money off of their product. Nor do I have any issue with a game developer adding value to their product by adding more content. To be fair, Digital Extremes are not the only ones doing this. There are examples of this both in other video games (looking at you, Firefall) and in the greater software market at large (hello, Google).

So what am I trying to say here? I guess it boils down to if you’re making money from your game and continually updating it to add content and replay-ability, it’s not really a beta anymore. Especially when we are speaking about a game like Warframe.

I really like Warframe and I think Digital Extremes is doing a great job with it. So much so that I gave it a pretty good review here. My feeling is that they, and so many other software developers, need to get off the crutch of labeling their game beta for years at a time. In my opinion, the only reason developers do this is so they have a built-in excuse in case they do something people don’t like.

Any complaint a person might have can be waved away with the sentence, “It’s still in beta.”

Constant updates don’t need to be handled this way at all. For instance, Gazillion Entertainment continuously updates Marvel Heroes 2015 and it’s been out in the wild as a full release since June of 2014. Are there issues with some of the updates? Sure, but they hot-fix them. Just like Digital Extremes does with Warframe.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that Warframe is a bad game or that Digital Extremes is a bad developer. What I’m saying is that it is disingenuous to say their product is still a beta. They have a great product that is very polished and making them money. They should have the guts to drop the beta nonsense and stand behind the product because it is a good product. And so should all the other software developers out there.

Why is this important? Well, the honest answer is it’s not important until it is. Meaning that one might think that everything is fine with a piece of software wearing the infinite beta tag right up to the point where a developer makes a terrible change to their game and says, “it’s still in beta.”

What about you? How do you feel about the infinite beta business model? Have you ever been burned by it? Please let us know in the comments below.

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