Let’s Talk: Soft Launch – Early Access, Closed Beta, Open Beta…

Let’s Talk is a series of articles dedicated to opened discussions about anything and everything that has a community fight over. These articles are lengthier than usual but serve as our regular column.

With the recent release of Early Access for The Elder Scrolls: Blades from Bethesda and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite from Niantic Labs, one important discussion needs to be had… Soft Launch of a mobile game. There are many venues to venture on when it comes to the launch of a mobile game, but every single venue has a direct effect on the users’ experience.

Mobile games are an extremely fast-pacing world, that often results in a high level of stress for the developers and the users. Without further ado, Let’s Talk!

Terminology

Early Access
Refers to the state of a game where the developers opt for an exclusive (based on location, device, OS, social profile, etc.) release of the game where specific people are given full access to a game that is not yet released to the world. Early Access can also be associated with an Open Beta. Players are often required to register in advance in the hopes of being lucky enough to be among those selected for Early Access.

Closed Beta
Refers to an unreleased game where the developers opt to give restricted access to a game to a selected group of people. In most cases, people will be hand-picked (i.e. no pre-registration required) and the requirements to be hand-picked are rarely revealed to the public. People with access to a Closed Beta will normally NOT be allowed to share any footage, details or anything about the game.

Datamine
Data mining can be described in various ways. While almost systematically against the Terms of Services of a game, it consists of reading the code of a mobile game in order to find out what’s hidden. Data mining allows to reveal the additional data included in the code of a game by developers in preparation of an upcoming update or simply to reveal all of the game data that would normally have been meant to be discovered through a natural progression of the game. In other words, it’s a big whole bunch of spoilers. (Was that too subjective?)

Let’s Talk

The reason why Soft Launches are becoming a hot topic in the realm of mobile games is due to insane growth in popularity to content creation (YouTube, blogs, Twitch, Instagram, etc.) and data mines. The venue a company will use to roll out a game will greatly affect the hype surrounding the said game.

Bethesda / The Elder Scrolls: Blades

Recently, Bethesda gave Early Access to groups of players who had pre-registered (in waves) to The Elder Scrolls: Blades, a very much anticipated game for fans of the Elder Scrolls series. How did Bethesda decide which of the pre-registered players would get the game? No one really knows, but it mostly comes down to location, and device/OS used by the players.

The outcome? In a matter of days, the entire content of the game could be found online (i.e. everything that could be found in the code of the game), there was footage of the game all over the web, Reddit was filled with complaints from the limited people who had access to the game. Of course, through all this, one could find some neutral reviews of the game (few where spoiler-free), or even some positive feedback. Nonetheless, the majority of the feedback was overwhelmingly negative, which is what anyone would expect from any mobile game in an unreleased stage.

However, all this negative feedback about bugs, lack of features, game content, etc., which would have been contained and exclusively submitted to the developers from Bethesda in a Closed Beta, was now out in the open for anyone to see. As much as an Early Access can create a sense of hype (which Niantic may or may not have been able to accomplish with Wizards Unite, more on that shortly), it can also be extremely destructive, which so far seems to have been the case for The Elder Scrolls: Blades.

Niantic / Wizards Unite

Niantic opted for a similar approach for their upcoming game, Wizards Unite. First and foremost, one element has been more damaging than helpful to both Niantic and Bethesda, a preemptive announcement of the game. In both cases, the companies decided to announce the release of their game extremely early, years before the actual release of an early stage version of the game. While it may create a sense of hype for a portion of the community, one has been able to feel the community’s anger towards it for a while, even now that the games are available in Early Access mode.

In terms of Soft launch, Niantic opted for an Early Access given to a group of players based on location. First, they rolled out the game to New Zealand on April 17, and as of yesterday, to Australia. While two weeks may not feel like a long time, in the realm of mobile games in 2019, two weeks is extremely long.

In those two weeks, anyone can now see every bits and piece of the game through the thousand of gameplay videos and screenshots shared on the web, the various data mines that have been done, etc. Despite not currently suffering from negative feedback or annoying bugs like The Elder Scrolls: Blades, Wizards Unite is currently suffering from too much visibility. Now come on Jimmy… Is there such a thing?! I’m afraid that there is…

After searching the web for every bit of feedback we could find about Wizards Unite’s Early Access release (we are aware that this does not represent a majority of the community, but nonetheless this feedback is dominant), it is clear that those without access to the game are already feeling overwhelmed by all the content being showcased. To the point where some feel full/exhausted/saturated already, while they have not even put their hands on the game yet. How can you blame them? Will there be anything left to be excited to discover for them?

The web is pouring with data mines, footage of every bit and piece of the game, databases, etc., but can you blame those who are pushing said content? The game has been announced for nearly two years, so they are understandably excited to finally have access to something.

Closed Beta – The Solution?

Years ago, and again in some cases for consoles or PC games, developers opt for a Closed Beta. Therefore the community is aware that the game is coming, and often has access to a trailer showcasing specific parts of the game, but nothing else. And that’s the venue that mobile games developers should opt for.

Some companies choose that path when it comes to important game updates (Ludia for instance). They tease the community with some of the content that the update will contain (hype remains important towards a successful launch), but they keep the actual update restricted to a handful of knowledgeable and dedicated tester.

Of course, in such a case, one risks lack of visibility, but companies rely on Marketing teams for that purpose. And where did it fail PC and console games?

Parting Words

Understandably, this relates to the concept of hype, spoilers, etc. Ultimately, who is to blame for affecting negatively the experience of users? The developers? The content creators? The community? Everyone has its share of the blame to carry, and we’re no different. At Jibs, we firmly believe that games are intended to be played a certain way and that we should respect that. Although one could argue that some of our content does not reflect that thought, which we won’t disagree with, all that Jibs try to accomplish is to gather what one could find in 1,000 places in a single location.

Hopefully, more will rely on a Closed Beta rather than Early Access in the future. The Marketing team can do the rest when it comes to visibility and promotion, but we certainly hope that the train will slow down eventually. Why? So that users can experience the game for themselves. Unlike PC or console games, mobile games are accessible to all considering that almost every individual has a decent mobile in their pocket at all times.

But the world of mobile gaming moves fast, and if you don’t follow the pace, you miss the train. Developers undoubtedly plays the biggest role of it all when it comes to the selection of the soft launch they will use. Let’s hope they help slowing the pace down, just a bit.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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