Could the beta program be an experience unto itself?

By on July 31, 2009 10:31:23 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
+1477

SwampLordPaintingFinal In my mind, the fun of Elemental resides in the fact that you’re not just trying to conquer some fantasy world but the world itself is designed to be so organic and unique from game to game.

A lot of the difference between games is a result of things like a tech tree that has different techs in it, a huge library of special content that is integrated into map generation randomly each game, quests, integrated community content, and the divergent paths to victory.

Now, as some of you know, Stardock’s bread and butter isn’t from game development.  Our desktop software and enterprise software have always given us the luxury of being able to take as long as we want to develop our games as well as take “risks” on the way we release our games (no copy protection for instance – which, in case people are wondering, the retail version of Elemental will not have copy protection).

And that brings me to a question I wanted to pose to you folks.  Would you be interested in us extending the beta?  Since anyone can join betas by pre-ordering, we could try something that really hasn’t been done before as far as I know – make the beta experience something truly outstanding unto itself.

Right now, the schedule is this:

  • Beta 1 in August
  • Beta 2 in October (adds tactical battles)
  • Beta 3 in December (polish)
  • Gamma (private) in January
  • Release in February

This is pretty much the same schedule we’ve been doing since Galactic Civilizations I back in 2003.

But imagine this kind of beta instead:

  • Beta 1 in August
  • Beta 2 in January
  • Whatever

So what would be the point of this?  The point would be to make it a lot more fun to develop the game with the beta testers.  Rather than have v1.0 come out in February and then have v1.1 in say April and so on, we simply keep working on the game with the beta testers.

Then, when we release the game, it’s got a ton more stuff. 

Here are some thoughts that come to mind:

How many players should/can we allow in a game? 8? 12? 32?

How sophisticated can we make dungeons in the game?

How sophisticated can we make quests in the game?

How sophisticated can we make tactical battles in the game?

How big of a scope can we give the campaign?

We don’t have the financial pressure to release the game in February and because of that, we have an opportunity to try something we’ve not done that we think might be really special and that is vastly increase the contribution of the beta players into the game than what we’ve done before.

The end result would, I think, be a game that could very well be a classic. A year’s worth of player input before it was released to the general public. 

Tell us what you think.

Locked Post 252 Replies +3
Search this post
Subscription Options


Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:34:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Tell us what you think.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:43:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

For what it is worth and without getting into details, in short, I'm all for the process taking as long as is necessary to make this game the best strategy game ever to hit the market. I would like to see it used as the definitive standard for all other such games.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:47:28 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Frog, I love the idea of extending the beta.  I think it will really give a chance for the game to be rock solid.

 

Coming from Demigod, more time is always better.  I can't imagine how things would be different if the release was in 1 week.  Since this is not a mulitplayer gamer it wil have different unique challanges, but the added time can make the game have a true shine of polish on release and thus score really well on, for better or worse, the coveted reviews.  This game really sounds great and I think there are a ton of amazing ideas that can be flushed out in order to really make this a "game of the year".

 

I am really looking forward to playing this game, can't wait to see how tactile battles evolve.  To me this was always the short coming of civ, so it sounds like you are going in the right direction.  Any game that draws influence from MoM and X-com piques my interest, that it is from Stardock mean it will get the time and attention it deserves.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:48:26 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Tell us what you think.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:49:13 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I'd be for an extended beta process as long as the game doesn't get stuck in a perpetual development cycle.

 

Also, would the beta end when the game is considered 'complete' or by a scheduled date?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:52:43 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

I love the idea of more player input before the game is released. The major alternative is to address the problems in an expansion pack. The expansion pack approach suffers from problems if the initial game experience is underwhelming, or there are major  problems that cant be fixed without rearchitecting something. I guess w e just saw some of this in the Demigod world -- if the multiplayer problems had been found while it was in Beta, you may have been able to fix the problems in a smoother way (i.e. less 100 hour weeks, less pulling people off other products).

 

Having said that, I think that the size of the testing population (as well as the length of the testing period) matters a great deal. More perspectives on a problem greatly enhance the outcome. I think the key is having those perspectives early enough that their input can be acted on.

 

So I would say that since Beta 1 is going to be very limited participation, then Beta 2 should not be pushed far back. Other than that, I love the idea.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:52:56 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting ,

 


But imagine this kind of beta instead:
Beta 1 in August Beta 2 in January Beta 3 in May Gamma (private) in July Release in August. So what would be the point of this?  The point would be to make it a lot more fun to develop the game with the beta testers.  Rather than have v1.0 come out in February and then have v1.1 in say April and so on, we simply keep working on the game with the beta testers.
Then, when we release the game, it’s got a ton more stuff.

 

good idea, i prefer this way

 


How many players should/can we allow in a game? 8? 12? 32?

 

i think 8 is enough good

more players means lack of strategy and more luck based

and it could lead to the crap of civilization ppl wanting to play 16players game with like 10 quitters after 5 min

its not fun at all

i would put all my effert in making the game FUN for 2/4/6 players with the option to play 8/10 eventually (even if it would be less fun)

 

more is just a waste

 

 


How sophisticated can we make tactical battles in the game?

the problem about tactical battles is when you are too much good they will destroy the balance of strategic map, resource managing etc cause you will be able to win even with a much inferior army

i d like a medium sophisticated tac battle and a much more sophisticated empire management

 


How big of a scope can we give the campaign?

dont care

 


We don’t have the financial pressure to release the game in February and because of that, we have an opportunity to try something we’ve not done that we think might be really special and that is vastly increase the contribution of the beta players into the game than what we’ve done before.
The end result would, I think, be a game that could very well be a classic. A year’s worth of player input before it was released to the general public. 

 

yes i agree

at these times beta players are a very powerful resource

many many games went to release to early and were destroyed by the first bunch of real players finding lots of bugs and problems

so delaying the release of ANY game for a couple of months for some extensive beta testing/discussing/etc etc is ALWAYS a great idea

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:53:52 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It really depends on how far along you guys are. Part of me would love a longer beta process so the community can give you the best feedback possible. On the other hand, maybe the game is programmed so well that we might not need to have an extended beta process

EDIT: OK, ok...if a longer beta process can lead to dungeon crawling and 32 players, I'm fully on board!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:54:08 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I would be in favor of a long Beta since I plan to pre-order anyway.  So we will have something to play with soon, can have some real imput, and watch it get better than it would have likely been without an extended beta.  What is not to like?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:55:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Double post. Please delete

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 10:58:21 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

As long as you are comfortable with it financially.

But bear in mind, there will be a lot of call for expansion packs ... we don't mind paying for some extra content.

I just wanna play the beta!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:02:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Hmm...I can see a variety of perks to this train of thought:

 

-The industry has gone a bit insane with Q1 2010 dumping of projects that were slated for this Fall/Winter...so a lateish summer release during the usual drought, while  being nice in principle, might well also have the benefit of people not being as strapped for cash due to the incoming Q1 deluge of games.

 

-One would hope the best case for any "How Sophisticated?" bits would be something like  "As best as anybody can come up with, while leaving the option to let it be kept simple."  For example, some folk at times might not want an especially complicated system of dungeoneering as a factor in what they've got going, while others will shoot to overload their brains.

 

-As stated, a longer and more pronounced beta period should lead to more fixes and impressions.  I believe the game Mount and Blade went about things this way, for instance, and found some fantastic success respective to their circumstances.  Not to mention a longer amount of time to drum up interest in the game as I'm quite sure there are many people who've yet to hear of it.

 

-A release version not happening until Augustish allows for a rather nice chunk of time for the Python 3.x line to develop even further, possibly serving as a tremendous boon to the game's guts.  Furthermore, it would give everybody currently stalking notions of grand designs for the game(as well as yourself getting as good a handle on it as needed for the big picture) about a solid year to dive into coming to grips Python 3.x amidst their various schedules which strikes me as pretty solid.  As one of the big goals for the game is a thriving and productive community of merry lads and lasses, such a timeframe would help to facilitate that.

 

It is the right thinking for this game to be a classic.  Really, that should be the baseline!  Given the focus on a ground up engine, forward looking choices involving the likes of Python, and more than just flowery overtures to the 64-bit computing angle going forward,  the stage seems ripe to be one of a living game that will still be growing and improving well past the usual life expectancy of videogames that may chug along for a few years before going static as from the inception they were fated to only go so far then jump on the next great bandwagon.

 

So yes, overall, I'd say this is well worth consideration and probably worth doing.   Even for the folks that were wanting the "full deal" in Feb would, I conject,  have fair odds at a better beta product in May than otherwise in Feb so long as the community is active in bug hunting, balancing, general input, and Stardock doesn't get swallowed by a black hole like Demigod again somewhere in the thick of it.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:11:11 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I have to say the replies so far have surprised me. I expected to see everyone screaming for the earliest launch possible. Cheers to foresight and maturity of the Elemental community!

 

Not having financial pressure to release a game is such rare luxury in this business. I think by expanding the length and scope of the beta you can certainly turn out a better product. As long as the community doesn't revolt, having a collaborative beta experience could be a great boon, not only to Elemental but your development process in the future.

 

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:19:47 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

And that brings me to a question I wanted to pose to you folks.  Would you be interested in us extending the beta?  Since anyone can join betas by pre-ordering, we could try something that really hasn’t been done before as far as I know – make the beta experience something truly outstanding unto itself.

Right now, the schedule is this:


Beta 1 in August
Beta 2 in October (adds tactical battles)
Beta 3 in December (polish)
Gamma (private) in January
Release in February
This is pretty much the same schedule we’ve been doing since Galactic Civilizations I back in 2003.

But imagine this kind of beta instead:


Beta 1 in August
Beta 2 in January
Beta 3 in May
Gamma (private) in July
Release in August.
So what would be the point of this?  The point would be to make it a lot more fun to develop the game with the beta testers.  Rather than have v1.0 come out in February and then have v1.1 in say April and so on, we simply keep working on the game with the beta testers.

Then, when we release the game, it’s got a ton more stuff. 

Somewhere in Stardock HQ right now, BoogieBac is jumping up from his desk and cheering.

I think its a great idea, with a couple of qualifying statements. Is there enough that you want to do in the game to actually use that time? Is there a risk that the August release window is busier with other games and that it may hurt sales?

If those things aren't a problem, then it sounds great!

How many players should/can we allow in a game? 8? 12? 32?

Players, or *human* players? There's an important distinction there. 32 humans in one game is likely an impossible situation for a 4X TBS game. But those huge maps we've seen may look pretty empty if you can only have 7 AIs.

If it's not a technical issue, 32 seems like the best number there. If there is a problem, try to keep the AI number high even if the human number has to come down some.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:21:22 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yes!! That is great idea. I shudder to think what you guys would be able to accomplish with such a long development and beta process. And I think it would be a good long-term financial investment, so long as you can survive the up front costs (which it sounds like you can). After all, with 6 more months of development and beta time, I have no doubt that you'll be able to make Elemental everything that it should be and more (even i people disagree about some of the finer points).

One suggestion, though. I don't know how helpful it will be to have each beta last almost four months. What I think would be great is to keep your tentative elongated schedule with the three beta phases, but make sure you have the functionality to release patches for the beta. That way if, say, two months into the first beta you've finished fixing some feature that didn't work as intended you can get it out earlier. Having lots of time is one thing, but you can't really tell how well something is going to work on paper - you need to try it out. If you guys can patch in variants or fixes or improvements to features mid-phase, it will allow for more iterations and I think a much more streamlined game as a result.

Edit: And... that picture. It's concept art, right? Or at least a highly touched up/improved screenie from the game, right? If you could make the game look like that, I think I would cry. 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:21:22 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

double post, sorry. Forums are wonky today.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:23:33 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm definitely in favor of "release when it's ready" philosophy. If you have no financial (or other) obligation to release in February, and you don't feel that it would be as feature complete as you'd like in February, by all means delay it.

Elemental is a game the like of which has not been released for a long, long time. A lot of people, myself included, have been waiting for a game like this also for a long, long time.

It is well worth taking the time to make it an amazing game, rather than just a good one.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:30:26 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I like the idea of an extended beta process. More polish and features is always good.

Although, I am curious about the schedule. For both the normal and extended, it says beta 1 will begin in August. Is beta 1 the same as the alpha? If it is, then the people who don't get in would be waiting a long time (October or January ) I thought you were planning to do about a month of Alpha, then the beta would go public at PAX in September. Is that no longer the case?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:31:12 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The longer the development team has to work with the beta-testers the better the game will be on release and with any luck you'll have laid the ground-work for one of the better games of the last decade or so, perhaps even longer. Quick question though, is Beta 1 going to be the open one for all pre-orders or is it what was going to be the alpha release for a selected few?

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:31:32 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Edit: Double post, wonky forumses

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:48:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Longer beta sounds good to me.

I don't really think an August release is that bad in terms of sales.  In fact I don't think it really matters when it's released (in my opinion with no knowledge of such things).   There just aren't many (any?) single player Civ/Gal Civ style games anymore so frankly, unless Civ 5 is coming out around the same time there really won't be a lot of competition for this *type* of game and I think it will sell well no matter when released.

Having said that, I might try for a May or June release if possible so that you get those with time over the summer (students, vacations) to buy the game.  More time to play may increase sales a bit vs. a fall release with students having less time.  I guess it depends on the demographics for this type of game, does it skew older and thus students back in school don't have much effect on sales.

Then maybe target at least a mini-expansion for the holidays to respark interest in the game at that time.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:50:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think it is a great idea. Since all preoders are going to be in beta anyway, and by February we are going to have what we are going to have whether you call it "beta" or release v 1.0  - as far as fun and playability even for someone who doesn't want to test but just wants to play...it's all going to be the same. So why not extend the development cycle, it would give you opportunites to possible go in competely new directions with some things, where if you DID do a cull release it seems you are a BIT more constrained.

Only downside I could see would be short term financial because some people will NOT preorder, and you will not get the retail sales from February. But if it made it that much better of a game for release in August, it could be a good time investment.

 

Overall, I am for it!

p.s. I would love to see 16 players, and 32 on a huge map would be truly epic! That would be for my sandbox game that I wanted to play for months...

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 11:53:16 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quality first? It can't be done!!!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 12:06:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm fine either way...

 

...But the extra polish time sounds like it'll have a lot more player input in decisions.  The players will be more 'involved' in the end result.  And I'd love that.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
July 31, 2009 12:11:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting SoonerToucan,
I have to say the replies so far have surprised me. I expected to see everyone screaming for the earliest launch possible. Cheers to foresight and maturity of the Elemental community!
 

Lol, don't cheer the community, cheer Frogboy on his "Leet salesmanship skillz"!

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
Stardock Forums v1.0.0.0    #108433  walnut3   Server Load Time: 00:00:00.0000594   Page Render Time: