Paying for Free to Play?

Beta’s provide an opportunity for developers to leverage the community to help them polish the rough edges off their game, and deliver a better end product. Games from Halo, to Minecraft, to Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm have all taken advantage of this medium to assist in their final stages of development. A beta is generally either closed or open to the public. A developer will decide whether to allow a massive influx of people or invite a select few to take part and give feedback. For most games a beta invite is a privilege or a lucky draw. You’re either a valued member of the community or simply one of a group randomly selected to participate. The amount of commitment for feedback varies between beta opportunities as does the breath of the experience. You may have access to just one map, or you may have access to an entire game. For the developer, they’re able to perform a much more thorough quality assurance process. This also allows for the gathering of focus group type data from a wide scope of users. For players, we get to be a part of the process. Get to see a game just a little bit before everyone else, and get to provide feedback on what we would like to see in the game. In short, a beta benefits both sides of the transaction.

While charging for access to a traditional retail game’s beta is the norm, charging for access to a free to play game is not. Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS), is charging players for access to the beta. Some may claim that the HotS “Founders Pack” ($39.99) is not paying for access to the beta. The argument being that you get in-game items that don’t come with a beta key. The truth is, you’re also gaining access to a beta you may not have been able to otherwise. While you are gaining value from your purchase you’re also paying for the right to be part of the beta. With a retail game, this might not be of much concern, as you’d simply be paying the cost to play the game, whilst getting access to it a little bit early. The reason that people are upset about paying for “access” to this particular game, is that upon release it will be a free game.

Many players will argue that paying for access to a beta, or an “unfinished” game is something that should be avoided. Stating that it’s rewarding a developer for making 1/2 of a game. I would argue that paying for a beta is fine. There’s several alpha and beta versions of games out on Steam, a game client helmed by Valve. These games are in various stages of development, some having been in beta for quite some time. Often they will go through drastic changes during the beta process. Occasionally garnering a vehemently supportive audience. The ability to allow gamers to feel as though they are part of the development process, and by doing so allow them to have a feeling of “ownership” for a game is powerful.

While beta’s can be a powerful tool to bring a community to your side, they can also be damaging if not done correctly. DayZ a touted massively multiplayer online zombie adventure which sold over 3 million copies in alpha. Won many awards in 2013, but now has  started to gain the ire of the community. This is due to the game not progressing to release in the nearly 1 1/2 years. Reactions like this show why opening your game to a public beta can be a double edged sword.

The feedback surrounding HotS has been overwhelmingly positive. However introduction of a way to pay your way into a free to play game has been met with some grumblings from the community. While the moniker “free to play” may suggest that HotS won’t cost any money, the game will be funded by micro-transactions. This means that you’ll pay for access to characters and in game items such as mounts. Micro transactions are a common way to monetize games these days and HotS seems to be doing it in a well thought out fashion. The gameplay is fantastic and even though the game is still in beta it feels more complete than some retail titles. All that said, it’s still a free to play game, and the question is should you pay for the privilege to play a game early. My answer to this, is if you want to play Heroes of the Storm, and you don’t have a way of getting access to the game, than yes. As gamers we pay for content that we find entertaining. Content that we find valuable. If you don’t want to wait until fall for the game to come out of beta, then by all means, buy in! The more players playing the game now, the better input and data the developers can amass, and the better the game will be at release. As I said above you’re getting something out of your investment, in the form of characters, gold and a mount. You’re also getting to play a game that you otherwise might be unable to, and as a gamer that’s just cool.

If you’re curious about HotS there’s plenty of streams on twitch every night. Also be on the look out for a brief review of the beta on this site in the coming weeks as I’m able to invest more time into the game. Take a moment and leave a comment telling me your thoughts on paying for free to play.

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