With the buildup towards module 16, there has been a lot of curiosity and controversy spread within the player base surrounding the decision on the part of cryptic to allow for some players to closed beta test the new module. As a member of this closed beta, I thought it would be interesting to the players who were not involved in this, for me to provide some insight on what it was like.
Initially, when I went into this playtest I was quite pessimistic about it. I had disliked module 15 so much on preview that I had already quit playing before it went live and I wasn’t expecting module 16 to be any better. I only really signed up initially to confirm for myself it would be more of the same and then just quit. But then it wasn’t and I was pleasantly surprised.
- These are the basic details of what we signed, how long the test lasted and in general how it worked:
- We signed an NDA which prevented us from discussing anything that had not been released yet, up until it was available to the general public. This included screenshots, videos, the works.
- The NDA was quite comprehensive, requiring details like our address and phone number.
- Failure to comply with the NDA had the potential to result in a ban and/or legal action.
- The playtest lasted 5 weeks, from when we started testing until it hit preview.
- Originally there were 19 people involved, after about a week, 1 of them quit the playtest (for reasons not related to the playtest itself).
Developer Interactivity Within the Play Test
Depending on who you ask and when you asked them, the level of developer reactivity was either really good or really bad. Overall, I think it was good overall. Even if I did not get the response you wanted, I did get a response and often they would justify why they did a certain thing, even if I did not like it. In some cases, it made me consider things from a different angle, although there were some issues where I at the very least did not want to budge from. In the case of issues where neither side was willing to relent, we usually both just moved past them since debating them was counterproductive and moved onto things that were up for debate, as there were other matters which were not as set in stone.
For example, I complained a lot about the implementation of counter ratings in module 16, as it incentivizes the stacking of as few offensive stats as possible, as high as possible. This was not a point the developers were willing to contest, and so we moved on, but there was a lot of back and forth discussions about the different feats for classes. Some of the CW feats (for example Smoldering Recovery) were my suggestion and there were lots of cases like this where things got changed on recommendation, across various classes. However, there was the other side of the coin. Other players within the playtest felt like their feedback was ignored. At the same time though, I did write a lot more than most, which made it more likely that I would be responded to.
I think from a player perspective, one thing that was very frustrating is it often felt like the developers approached reading what we wrote with an, “I am right” perspective and didn’t really read over the contents of our post or acknowledge the reasoning in our arguments. This caused a lot of disgruntlement among the playtesters, with many of them wanting to give up entirely. I spent a very long time just trying to convince people that maybe they will be listened to, even though they felt like the developers were ignoring them and talking them down.
On the other hand, it was very obvious they were going out of their way to do their best for module 16, even if you didn’t agree with what they were doing. There were some cases where we got responses to questions as late as 1 am Cryptic time, during the weekend. Or long, detailed responses to questions we didn’t actually expect answers to. As the playtest went on the answers did begin to dry up, but I think this is more because they were under more and more time pressure and did not have the time to respond.
Player Feedback Within the Test
A big concern that I see commented on a lot by people outside of the playtest is that they “only chose yes men” and I can assure you, that was not the case. Everyone to some degree or another gave some critical feedback about something. For example, I was (and still am) very negative about the way counter stats are implemented, I think it would be better as a multiplicative function as the way it is currently implemented favors an all or nothing approach into stacking statistics.
I think player feedback was divided into two camps, those who coordinated the test and those who did not. I was part of a group of eight where we delegated who tested what, there wasn’t much time to test things and it made no sense for there to be redundancies, where multiple people check the same thing. As multiple people in that group of eight played the same class, not all classes were covered by our feedback, but for example Rainer (who played the same class as Viral) spent a massive amount of time testing the companion system, while Viral focused on testing Ranger.
Whilst this team-based approach was effective from our perspective and I would hazard a guess and say around 80-90% of the feedback provided came from within that group, it would be better if the developers had helped to organize something like that to begin with. If at the start of the test they had given us a schedule of what they would do in each week, we could have scheduled what we tested better and this would improve the quality of feedback given on our part.
How It Was Managed
I feel for a first try of something like this, it went quite well. Sure, there were some things that could definitely be done better, but overall as a pilot run of a playtest it went good. Probably the biggest let down was from the community itself, due to someone on the playtest leaking information to the public, but I think for future playtests more measures can be taken to try ensure it does not happen again, for example, cutting down on the number of people invited by having stricter invite requirements.
From this playtest, they can at least see who actively provided feedback and who did not, so it at least gives them a base moving forward. I think many of the content creators were invited just to promote the game, as opposed to actually providing feedback, which, in my opinion, is a mistake. By making those content creators sign an NDA, they cannot talk about the new module until everyone else can. As a result of this, they would be in no different position if they were not invited at all. If somebody is invited to help market something, they also need to be able to actually talk about it before it goes live. Otherwise, they have no purpose to be there.
The first videos to go live covering the new information were not even by players within the playtest it was those speculating on the blog posts who had no prior information to begin with. As a result of this, I would just cut down the people invited to only those who can give in depth feedback. It risks fewer leaks and reduces the amount of noise.
Another thing I would do better is communication. For example, we had no prior warning for when those blogs went live and when they did go live, we were unsure of what we could and could not talk about. Communicating this ahead of time would have helped us quite a bit. In addition to this, giving us some sort of framework for what would be happening on a week by week basis would also be great.
Speculation on the in Game Auction House
For many, this is a touchy subject and they feel it is unfair that some of us had an advantage going into module 16, knowing what to buy in advance as well as what would devalue and thus we should sell. I will be up front here and not mince words, I have no issues with this player advantage. Some of us spent 6+ hours a day in the evening basically doing unpaid testing, I essentially did not play the game at all. I see no issues why someone who is doing something like this, getting some benefit out of it, when the entire community is benefiting from their feedback.
To wrap this up, I think this play test was a tentative success. Whilst it could have been handled better, both by players and by the developers, the changes that were made and the level of back and forth feedback that occurred in my opinion helped to shape module 16 into a better mod.
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