At Forward Unto Dawn
(now with a lovely new set of curtains thanks to Flipyap!) we're kicking off volume two of our Beyond the Frontline opinion series. We'd like to know what folks think so I'm happy to put the full piece here and ask.
BTF #5 : Are We BETA Off Without It?
We’re still in the dark times. Audio engineers, software scribes, artists and many more are busy with their heads down working away secretly on the next adventure for Master Chief. The dark shroud of secrecy and mystery of what is to come has yet to be lifted and at this very moment that unveiling itself is being planned and thought out. What we know about Halo 4 with any amount of certainty amounts to little more than confirmation that the game is still coming out at the end of this year. We’ve been told great things are coming even the most cynical fan cannot doubt the intention and well meaning behind that promise.
Already we know the next Halo experience is going to be different. The changes in development behind the scenes have resulted in a very public shift from fan’s expectations. We’re getting the game a whole year earlier than most had expected and the big reveal of the game along with the massive media assault drumming up to the release of the game is already sounding to a different beat. It’s hard to imagine we’re getting Halo 4 this year and yet we’ve seen nothing from the game and know little about the setting or the scale or the feature set.
A few weeks back in the Sparkast we were informed that the marketing push may be bolder than previous efforts and just recently Frankie confirmed that the key art is being worked on.
So the engines are being revved up as I type this. The lights are about to be switched on. We know things will be a little different this time around, but how different? And what if something we take for granted is missing entirely?
We’ve come to expect an open multiplayer beta for Halo 4 simply because each significant Halo release on the Xbox 360 has featured such a beta before the game launches. Halo 3’s beta access was included with Crackdown (a non-Halo game) and over the course of twenty six days reached into the living rooms of 820,000 Halo fans. Reach three years later would top this impressive number. Reach’s beta access was via Halo 3: ODST this time rewarding loyal Halo fans. Reach’s beta was being played by 2,700,000 fans, a healthy and noteworthy increase over Halo 3’s numbers.
Shortly before Halo: Anniversary launched last year, at the HaloFest event at the PAX games convention that Anniversary would in fact not contain any form of access to a Halo 4 open multiplayer beta. In fact, Microsoft refused to confirm any plans for such a beta during the event and up to now this has not changed.
Halo’s previous multiplayer betas were more than just a chance for players to get early access to the next big Halo game. In addition to stress testing backend processes and services and providing valuable gameplay and bug feedback to the developers, the beta are essentially an additional marketing tool to promote the upcoming release of the next Halo game. Having whetted the appetite of almost five millions users before the games launched almost certainly helped to spread and promote both Halo 3 and Reach. A beta gives the public a something substantial and no amount of sporting event or food product sponsorships can match it.
Will there be an open beta for Halo 4? Does it matter?
I think a beta is almost inevitable despite being genuinely surprised at the lack of beta access with Anniversary. I still believe it is coming simply because, from a marketing perspective, it would be a huge missed opportunity. It would disappoint the fans that have come to expect a beta from the two previous Halo releases and I think it would cause some concern from fans that aren’t sure if the new developer is up the difficult task of hitting Halo’s lofty quality bar.
On the flip side, going into Halo 4 fresh without having any prior hang ups or expectations just might be the best way to go about it. We really don’t need to play an early version of the game a few months before the game comes out. It might just be that we feel entitled to something like the beta because of our past experiences. It’s hard to imagine fans being angry at a lack of beta but I wouldn’t discount the possibility.
I see a beta as a massive spoiler. You’re spoiling the gameplay rather than the story but you’re still being spoilt in advance of the final game and just like fictional or story spoilers you simply will not have the fuller picture until later on. Also, if you’re reading this site, chances are you’re going to playing Halo 4 at the end of the year, beta or no beta.
This summer, we’ll be playing the Halo 4 beta or we won’t (MS employees will for sure though! ). I don’t think it will have any impact on whether or not I’m queuing outside the shop at midnight when I get the chance on launch night. I honestly think I’d get more out of my launch experience if there was no beta (that un-played, new game feeling!) because I doubt I could resist playing one if there was.