Killzone 2 is one of my most anticipated games of 2009. I didn’t need the beta to come to that conclusion; I’ve known that since I got my hands on the game at E3 2008. Killzone 2 is the best-looking game I have ever played. It’s got intense scripted moments a la Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty games, its gunplay and AI are a sheer joy, and its multiplayer action is as deep and robust as any you’ve played to date. So why did the Killzone 2 beta leave me with a sour taste?
It wasn’t the beta itself; that was fantastic (although I did get my a$$ handed to me by all the “vets” since I joined the party a few days late). Instead, it was the experience reinforcing the flaws inherent in having a public multiplayer beta in the first place. The Killzone 2 beta wasn’t a disappointment at all; it was the realization that it suffered from the problem inherent in all public betas.
On the development side, public betas are designed to work out the kinks in the networking code, find trouble spots in multiplayer maps and get an overall feel for how people are playing the game and the final tweaks that the developers can make to enrich the experience before the game ships. That’s all well and good, but are the benefits just as strong from the consumer side? And just as important, are there really any tangible marketing benefits? I’d argue not, in both cases.
It’s the very nature of a multiplayer beta to be for hardcore players only, the guys and gals who are going to buy the game even without the beta and really be the ones responsible for its online success or failure. The hardcore gamers are also generally the ones reading about any given game online, so any publicity about the beta is really more or less “preaching to the choir” or fueling fanboy wars. Is that really an effective marketing tool? If you’re looking for ad copy, yes. If you’re looking to build buzz about a game among people who are already buzzing, no.
Extending that “hardcore” logic to the consumer experience, the on-the-fence gamers — presuming they can gain access to the beta in the first place — are more often than not going to find the experience less than fun. In the case with Killzone 2, it’s certainly no fault of the game itself, which even at this pre-release state is more polished and enjoyable than 75% of the other shooters already on the market. Instead, it’s because the focus of the beta is the multiplayer experience, warts and all.
Sure, the on-the-fence gamer can see that the framerate is smooth and gameplay is polished. For about 60 seconds. That’s when the “l337” gamer comes along to shoot him in the face and laugh at his misery. Polished game? Yes. Good multiplayer potential? Yes. Enjoyable? Only if you like seeing your digital corpse lying on the ground. For the gamers who will already buy the game, this won’t be an issue because they’re hardcore in the first place and will fare better. But for the less-than-hardcore consumer, they may end up being turned off from the game entirely.
Part of the problem here also lies in the nature of public betas: they’re always multiplayer only. Although it’s a minority, there’s a certain segment of the population that will choose the single-player story experience over the online multiplayer mode any day of the week. This minority still has considerable buying power, however, so alienating or turning-off these single-player gamers who are “curious” about the game and leave less-than-entertained by the fragfest of an online beta can have its consequences.
To be fair, the development teams of these games purposefully don’t include the story aspects in public betas; they don’t want to divulge the story or plot. But really, the first level or so in most games serves as a training anyway, so providing a single-player level for the same rigorous public testing as the multiplayer portion wouldn’t really spill the beans. Heck, in the case of Halo 3, which had a highly successful multiplayer beta and a highly guarded story, would it really have made much of a difference anyway? I mean, it was basically Halo 1.3….
Killzone 2 is still atop my anticipated games list for 2009, but the beta reinforced some of the issues inherent in the multiplayer beta process in general. While Killzone 2 itself doesn’t appear to have many faults, its pre-release appearance online is faulted just by its very nature. And for those gamers who are more akin to playing the offline portion anyway, the “hardcore only” beta may ultimately turn a few people away.
— Jonas Allen