Posts tagged NDA
This is a difficult post, technically, for a few reasons. I had an epiphany this weekend, which came as both a surprise and which was also not surprising. It is, however, something I am concerned about discussing because I know that any way I frame it, it’ll become fodder for some partisan camp to seize upon, and I really don’t want it to become a rallying banner for some frothy-mouthed fan or anti-fan to carry into battle. It’s also difficult because it involves the presence of a certain NDA locked MMO, which means I can’t speak of specifics that illuminate my points. But I’ll give it a shot. So here’s a disclaimer!
This post is not in support of anything. It’s also not an attack on anything. If you want to badmouth the principals involved in this discussion, please take it elsewhere. I’m writing this because it’s my own epiphany, and I’ll not let it be used to support to deny any quality product intended for our entertainment.
And so, I would like to start by saying that I believe that I’ve come at least to within sight of the end of my affair with the massive multiplayer online game genre. I’ve been playing them since I beta tested Ultima Online over crappy dial-up connections, up until now, where I maintain a six-month-at-a-time subscription to Rift. I’ve played all the “big name” games, and have played or at least tried or tested legions of smaller titles in the genre. I’ve played alone, with friends, and with strangers. I’ve been ganked, and have ganked, have both enjoyed and have hated PvP, and I do not regret the time or money spent having played in this genre. Not one bit.
Part of the allure of the MMO was that, at first, it was new. Back in the late 90s, “social networking” meant leaving posts on BBS or chatting in IRC. Having real live moving avatars was fantastic and exciting. As the Internet took off, and people became more and more interconnected, it only made sense that gaming follow suit and offer a more group-oriented experience. The single player game was declared “dead”, at least in it’s traditional, offline form, slain by the multiplayer, always connected experience.
Looking back from our vantage point of today, maybe the MMO genre has grown too fast. Video games themselves are barely 30-some-odd years old, with at least 1/3rd of that knowing the “modern MMO”. Now we have hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Sadly, the best mirror I can hold up to the current state of the MMO genre is Twilight. If you want a more palatable example, then Harry Potter. In both cases, the extreme popularity of a singular product spawned hundreds of similar or outright rip-offs in a very short amount of time, all looking to get some of the original’s zeitgeist while the getting was good. If the existence of Twilight is bad, then surely the existence of a Twilight clone is even even bigger target for derision? That’s what we’ve got in the MMO genre: constant arguments over who’s the latest copy of World of Warcraft, or a general malaise over features that many see as having been stagnant since EverQuest. This is apparently fuel for some, but for those of us who aren’t as partisan, it’s tiring to have to hear the same chatter over and over again with each and every new game.
This isn’t to say that it’s not warranted; some of us just don’t let it color our opinions of the product as a whole, standing on it’s own merits and not using it as a whipping-boy for our issues with other games. Still, there’s really only so many times we can look the other way as marketing departments work their hardest to convince us that this time it’s going to be different, but when it’s really only incremental if we’re lucky. It’s easy and even lazy to just dismiss and complain. It’s difficult – and far more rewarding – to look beyond the path of least resistance and the delusions that we have “higher standards” that demand to be met. But there may come a time when that attitude just can’t be maintained in the face of something that just brings one back around to what made gaming so enjoyable in the first place, and makes one realize that “settling” isn’t always the best strategy.
This weekend, I had time split between Skyrim and the oft-mentioned NDA MMO (herein known simple as NDAMMO). Both are hot properties. One is widely available, and invitation to the other is widely sought after. It would be criminal to have obtained access to NDAMMO and not participate when one is able, so I was constantly switching between the two. To say that it was like apples and oranges doesn’t quite cover it. One is online, the other is single player. One is tightly scripted, the other is sandboxed. The art styles differ. The genres differ. Both are extremely well done, but neither is without technical issues, but that’s neither here nor there. But on Saturday night, I think it hit me that Skyrim was fulfilling a need that no MMO had ever been able to fill, no matter how hard it tried or how noble it’s aspirations.
Skyrim isn’t the Second Coming by any stretch. It’s not going to be for everyone because it’s the Sandbox of all Sandboxes which means that you’re free to go anywhere, at any time for no other reason then it looked interesting. The northern land of Skyrim is a cold and empty place, punctuated by occasional bursts of interaction with far flung villages, secretive bandits or mysterious ruins – and the occasional dragon. It’s all of this combined with amazing visuals that gives you that sense of immersion that I think we so desperately want from cutting edge games. Trudging through the mountain pass in near-white-out conditions while stalking a target is both nerve wracking and exhilarating. In all my years of gaming, I don’t think I’ve encountered anything quite like spotting a dragon wheeling around the sky in the distance, heading closer, and scorching the ground as it passes overhead.
And then I transitioned to the NDAMMO. Sadly, I can’t say much because of the NDA, but to move back into the MMO space after spending time in Skyrim was…jarring. It was comfortable and familiar, even though I hadn’t played that game specifically. There were people all around me, doing MMO things like jumping, dancing, fighting. I’m sure the chat channel was abuzz with talk of World of Warcraft, but I ignored it. It was…an MMO, which should be enough to convey a set of parameters about the game without getting into specifics. I enjoyed my time there, after a while, but it’s that after a while that made me realize that I just wasn’t all that excited to MMO-it-up much anymore. I’ve barely touched Rift in the past few weeks, and the MMO-flavored highlight of recent memory has been DC Universe Online going free to play.
I don’t credit Skyrim specifically with my malaise regarding MMOs. I think that after 10+ years of walking a familiar road that I finally admit that I might be in need of a change of scenery. Skyrim is a once in a blue moon phenomenon. Others have tried to take on the open world fantasy (Two Worlds being a high profile miss), including “sandbox” MMOs (Fallen Earth, EVE Online, etc.) I can’t say I’d be interested in leaving MMOs entirely for games like Skyrim because there are no games like Skyrim, at least not on such a schedule so as to fill my gaming dance card. What I think happened is that there was finally another style of game that just blew me away, that showed me that although MMOs are fun, they’re not pushing any envelopes anymore. The notion that the future of gaming is online is incorrect; online gaming has shown us that their “future” is a hamster wheel of intra-genre cannibalism which is limited by having to please everyone while keeping up with the competition in a genre stuffed to the gills with contenders.
To sew it up, I’m still on-board for the release of this NDAMMO. After an initial sputtering start, I really got into it, and have some positive things to say about it at an undetermined point in the future. However, I expect that this may be my last and terminal MMO. Having gone back to many MMOs over the years, I am not sure that I can look at them the way I did when I was discovering them for the first time, or even delighting in what I find in any new MMO. I recognized early on that I Have a shut-down point in pretty much all of them that drives me away with boredom, and I’m bored with being bored in that fashion. It’s time to look at some of the non-mainstream, non-mass-market titles out there that may suit me. I’d have a lot of time to fill, if I did actually give up MMOing, and I suppose there’s a lot of titles out there to fill the space.
So, I was a part of a “very exclusive beta” test this weekend…you know the one I mean…the one under NDA lockdown that’s preventing the thousands of other beta testers from talking about it? I shall not speak of it specifically, but this game (*wink*) has been beta testing for months now, with some permanent testers, and some “weekend warriors” rotating in for a single weekend between then and the end of the beta period. It was also recently announced that anyone who registered to be a tester prior to November 11th will get in sometime during November. As Gazimoff at Mana Obscura observed, that could be millions of players.
We’re almost a month away from launch, and everyone has been told that they’re going to get a peek under the canvas before launch…and the game is still under an NDA. Why?
An NDA in it’s true form is designed to maintain trade secrets. Employees or focus groups aren’t allowed to talk about a product or service before it’s released because the competition might get wind of this product and may adjust their own products or services accordingly. That makes a lot of sense. In the gaming world, it works pretty much the same, I’d think, although for MMOs it’s kind of wonky, as a AAA title takes years to create and refine, and any company that attempts a fire drill to head of a competitor’s feature before it releases is in for a world of hurt.
But for beta testers, the NDA serves what purpose, exactly? Sure, beta testers are an excitable lot, having been chosen from millions of potential candidates through some developer voodoo, and they’re all wired up to talk about their experience, and to get all “nah nah nah NAH NAH!” in other gamer’s faces. But the same theory applies when we talk about proximity to launch: by the time beta testers are admitted, the game should be really close to release (within months, maybe). Close enough that other games wouldn’t have time to get a similar system out the door, unless they wanted to release a totally half-assed system (which isn’t unheard of). The most they could get out of it would be some additional lead time to make plans to prepare talking about the possibility of maybe someday adding their own similar feature, right? I don’t know. Maybe these companies are more agile then I give them credit for,
But when it’s less then a month from release, and you’ve committed to allowing every single person who wants to get in access to the beta test, what’s the point of having an NDA after that? If everyone who wants to be in on the secret knows the secret…it’s not a secret! Instead, I suspect this is NDA is in place now for two reasons.
The first is to prevent the unwashed masses from running out and giving the world their opinion. Pro blogs and other media have had their gag order rescinded a few weeks ago, so the more “professional” (read: no axe to grind, no “gamer cred” to foster, etc.) outlets can wax poetic in the *cough* objective fashion that they, as trusted outlets, are expected to comport themselves *COUGHCOUGHCOUGHHACKCOUGHSPIT*. But the regular Joe/Susan Blogger doesn’t need to hold anything back, and if they hate Biowa…I mean, the developer, or the publisher, or the IP, or the decisions that were made in the design of the game, well, he or she can just let fly, and no company wants bad pre-release press for a product which is indicated to go super-nova on the sales charts.
The second is to maintain the hype. Even now, so close to launch, people are pushing at the gates like People Of Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Although so many people have gotten in during a beta test weekend, there are legions more who have not, and would do almost anything to get an invite. It’s a different culture, modern beta testing, then it was when I was a kid, where it’s now more about getting a free taste without the commitment, and companies know this. Meting out the invites while keeping those who have already experienced it under a gag order ensures that there will be no second-hand contact highs though blogs or YouTube for those chomping at the bit for the experience.
I hope, though, that once the “everybody into the pool” testing weekend is over, the NDA is taken down. At that point, anyone who really, really cares about having an opinion of the game will have experienced the game, so there will hardly be anyone left who doesn’t know about it first hand.