The Legion alpha is back, and it is still an alpha. And I want to to stress, not for the first time, that I am not applying that label to it. I am not declaring that it is an alpha unilaterally or discussing ambiguous terminology. The test is being called an alpha by Blizzard, has been repeatedly referred to as an alpha, and in every way, shape, and form has been flagged as an alpha. Whether or not it should be labeled as an alpha isn’t the point.
Meanwhile, last year’s promises were for a beta by the end of the year.
Long-time readers know that I’m not really a fan of splitting hairs for no reason; if I’m going to plant a flag on a series of statements, I want it to be for a good reason. And there’s something to the fact that World of Warcraft players have gone from getting a beta by the end of the year to the current state of alpha with no indications of when the testing is supposed to shift into beta territory. That prompts some conclusions, and none of them is positive.
First and foremost, I want to point out – emphasize, even – that this is entirely a problem of Blizzard’s own devising. If the test that was started back in December had been called a beta, I wouldn’t bat an eye. Sure, we could argue that the testing was content-light for a beta or something similar, but at the end of the day the current debate over “beta promised, alpha delivered” entirely comes back to things that Blizzard employees and project leads offered voluntarily.
Bear in mind that if we’re going to talk about broken promises, they focus entirely around the terms that Blizzard chose to set for itself. The studio promised beta by the end of the year and delivered an alpha while using those exact terms. This is not something unique to me, either; people on the forums have noticed the same gap between what was said and what was done, and there’s a lengthy thread on MMO Champion with the same thrust.
“It’s still a test, though; does that difference really matter?” On one level, it doesn’t much matter. Yeah, the expansion is definitely in testing now, that’s a good thing. But it does matter when you start to consider the fact that the communication on this has been absolutely nil. To date I haven’t seen so much as a single offhand tweet acknowledging “we said beta, we were at a point when only alpha made sense, minor failing of ambition.”
There is, of course, the possibility that someone has actually said exactly why it’s being called an alpha instead of a beta. It’d have to be pretty obscure – I mean, I’m inundated with Blizzard news every day from multiple sources, and I’ve never seen it – but I acknowledge that it’s possible. I’m relatively confident it doesn’t exist at this point, but I could be wrong. The majority of my contentions exist regardless of whether there’s an obscure smoking gun out there.
A lack of communication indicates something in this particular case. It’s a matter of deflecting guilt by just ignoring the entire situation and hoping that no one else notices. The complete failure to even address the issue with so much as a pithy comment smells vaguely of intentional silence.
Even that might not matter too much if we were talking about a company that had a good track record with recent communication, but Blizzard doesn’t have that either. If anything, the studio has gotten worse with communication with each passing year. There’s a great forum post from the middle of Warlords of Draenor‘s life cycle looking at how the lack of communication is hurting the community; give it a read if you haven’t already.
But let’s just put all of that to one side and pretend that it’s not an issue. Let’s paint everything in the most positive possible light. Let’s say the “beta” statements were all made by people who didn’t know that an alpha, not beta, was planned for the end of the year (which would mean that people in charge of the game didn’t know what was actually being developed, but whatever), or let’s say that there is some explanation for the terminology shift out there that I somehow missed. Let’s say the non-communication is genuinely due to confusion. Let’s say it’s all very innocent.
Even then that alpha tag should be cause for worry because alpha means we’ve got quite a way to go before we’re ready for prime time.
At the moment, 22 of the game’s 36 specs are playable, which at least brings us up to the point that every class can be played. (Shaman wasn’t around for the December testing.) About half of that was available in the prior test. That’s a pretty quick turnaround… but it seems to indicate that the remaining 14 specs aren’t actually ready for players yet. If we’re lucky, those specs will be ready for play some time before the end of February, but they might not all be playable by March.
If the expansion is actually in a beta state by mid-March, it doesn’t have a whole lot of time for stress testing, balancing, and tuning before we hit the end of June, which is the magical point at which it will have been a year between major content updates of any sort, exacerbated by an incredibly short expansion cycle for Warlords of Draenor.
You don’t need to be told why this is a bad thing at this point; you probably also don’t need to be told that this is after yet another round of promises that the developers are aware that content gaps are a problem and are genuinely trying to minimize those gaps. Or they’re secretly deciding that subscriptions are just cyclical and can’t in any way be affected by the content being pushed and the speed at which content is release.
That strikes me as the sort of thinking that should usually be reserved for people who void their bowels into the drinking water and then wonder why everyone’s getting sick.
Back in June, I mentioned that if nothing else, I hoped that Warlords of Draenor at least served as a message. The brighter prospects for the game’s future revolved around the idea that lessons were learned. And lo, lessons have been learned: The development team seems to have learned the value of telling the players that lessons were learned and subsequently promising that things will change.
Is Blizzard unable or unwilling to address the issues within the game? The two provoke very different reactions, but the end result is that by failing to even communicate on them, an attitude of not caring is conveyed. There’s the sense that the developers don’t actually care about keeping you playing any longer, and thus why should you care about having something to do?
That’s why the distinction between alpha and beta matters, in this particular case. Sure, at the end of the day, testing is testing. But promising one thing and delivering something similar but not quite the same is mildly dirty pool, and then dealing with that by wholly ignoring the fact that a disconnect even exists just prompts further side-eye. Intentional or not, it gives the impression of a studio that just doesn’t care one way or the other, and it hardly builds confidence that the expansion is going to be a positive turning point rather than the latest slumping motion downhill.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around, I want to cover something that’s a bit more broadly meta but applies especially given the less-than-outstanding state of news for the game of late: I’m going to talk about being positive, enthusiasm, passion, and tackling my father to the ground. Should be a fun ride all around.