Could the beta program be an experience unto itself?

Published on Friday, July 31, 2009 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

SwampLordPaintingFinal In my mind, the fun of Elemental resides in the fact that you’re not just trying to conquer some fantasy world but the world itself is designed to be so organic and unique from game to game.

A lot of the difference between games is a result of things like a tech tree that has different techs in it, a huge library of special content that is integrated into map generation randomly each game, quests, integrated community content, and the divergent paths to victory.

Now, as some of you know, Stardock’s bread and butter isn’t from game development.  Our desktop software and enterprise software have always given us the luxury of being able to take as long as we want to develop our games as well as take “risks” on the way we release our games (no copy protection for instance – which, in case people are wondering, the retail version of Elemental will not have copy protection).

And that brings me to a question I wanted to pose to you folks.  Would you be interested in us extending the beta?  Since anyone can join betas by pre-ordering, we could try something that really hasn’t been done before as far as I know – make the beta experience something truly outstanding unto itself.

Right now, the schedule is this:

  • Beta 1 in August
  • Beta 2 in October (adds tactical battles)
  • Beta 3 in December (polish)
  • Gamma (private) in January
  • Release in February

This is pretty much the same schedule we’ve been doing since Galactic Civilizations I back in 2003.

But imagine this kind of beta instead:

  • Beta 1 in August
  • Beta 2 in January
  • Whatever

So what would be the point of this?  The point would be to make it a lot more fun to develop the game with the beta testers.  Rather than have v1.0 come out in February and then have v1.1 in say April and so on, we simply keep working on the game with the beta testers.

Then, when we release the game, it’s got a ton more stuff. 

Here are some thoughts that come to mind:

How many players should/can we allow in a game? 8? 12? 32?

How sophisticated can we make dungeons in the game?

How sophisticated can we make quests in the game?

How sophisticated can we make tactical battles in the game?

How big of a scope can we give the campaign?

We don’t have the financial pressure to release the game in February and because of that, we have an opportunity to try something we’ve not done that we think might be really special and that is vastly increase the contribution of the beta players into the game than what we’ve done before.

The end result would, I think, be a game that could very well be a classic. A year’s worth of player input before it was released to the general public. 

Tell us what you think.