In Praise of the Transparent Beta
The Starcraft II beta has been here for a while (and has taken a lot of my gaming time since then) but I realized that I never talked about the one amazing feature it has. No, I’m not talking about the fact that it already feels like a mostly completed game – much unlike many other betas I’ve seen – or about anything specific to Starcraft II. What’s so great is that there is no NDA on the beta whatsoever. People are posting tons of commentated videos of games online and there are even tournaments with monetary pay-outs happening already. In the beta.
I think this is a brilliant tactical move by Blizzard, already generating a lot of hype and a strong community around a game that isn’t even finished yet. Where other companies are scared that their products might look bad to the public unless there is a giant NDA blocking every way out (*cough*ElectronicArts*cough*), Blizzard took the clever path. They made sure that their product was good enough to not scare off customers before they opened it to the public and then used all the free labor of people like Day9, TotalBiscuit, HDStarcraft, and Husky to really kick-start sales once the game is released.
But this policy doesn’t just give Blizzard free publicity, it also allows us who are in the beta to communicate much more freely and to openly exchange information with both other beta players and those unlucky enough not to get a beta key. In short, We can already build a community around the game and deal with it even while we aren’t playing way before the game is out. This, in turn, makes us much more interested in playing more which results in additional testing being done for Blizzard. In my opinion, a beta such as this is an absolute Win-Win situation.
That makes me wonder why other companies actually put restrictive NDAs in place. Could their betas really be so bad that they have to fear bad publicity from them? Aren’t people used to the concept of a beta by now, so that they understand that a beta test is a test and will be flawed? The masters of the perpetual beta over at Google surely aren’t scared of publishing a flawed product, and they seem to be successful enough. Is an NDA already a sign of a product being weak? The amount of polish that can be done in a usual beta period isn’t all that high, so if a game is so bad at the start of the beta that testers can’t be allowed to talk about it, doesn’t that mean that it will still be sub-par when it launches?