Gimme money

Let's have a serious talk about "Live Beta" and "Abandonware"

I have an interest in game development that goes all the way back to my days as an obsessed pre-teen, dreaming about Mega Man and the Mario Brothers. I remember devising what other adventures they might have gone on if I were the one writing the stories... I made little maps of game 'levels' on graph paper stolen from my dad's engineering file cabinet and somehow devised a system by which my brother would conceptually jump and fight little robotic enemies as he progressed through the maps. Of course that developed into table top gaming and eventually I did manage to do some artwork for a throwback MUD*. Unfortunately, without any coding skills I never made it any farther than that, despite attempting to work with a handful of local indie developers on their projects. I can count three different promising game concepts that I helped with art assets, story/concept writing, or both... but all of them were eventually abandoned for numerous reasons.

Such is the way of indie development. Without financial backing there are so many things that can go wrong, and that is just the way that it is. These projects are like moments that will be lost in time... like tears... in rain** (sob) This is no different from independent film or any other collaborative art form. Even with individual art forms, an artist may give up on a painting/drawing/etc because they simply got tired of it or it failed to live up to their expectations or any number of reasons, really. Abandoning a project is sometimes the best course of actions (see my article Giving Up?).

However, sometimes circumstances are different. I've been talking about indie projects in which one artist or a handful of game developers have an idea, then end up moving on to something else. This is natural. But what happens when there is more at stake? What about commercial products?

There is a trend in game development that has been giving a lot of people serious concern about the state of the industry: the Live Beta. The development studios behind many online games have this habit of "going live" with their game in a Beta state. In industry terms, "Beta" is a state of internal testing, in which the game is technically playable but has many functions and interactions that still need to be tested and verified by *ahem* beta testers. This is an actual job in the industry which is often a stepping stone into bigger and better positions at design studios. Beta testers are tasked with trying to break the game in every possible way and meticulously recording all errors, glitches, or mistakes for the developers to correct before the games goes live. Beta testers are like game development grunts. They put in hard work and question their existence at every turn (at least... so I hear). Also, games in Beta are often fully playable, but overall incomplete. This means that some content isn't even in the game yet (sometimes items, map locations, quests, etc are literally covered by placeholders!). As I said before, the current trend is that a (usually small) developer will launch a game in a Beta state, with all micro transaction capability and all prompts to encourage players to spend real money on the game...which did I mention is not even finished? So the real value in this method for the game developers is to outsource the entire Beta testing stage of development to users, often paying users.


However, this is not the issue that I have such a problem with. This trend has actually gotten worse in recent years.

Enter the Abandonware Live Beta. If you thought outsourcing an entire stage of development to paying users was bad, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Abandonware is a term that has been floating around for a while and is mostly an innocuous term for software that has run it's course and outlived it's usefulness. (see more about Abandonware on Howstuffworks here). Originally coined by by Peter Ringering in late 1996, this term was used to refer to old defunct video games. In my opinion, it has recently taken on a whole new, much more insidious meaning. Big companies are going live with games in Beta state with no intention of ever completing them. Players are signing up, playing games, working towards the endgame content - which isn't there yet - and most importantly, SPENDING MONEY on games that developers have already abandoned. I can think of a few examples, but the first one that comes to mind is a game called Stormfall: Saga of Survival, published by Plarium - the company that brought you those annoying "Raid: Shadow Legends" ads that appear pretty much everywhere. Yes, Plarium has other games that are in live Beta state that have been available to play for literally years, accepting money for micro transactions ...with zero game updates. "Stormfall: Saga of Survival" is actually a very good entry in the Survival genre of games, possibly one of the best I've ever played (and I have played a lot of Survival games on mobile). Unfortunately, S:SoS was abandoned long ago by Plarium. Sure, dedicated players still play it knowing that it will not get any more updates. The problem is that new players find it in the app store and start playing, expecting that "someday soon" the developers will finally finish that content update that will add the materials for the highest tier of craftable items, and those locations on the map that you can't get into will be glorious. Not likely. They are working on *ahem* "Raid: Shadow Legends" commercials and trailers. Which, by the way, is a terribly boring game.

So this is an example of an Abandonware Live Beta that is essentially a zombie game used to generate income for other projects that Plarium wants to work on.

Extra gross.

This is a very specific case but I'm approximately 100% sure that this isn't the only example of this type of underhanded business strategy by a game development studio. Is anyone else bothered by this? I haven't heard anyone talking about this phenomenon in the game development world, but then again, I don't read a ton of industry articles. Is this a new term? "Abandonware Live Beta"? "Zombieware"? Zombieware technically exists as a term but it only refers to software that is nearly impossible to remove from your system but is otherwise completely harmless. This would be a much more apt use for the term, in my opinion.

That being said... 

What do we do about this? Should there be a public list made that collects examples of Abandonware Live Beta games to publicly shame the developers behind them? Should we be sharpening some sort of digital pitchforks and practicing ways to shake them menacingly?

Do we just accept that this is how things are now...?


I do have one good idea: support indie developers and let them know that this is unacceptable. They probably already know that because they are usually really cool folks who are passionate about what they are doing. In fact, I plan to profile some indie developers very soon (look for an upcoming post about a few of my favorites soon!). None of the 'one-man-show' developers that I know of would hand you an unfinished product and expect you to pay for it in order to fund their work on another product (especially a vastly inferior one). 

"True change comes from within." I think the Buddha said that. Or Ghandi. Or the guy who writes fortunes for fortune cookies (i.e. someone very intelligent and wise). We can do what we should have been doing all along: supporting the cool people and ignoring the turds out there who are trying to sell bad games with flashy advertisements. After all, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.


Also, we should hold onto some pitchforks. Just in case.





*"Multi-User-Dungeon" the one I helped out with was called Movoda, which I'm happy to report is still live after all these years!

**Film nerds will get this reference. Otherwise, there's always Google.


Photo Credits:

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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Indie Film Maker, AV Tech, Sci-Fi & Fantasy nerd. Looking to hone some writing skills and explore cryptocurrency along with this interesting community of folks

The Creative Revolution will not be Televised
The Creative Revolution will not be Televised

This blog is an exploration of creativity, philosophy, and the independent development of art and entertainment be it mobile games, indie films, literature, art, or anything in between. I love do-it-yourself creative types and I plan to showcase the most interesting gems I've found and I'll try to gain insight into the creative minds behind them!

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