Ubisoft’s For Honor is the latest high-profile game to go against the industry standard of providing review copies before launch. Instead, an open beta will substitute for gamers looking to make an informed purchase.
Open Betas are better because the consumer get’s first-hand experience?
You could argue that since For Honor’s beta grants access to every multiplayer mode, it does a better job than reading/watching a review. What better way to inform a consumer if they like playing a game than by actually playing the game?
The issue is that the full game is not available to the player. Many classes will be locked, similar to Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege model. A proper reviewer with an advanced copy could spend dozens of hours unlocking everything.
Perhaps the balance of gameplay changes drastically once later classes are introduced. Maybe the later classes are terrible to play or simply not worth your time to unlock. Plenty of games provide enough front-end entertainment for a compelling beta, but might fall apart after significant time is invested.
There’s also a single-player campaign that Ubisoft promises will be worth the price of admission alone. But without a first-hand account from a reviewer or consumer, we’re left with the word of a biased publisher heavily invested in the game’s success.
What if ReCore ditched reviews copies for a beta of the first few hours?
Developed by the legendary Keifi Inafune and key members from Metroid Prime, ReCore looked impressive. With enough time, the finished product might have been a modern classic. Unfortunately, it felt rushed and incomplete. Long load times, empty areas, and blueprints for a fifth robot that cannot be built, are a few of the worst offenses that a beta test wouldn’t uncover.
The pedigree of development and strong opening section could have led to millions of sales to gamers that might have felt ripped off. Its commercial failure is a tragic, but important reminder that might encourage future games to receive more attention before release.
Consumer vs Publisher
Publishers of high-profile games risk plenty and gain almost nothing by providing advance copies of their games. Only the most critically acclaimed titles can point to their review scores as good press. A solid 7 or 8 out of 10 might mean an enjoyable game, but it doesn’t scream ‘buy me’. Often I’ll see comment sections of reviews full of “was going to buy, but now I’ll hold off until a sale”.
Frankly I’m surprised that more publishers haven’t followed Bethesda’s lead. I’m sure they’re watching for potential backlash and impact on the bottom line, but I bet this is a trend that’s here to stay.
At least until it swings back the other way.