Overwatch beta backlash surprised Jeff Kaplan, may have done things differently in hindsight

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If you’ve paid any attention to the Overwatch beta you would be hard-pressed to have missed the OnlyWatch memes, cries of it being a ‘marketing beta’ and complaints that Blizzard only let streamers (and press) in. So how does that feel on the other side of things, and how much of it is fair?

Here's what Kaplan told us about the Overwatch progression system and its future.

“I was surprised,” says game director Jeff Kaplan., “A lot of this for me - and this is me talking personally now and less as a Blizzard spokesperson - for me, the last time I had personally had a game in beta was Wrath of the Lich King.” This was the last full WoW expansion that Jeff Kaplan, known to that community by forum handle Tigole, worked on before moving over to the Titan project that became Overwatch.

“It was a different era, that was back in 2008, I think what’s happened over the past decade is that the word beta has really changed what it means. Betas are now free public demos of nearly complete products.”

This is difficult to disagree with - look at the timing of betas that come out of large triple-A companies, and what they contain. How they’re distributed and the way people react is different, but can you say that providing half of Hitman, or the opening levels of The Division weeks before release, would be out of the realms of a demo you would get on a disc with a magazine in the ‘90s? People find bugs and exploits that can then be fixed, but it’s often far later in the development cycle than what the internal word of 'beta' ever meant.

Roadhog POTG

“With some hindsight,” says Kaplan, “I wish we had just called the thing an alpha and maybe put it under an NDA. [Then] I think we wouldn’t have got that backlash.”

I thanked him for not doing so, because it meant I could write and read about it without obstruction, play it with my friends and throw feedback around with other testers and viewers freely. “Yeah - it kinda makes me sad to think because I was always proud that Blizzard would have a beta without an NDA, I thought it was one of the things that made [us] Blizzard.

“But I also felt like people had given a lot of unfair backlash [about] allowing streamers into the game and saying we only let streamers into the beta which was extremely untrue - it was something like less than a percent of our entire beta invites were to streamers.” He sees it rather as a perception problem. “It’s just, like, if you go to the internet to see the Overwatch beta, who are you gonna find? You’re gonna find the streamers so your assumption is that’s the only people who got in, which is not true at all.”

It was surprising too because, initially, Kaplan had seen it as a very good idea to give streamers access. “I also felt like by allowing some of the more famous streamers into the game it actually [opened it up] - we weren’t going to open the beta to everybody, the game was not ready for that, our technology was not ready for it yet and to me it’s one of those ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ moments where I was thinking you give people [like streamers] access to the beta and that will give everybody access. They’ll all get to watch and experience what was going on.”

Pharah POTG

That’s just not how the community saw it - at least not the vocal part - to begin with. Things have mellowed since those rage-filled days, but months later, every thread on Reddit that concerns actual in-game content posted by a tester will still get a ‘joke’ post about not being able to play from a fan. There’s just as many posts coming up with some new reason why a problem in the beta can only be fixed by more invite waves, and the lot are heavily upvoted. Some are serious, some are not, and Kaplan understands that frustration, but he’s also thankful for it, in part.

“When all is said and done - and again this is me speaking personally as a game director - if the thing that people are most angry about is the fact that they can’t play your beta? I will take that any day over any other piece of critical feedback. So it’s not such a bad place to be in that the thing that they’re most angry about is that they don’t get to play yet - and knowing that they’re only months away from playing makes me very happy.”

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Bawheidbob avatar「Spaerk」 avatarTheDoge avatarForte avatarMr. Meeseeks avatarQuindlyn avatar+7
Bawheidbob Avatar
11
6 Months ago

The kids want all the things yesterday that is the world we live in. If they were in the beta they would complain it was 'buggy' and unfinished. Keep them out.

3
「Spaerk」 Avatar
67
6 Months ago

To be fair, it was not very hard to predict what the reaction would look like when you intentionally give popular streamers, which are rather polarizing to say the least, access to the beta.

3
Faustivious Avatar
2
6 Months ago

I don't think they 'hand picked' their Beta key players. If that were the case I would have never received one. 30+ years of gaming and this is the firsts FPS I've ever played. Plus the fact that I basically never stream my game play, so......

1
「Spaerk」 Avatar
67
6 Months ago

The article mentions that they picked a bunch of streamers because they thought it would make the beta more widely "available" to people, so part of the keys was given to hand picked players.

1
Forte Avatar
3
6 Months ago

The root cause of the negativity, to me, was the extremely early stress test weekend. The servers didn't seem to have a problem handling that number of players, even during peak evening hours on Saturday night it seemed to be chugging smoothly along. After the stress test, there were not large waves of invites that followed and the legion of fans (myself and my gaming circle included) that said weekend created were left out in the dark, having experienced a very unique and fresh game that we feverishly desired to play again. I recall the hearthstone beta where keys were given out in droves, and by the time the game was ready to release you almost couldn't give out your keys fast enough because most people who were interested in testing the game already had access. There were giveaways, large beta wave invites, and sort of guest keys sent out to people who already had invites so they could get their friends involved. Overwatch has none of that.

What we are essentially watching on twitch is the formation of a "competitive" Overwatch scene that exists under a very small number of players, and those among us who may have aspirations of joining said competitive scene and really pushing the game to its limits are sidelined and forced to watch popular streamers and youtubers get preferential access. Professional aspirations aside, it's remarkably demoralizing to see people hone their skills and achieve pseudo-celebrity status on a game that you're completely unable to play because you haven't won a somewhat rigged lottery.

3
Drymill Avatar
1
6 Months ago

You can't really compare the Overwatch Beta with the Hearthstone Beta for two main reasons:

1. Hearthstone, conceptually, is a free to play game -- so letting people into the Beta "in droves" really just allowed them to filter in the player base slowly. Conversely, Overwatch is a Pay to Play game, and Beta Testers are currently being allowed to play the game without paying the intended price.

2. Hearthstone's sole source of income is through micro-transactions of purchased cards. While in Beta, the testers were allowed to purchase packs with real money -- under the premise that when the game was fully released to the public, Beta Testers would have a credit based on how much money they had already spent.

Inviting large quantities of Beta Testers, through multiple waves would not cost Hearthstone anything, whereas doing the same for Overwatch (especially considering how long this Beta is) would run the risk of turning away and even burning out players that might otherwise pay for the game.

1
Caellinn Avatar
2
6 Months ago

There's another key fact here, which is that, unlike Overwatch, Hearthstone did not require an entirely new backend setup with a new engine. Even if it ran smoothly for a weekend, the technical requirements of testing and evaluating where pressure points arise is limiting in the level of long-term sustainability of a large test. Similarly, since we're getting Overwatch *without* an NDA, if large waves of Beta invites go out and end up overloading the new system, especially if a bug/exploit is found, and everything breaks, it would ultimately just be a stream of people complaining about it instead of anything useful to Blizzard.

The actual purpose of *any* Beta is to test the new system in a sampling of end-user locations. If a larger number of testers is actually not likely to provide a significant increase in value to the company developing the system, there's no reason to stress their resources in what is effectively still a developmental phase.

New tech means new aches and pains, and a much more difficult time rooting them out.

2
Quindlyn Avatar
2
6 Months ago

Eh. I don't really know how to feel about the Overwatch beta thing. On one hand, I understand keeping the sample size small, but to me it seems like doing so and allowing it to be publicized would quite obviously lead to people becoming frisky to play.

I've from the start been incredibly excited about finally getting to sink my teeth into this project. I was fortunate enough to get to play some of it during the most recent stress test weekend and yeah it was buggy and yeah there were some things that should have been improved, that didn't really take away from the fact that it's pretty much everything I've ever wanted from a shooter presented in a way incredibly appetizing to play. Not being able to continue, especially after seeing the cool new content just added, is incredibly heartwrenching and, for those people who haven't even gotten to play the game yet, I completely sympathize with the feeling.

That being said, I just really wish more people got a chance to play. I don't think it would be a negative thing for the game at this point. Those who hate the aspects of the game that feel unpolished will be turned off and stop playing; those who are incredibly into the game in spite of its rough edges get to continue playtesting with like-minded people and provide support and suggestions to the Overwatch team. Ideally, at least.

2
Mr. Meeseeks Avatar
1
6 Months ago

The problem is that Blizz still insist with RNG drafting for BETA of OW until now. Which lead to a ton of people got fully access to game who may or may not care to feed back or support the game. They play the game just because they got it for FREE.

Meanwhile it is very unfair for the fanboys who pre-order + sign up day one still left hanging.

1
Sarkoforos Avatar
2
6 Months ago

Me and a friend, are in from the start(we are not streamers).

The game is worth the money and it's gonna be fun for sure.

Not having access to a beta, you and your gang, isn't the end of the world. Play something else.. you got a shitty attitude if you demand access to a game's beta just for being awesome. They want to test stuff(even marketing shit), not satisfy your lust for unreleased and new content.

They did some mistakes:

1) They should have a "closed" beta first(nda) and leave the release date open.

2) Changing f2p->p2p after beta(they shouldn't have said f2p..)

3) Should have included more modes (it was pretty empty in the start, not ranked stuff.. modes like capture the flag, king of the hill, free for all etc. pretty standar shooter stuff)

4) Be straight from the start about it, hype is good but it can turn to negativity.

P.S. So i made this post mostly to support the game, because it's a good game, be patient..

1
TheDoge Avatar
5
6 Months ago

They NEVER said F2P

5
The Great Gratzby Avatar
106
6 Months ago

Blizzard being "surprised" by a negative public reaction to their ham-handed implementations is just becoming a thing, like Tim Schafer needing another million dollars or Peter Molyneux just making things up.

1
Littlekenny21 Avatar
1
6 Months ago

For me the issue is the huge amount of publicity. The hype had been built up to a level where people would instantly pay for it there and then. That is what you want before you release a game, not before you do a beta.

Also I think an issue with the streamers is that if you're a streamer you're pretty much (or so it seems) in but if you're a normal person its all RNG.

1
Faustivious Avatar
2
6 Months ago

What everyone that complains they they are not able to 'play' in the current understand is, it's not meant to be played right now, it's meant to be TESTED! Yes, you do need to technically play the game to test out the beta, but it is a beta test. I'm sure 99% of the people complaining they didn't get into the beta are just players that look at it as early free access to play the game. These are the people that leave little to no feedback, and if they did it would most likely not be in a helpful way for the development team.

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BB-8 before Star Wars VII Avatar
2

Too bad there's no way for Blizzard to know who wants to just play and who wants to help improve the game.

And by the way, @PlayOverwatch (strangely) tweeted that the beta does not only exist for feedback, but "The purpose is to have fun, too!" So they select a tiny amount of players to have fun. Good Job!

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BB-8 before Star Wars VII Avatar
2

So Blizzard says they are surprised that players only think streamers got beta access. Well, yes, on the internet you will only see streamers post stuff, that's true. But if there is no one who got in that you personally know, you are bound to have that opinion.

Me and 7 friends signed up for the beta from pretty early on. I believe there would have been more that 60 chances to get into the beta from all of us combined, but none of us actually got in at any time. That makes for a chance of less that 1,66 % to get beta access. Even in the stresstest weekend, only one of us was allowed in, so the chance for that was less than 13% !

Or of course we just all had bad luck. Sixty times in a row.

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TheDoge Avatar
5
6 Months ago

Two words: Cartmanland Effect. Of course hes happy about that. He thinks it will generate more sales. As for what he could have done differently blizz could have cut a deal with Twitch.

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