PVS MMOs: The 7 Stages of MMO Gaming

In an MMO game’s life span, it will go through multiple phases as it develops. Gamers often seem to forget this before they run to the forums to complain and make negative comments. Now don’t get me wrong sometimes the game needs the hate, but only during the proper phases. Before rushing to the keyboard, make sure you understand the 7 Stages of MMO Gaming.

  1. Concept:The idea phase of the game. This is often just words or theories of what the game could be, and some times a few screenshots. Some games with larger budgets may put a teaser video together. A site will often go up offering players the ability to sign up for a newsletter about developments. This is also the ‘Dude, I have an awesome game idea!’ stage.
    • Many games don’t make it out of this stage due to not having a budget. The idea may be good, but not worth investing in.
  2. Alpha:This takes place once the game starts being developed, and the groundwork is laid down. The Alpha stage is most often a ‘closed’ experience, requiring an invite to get into. Though the game will be playable in some form, this phase isn’t expected to have great graphics or gameplay but instead an active way to experience the ideas in motion. If anything, this stage is where ideas that seemed good on paper but are determined absolutely will not work are eliminated. At this stage it’s crucial to provide only constructive criticism. Alpha most often require a strict NDA to be signed.
    • Because this stage is often invite online, it’s often known as the ‘friends and family’ testing stage. That said, most people don’t even know when it exists outside of the company involved.
  3. Closed-Beta: The closed beta stage is often the first time that the public will get a chance to experience the game directly. By this phase, the largest of bugs should be worked out and the game is ‘tolerable’. There are often still a lot of bugs at this stage, and usually features that haven’t been implemented yet (such as come classes or races not available). Many Closed-Beta are very selective about who is chosen to participate, to maximize testing experience to get the best feedback. NDA are sometimes required for this stage, but are often not as strict as Alpha on what can be ‘leaked’. For more serious gamers and game testers, this is the ideal place you want to be when a game is being developed. By doing so, you get the bragging rights of saying “I was in the closed beta” as well as being able to use your experience to give valuable feedback to influence the game’s development.
    • In recent trends, pre-ordering a game sometimes gives players access to a closed-beta or ‘early access’ model.
  4. Open-Beta:Much like the closed-beta stage, most of the game is done or in ‘working order’. It’s often just he fine tuning or extra features that need to be added. In Open-Beta, the public can simply sign up and give it a try. Of all the previous stages, this is the most popular place for a gamer to start seeing the game. This is also the most common time to see people complaining about the game, and how it will never succeed. More often than not, this is due to a failure on the player’s part to realize that this is still a testing phase.
    • More recently, many companies have turned to the ‘beta weekend’ model. Instead of the game always being open during the test phase, they will only be accessible on certain weekends.
  5. Launch: When the game is ‘done enough’ it’s time for a launch. At this point anybody who wants to play it can, and the game will start charging for the product or making other purchase options available if there will be any. Though the game can only be released at one moment in time, the launch stage can often last a number of months depending on how the beta development stage went. If the game launches and many things end up not working (that weren’t caught in development) the developers may end up pushing out hotfixes and patches often to try to fix the issues as quick as possible. This is standard for anybody in an early adoptersituation, both for gaming and otherwise. Depending on the size of the company and the number of players, games can be stuck in the launch stage for multiple months. This stage also tends to get a lot of negative feedback from players, second only to Open-Beta. At this point however, complaints about service are more justified as the game as deemed itself ‘out of testing’. Consideration should be given immediately upon launch in these situations though. The game developers may be in the pool, but still in the shallow end. Give them some time to figure things out and ‘get their feet wet’ before tearing them a new one.
    • A noteworthy game that experienced a delayed launch period was Star Wars: The Old Republic. Though released in December 2011, it wasn’t until April 2012 (Patch 1.2) that the game was given a substantial amount of features that are common with most games at launch.
  6. Patching: At this point the game is well on it’s way and is just ‘doing it’s thing’. It will continue to develop, new content will be added and changed and the game will live out it’s lifetime. There isn’t any noteworthy characteristics of this stage, as it will be defined by the games content. This can last for any given amount of time, as long as the fan base is there and the game proves profitable.
  7. Death: When the game is no longer turning a profit, or the fan base just isn’t there the company will simply need to stop producing the game. Often when this happens companies will give players a few months notice, and turn the game free to play for the remaining time it exists. Once that time is up, the servers will be taken offline and most interactive elements of the site removed. Companies usually leave the bare-bones of the site online, simply to show the game existed at some point.

Of course there are many other steps to the life of an MMO game, but these are the big ones from a Player’s perspective. Unfortunately, many players fail to realize that unlike some console games where you only get to try it when it’s done, an MMO is a living thing and evolves over time. We get the unique opportunity to witness and be part of this, and need to respect the process and it’s stages for what they are.

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