Why do we Have to PAY to Beta Test Games Now?
Why do we have to pay to beta / alpha test games now? It's especially ridiculous in the free to play genre where testing a game like SkyForge or Albion Online costs money, but when they launch they'll be free to play. Games like Albion Online are actually spending money running marketing campaigns to sell founders packs, which include alpha access. Albion Online will be free to play with a cash shop at launch, so why do I have to pay to beta test the game? Or rather, Alpha test it? You know the world is backwards when beta testing a game costs money but the full release is free to play.
Albion Online - Free at Launch, but Costs Money to Test
The early access model where players can purchase a game during its development has been a boon to indie developers. It allows them the opportunity to raise money from their customers to further develop their game before it's even finished. Games like Rust, Tree of Life, and Ark: Survival Evolved for example have massively benefited from the early access model. Players benefited too! They got a chance to start playing the game early and influence the development process. I don't think there's anything wrong with this model, because these games are all buy to play anyway, so being able to purchase the product unfinished in early access allows players to begin playing early and support the game's development. The problem is when free to play games start charging money for early access or beta.
Albion Online is a game i'm particularly looking forward to, as I've long been a fan of Ultima Online and open PvP – two key features in Albion Online. But I've been disgusted to see Albion Online spending marketing dollars promoting their early access / founders pack sales. Why is a free to play game so concerned about selling beta access? They're trying to milk as much money as they can from people willing to pay before they actually launch, so they can try getting the “best of both worlds” from a monetization standpoint (buy to play AND free to play!). When sales slow down, then they'll actually launch into open beta.
Ark: Survival Evolved - Costs money for early access, but also costs money at launch
The problem with this approach is that when developers can make a lot of money selling early access, they're going to do it. This is going to push the actual release date back for those looking to enjoy the game, but don't want to purchase an unfinished product. If the actual purpose of the early access program for Albion Online was to “test” the game and find bugs, you'd think they'd open the doors to more player to get more feedback. Some people may argue, “what if the game isn't ready yet for a large influx of players?” Then why on earth are they spending money advertising their game? It looks like a money grab to me. Free to play games simply shouldn't sell early access. I have no problem with buy to play games doing it, but it doesn't make sense for free to play games. Back In the day beta testing a game was free, but you had to purchase it when it actually released. Today, it's the opposite.