On Tuesday October 27th Blizzard opened the doors of Closed Beta for it’s highly anticipated shooter called Overwatch. As you might expect, the internet as a whole quickly lost their shit and reverted to a state of chain refreshing the battle.net account page to see if they were among the lucky few to get granted access. What I did not expect however was all of the infighting this process called as folks essentially called down a pox on the house of those who did manage to get in. It is one thing to be frustrated that you did not get into whatever the hot new Beta happens to be, but it is an entirely different to wish harm upon those who did. There were even a few folks who decided to flail about declaring that their not getting into Beta shows how little Blizzard cares. Others talk about how they should have earned access with this or that deed. At first I thought to myself… are we really this entitled? Because seriously… there have been some serious entitlement issues going on over the last few days.
Then I noticed something else happening that disturbs me even more. For those mere mortals like myself that do not make a living off gaming… then absolutely it would be entitlement. However for the folks that make a living through creating content related to Blizzard games… I started to read this impotently lashing out… as cold hard fear. When you make your money by presenting the freshest content on your Stream or your YouTube channel… you are in essence relying on being able to play whatever everyone else is playing. Not having access means you are missing out on all of these eyeballs that are now suddenly flocking to the internet to gaze into the window at those chosen few who get to play whatever game they want to play. Right or wrong… Blizzard is essentially saying who is really important to the future of their product and who is not.
The Hunt for Eyeballs
I am a shitty Streamer and an even worse YouTuber… but the most eyeballs I have ever had on my collective “stuff” is when I happened to get into the first wave of Alpha invites to Trove. I got to be one of a handful of people playing around with that game, and broadcasting it to the world and it was really noticeable. It is 6:30 in the morning right now… and one of the Overwatch streamers has over 10,000 viewers at this hour. During prime time… Overwatch has consistently been the highest watched game on the network. When you tune into one of these streams, especially the ones going on during the day… you will see a who’s who of internet celebrities fighting each other. Whether or not they intended it… Blizzard did essentially judge who was important to them and who was not by determining who got into that first wave of invites. That can be a pretty harsh reality check, especially if you have essentially devoted your career to supporting Blizzard products.
What worries me more however is what this says about the current state of video games in general. I remember how I felt the first time I got into a Friends and Family Alpha program… or FFA. I remember the excitement, and the desire to tell the entire world… but the reality that was I was bound behind a very serious Non Disclosure Agreement. I remember for one of these FFA programs I had to fax in a signed copy of a thirty page document back to the studio before being granted access. What made this work is that the company could literally focus on testing the game… rather than having to showcase it to the public 24/7. Sure it is frustrating to be in a thing that you cannot share… and sure it sucks for streamers especially to need to play something that they cannot show off to their viewers. However I think the model worked pretty damned well because up until these last few years it has been the model that almost all of the games you can think about nostalgically have been released under. It lets testing happen beyond the prying eyes of the public and bugs get fixed before it is ready for people to see it. The problem is… we the gamers have started to feel that there is something dishonest about this process… and that if a company isn’t completely transparent in every single minute action that they take… that it must be the sign of something horrible going on behind the scenes.
The big problem is… we bore of games before they are released. There are games out there that seem to have permanent alpha and beta cycles, and as we go through seeing them displayed on our screens for two years… then the final release just seems lacking. There have been numerous times on AggroChat for example when someone brings up a title… and I have to ask “wait that actually released?”. There is this constant battle to control the hype cycle about a game, and make sure that your product is getting enough spin among the social media influencers. So when a game like Overwatch goes into one of these lengthy beta cycles… the company needs these streamers just as much as the streamers need the game to showcase to their viewers. They need those all important eyeballs peeping their wares… and getting excited enough to plunk down their hard earned money to purchase goods in it. The frustrating thing about it… is it feels like we are always in a hype cycle for something. It becomes much like the American Political system… where the candidates… or games in this case are always running for the next election. The market at this point is simply saturated with new titles that all sound interchangeable. MOBA with FPS roots… FPS with MOBA Character Styling… FPS gameplay MOBA spirit… the marketing spin that gets applied to games just seems meaningless after awhile.
Where I really start to get frustrated however is when this hype machine starts hurting people. Sure watching someone have an internet meltdown is entertaining while it goes on… but behind the screen is someone obviously in pain. I am not coming out to support those tantrums… but I am coming out to say that for all that is good and right in the world… lets stop hurting each other over a game. I have been just like you among those people frantically checking my battle.net account each time a new wave of invites comes out. So I get it… I get the desire to play that new shiny game. I’ve done this cycle over and over, and will continue doing this cycle until the games industry changes the way it works. Even if I want something really badly… I make it a goal in life to be excited for the people who are having good things happen to them… rather than being that selfish person who is lashing out at others because they got left out. I get the frustration and fear especially if you make your living from this sort of thing…. but having a meltdown in front of your followers isn’t going to help either. The truth is… we are eventually all going to get in… and the additional truth is… most of us will play a handful of games and then move on to the next shiny thing. This is not as important as we happen to be making it out right now… and within a years time… this will feel like another silly incident in the gaming community. What will stick around however… is how people feel about you and the way you have treated them. So lets just be awesome to each other while we wait for the next hype cycle to spin up.