There is a lot I dislike about paid early access / pay-for-alpha, much of which I’ve already written about here. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that I think these schemes encourage burning out before a game even launches.
I’m worried about this particularly in relation to ArcheAge. I know a surprising number of people who bought the $150 alpha access pack. And on the one hand, I’m excited that so many people are into the game! On the other hand… if the dedicated players are in the game now, in May, will there be anywhere near this level of commitment once it launches for real in early Fall?
If I luck into getting a free alpha/beta key for a game, I will probably dabble with it but I won’t feel obligated to try and wring the most out of my playtime. However, if I paid $150 (or any amount really) to get access to a game I’d want to dive in with abandon immediately and get my money’s worth!
Historically, of course, the first few months of an MMO are the most exciting. The playerbase is at its happiest, there’s huge swaths of content yet to be experienced, and we all blissfully bumble around not knowing where we are or how things work. If you buy and play the alpha now, though.. will you still be playing the game five months from now? If you are still playing, won’t most of the mystery have worn off by then?
It just strikes me as yet more splitting of the playerbase in a genre that requires concurrent numbers to survive. To experience that Zeitgeist, that rush of everyone being new.. you basically have to luck into an alpha key or drop $150 right now. By the time the game launches a number of the current crop of breathless fans will have moved on after playing for 6 or 7 months (which is not unreasonable).
I miss the days when barring a few lucky beta testers, we all got to start an MMO at the same time. It seems like games now charge for the ability to participate in those glorious first few months when we’re all noobs, and it’s a bummer.