Archive for the ‘ Bioware ’ Category

Freedom: On the Authority of the Character

Hey guys. This post is older than it looks, so it might not look as if it were intended to be part of a series. I don’t think it needs editing, though. Previous posts are here and here.

I’ve been playing Skyrim a bit in my free time. Also, I’ve been thinking about character interactions in Bioware games, as news about Mass Effect 3 reaches fever pitch. In addition, I was reading a thread a few weeks ago about graphics, so Uncharted 3 is getting mentioned (mostly by two or three people with Uncharted/Sony-exclusive-title avatars), as is The Witcher 2. I was also in a discussion a month or so ago about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and a (not the winter one, an earlier one) Steam sale allowed me to purchase the DLC at $7.49.

These things all have something in common: Freedom. The other day, I read an article about 2011 being the year of the sandbox title (often associated with freedom), and, of course, I just wrote about the idea of total freedom a few posts ago. There’s a reason for this, but I’ll write about it at a later date. For now, let’s just talk about a hypothetical game and hypothetical freedom.

Game Q, as we’ll call it, generally offers you a lot of freedom. There are a few points, however, when it takes that freedom away. It’s not a mechanical breakdown, though. Where Deus Ex: Human Revolution taught you to expect freedom and build your character as you saw fit, then turned everything on its head in a fit of stupidity, Game Q takes the freedom away when the plot demands it.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’ve pissed off Evil Mister X. You’re playing a mission, sneaking around Factory Z in order to find evidence pointing to the location of The MacGuffin (though you could just as easily have gone in guns blazing, or maybe stealthily executed everyone in your path; whatever you wanted), when, suddenly, Evil Mister X calls you out on the PA system, locks the doors to the room you’re in, and fills it with sleeping gas. You wake up, tied to a chair, bright lights shining on you, with Evil Mister X’s favorite interrogator preparing to stab you with a few exotic-looking needles or something.

You’ve just lost the freedom to play the way you wanted.

Let’s back the story up a bit. Earlier in the game, you did a favor for Evil Mister X. Turning him down puts you in the first situation. He doesn’t hate you this time around, however, so when doing the mission, suddenly the alarms go off, soldiers pop out of nowhere, aggressively looking for the intruder. It turns out that Evil Mister X sent his favorite assassin in to help you out, but, being Evil Mister X, he wanted it done with some style, so the assassin went in guns blazing, ruining your stealthy plans.

Isn’t that a better game than one where you have total freedom to do whatever you want?

See, Evil Mister X is a pretty big bad guy. He doesn’t take kindly to doing things someone else’s way. He does them the way he wants. For him to be a valid character, he needs to appear as if he’s making choices, even if those choices conflict with the outcomes you had in mind. If everyone just listens to you and does whatever you want no matter what, they start to feel less fully realized. There’s something wrong with a game that gives you plenty of freedom, but bends over backwards keeping everyone else in check so they only ever do what you want.

Let’s look at Infamous 2 for a moment.

Nyx, the fire-wielding hot-head (a cliche that annoys me, but whatever) conduit, offers, a few times, to do things that sound totally batshit crazy, like crashing a trolley car into an enemy base to take out all the bad guys with relative ease (but it’ll kill lots of cops). If you choose not to do it, she gets pissed, but that’s about it. So far, she won’t do anything to contradict you (I haven’t beaten the story yet), and that actually kind of bothers me. It’d be nice if I planned to do something my way, and Nyx went ahead with her plan and made a mess of things anyways.

The one obvious problem is that you essentially have the same outcome, no matter what. If you do Nyx’s plan, other people will be mad at you and cops will be dead. If you don’t do Nyx’s plan, she’ll be mad at you… and the cops will be dead. All that really changes is whether or not you wanted it to happen, and then players run the risk of feeling like their choices have no consequence, which, as I’ve previously discussed, is a bad thing. There’s no point in having a choice if the outcome is always the same, after all.

Uncharted is a pretty great example of doing the opposite. It never lets you make a choice, and as a results, its characters can feel more like real people. Never mind that Infamous 2’s characters are way better than anything Uncharted has to offer–they’re held back by having to remain secondary to your choices. Uncharted’s aren’t. They can do whatever the writer wants them to do.

It’s a prickly problem: do you want freedom or do you want real characters?

…why not have both?

If Evil Mister X doesn’t know you’re going on this mission, maybe neither things will occur.

I’ve been running with the idea that, like Deus Ex, Game Q is an immersive sim. The idea behind immersive sims is that the AI often uses non-scripted behavior to make the world feel more alive. Wolves will hunt bunnies because it’s in their nature, not because the game designer said “okay, as you round this corner, those wolves will chase that bunny.” It’s a genre that more effectively creates game worlds which feel alive, and being able to transport us to worlds by making them feel alive is something that games really ought to be doing more often. After all, if they try to tell us a story and allow us to participate in it, then nothing should break that illusion, right? (Oh, man, that’s going to have to be another post for another day. Too long.)

See, scripting can be good–just look at the original Half-Life, one of the greatest games of all time, for proof of that. At the same time, it can be bad when used in excess (see Uncharted, which is so much worse than Call of Duty when it comes to scripting and level design reducing freedom that it isn’t even funny–yet another post for another day). I think Game Q should operate with some level of scripting, but it should only do so in a way that enhances the story or the characters. Evil Mister X shouldn’t do a thing because the game designer wanted him to–Evil Mister X should be ready and able to do a lot of things dependent on the player’s behavior in the game, because that’s who he is.

Ultimately, those scripted behaviors throughout Game Q mean that the player feels like they need to interact in a specific way with any NPC they meet.

If Friendly Boss might help you out for sneaking in to Base Y, maybe you should let him know. If the game is able to track your play style (“player completes missions with 30% sneaking, 10% shooting, 60% disguises”), maybe NPCs might recognize that you did a mission if you keep using that play style, so you might want to consider changing things up. Maybe you know that one of Evil Mister X’s spies has infiltrated your organization (it might even be Friendly Boss!), so you decide not to tell anyone and do everything off the grid so nobody learns about your mission until it’s done.

Basically, I think removing player freedom doesn’t necessarily mean the game stops being free. If you lose your freedom as the result of your actions, then… it was your freedom that got you there. If anything,  your freedom is enhanced when it gets taken away. Ghandi once said (more or less) that freedom doesn’t matter unless you have the freedom to screw up. If you choose something that screws you over… well, that’s still freedom, even if it means being tied in a chair and being beaten by it. As long as Game Q doesn’t permanently take that freedom from you, it should be fine.

Somebody else once said that the people who value freedom are the ones who have it taken away. It seems to me that the game would matter more if you were put in situations where you had no freedom (as a direct result of your freedom, as just discussed), and you had to re-earn your freedom through some way.

Game Q should be able to combine the player the freedom and unscripted nature of the immersive sim alongside the scripted nature of more story-focused games, topping both by having characters that appear to make intelligent decisions based on player actions. They’re still reactive characters, like you’ll find in story-focused games like Mass Effect (I never said they had to be good stories, did I?), ultimately doing what they do based on what you do, but at least they’re not either simple AI behaviors or set-in-stone scripted behaviors.

I guess you could think of this implementation of scripting as… really elaborate AI behaviors. Jamie Griesemer and Chris Butcher, in their presentation “The Illusion of Intelligence,” which discusses the implementation of Halo’s AI, mention how part of the illusion of enemy intelligence was by giving Halo’s enemies a wide variety of things to do and letting them be around long enough to use some of those abilities. The scripting is just a really large event that occurs based on the context the characters find themselves in. It makes them seem better.

Complete (not total) freedom gives you a game that doesn’t feel genuine because its characters don’t do anything big. There’s rarely any human X-Factor in there. You just do things the way you want to do them, the end. The world doesn’t change as a result of your actions beyond, of course, “oh, this mission’s sub-objective was not to be detected, so you lost a chance to earn 500 XP and some dialog options changed.” The choices don’t really have consequences, and, as you should know by now, choices are meaningless without consequences. Likewise, a scripted game is going to be the same no matter what, so, once again, your choices have no consequences, because you have no choice. You do what you’re told and nothing ever changes.

A hybrid of these two should offer the strengths of both while eliminating their weaknesses.

That’s the theory, anyways.

Let Them Eat Cake! Ugly Truths, Pt. II

A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges. ~ Benjamin Franklin

My father once told me about a business dinner he attended in Japan. At this dinner, he told me, the various people in attendance all asked the chef for specific cuts of meat. Dad said the chef didn’t seem terribly happy, so when it was his turn, he asked the chef to prepare the steak in whatever way he felt was best. The chef, Dad said, excitedly got to work on his steak, and when it was done, seemed very proud to present it to him. What my father did was respect the chef’s ability to do what he did best, and in doing so, he was served the best steak of his life.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, game developers aren’t chefs. They’re farmers, fishermen, and ranchers. They’re the guys who provide the means to create that delicious steaks, but they are not the ones who create the steaks themselves–no, the chefs are the gamers.

You see, in a truly great game, whether it’s Dragon Age Origins, System Shock 2, or STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, it is the player who takes the tools provided by the developer and creates a wholly unique experience. I can almost guarantee you that the way I play Half-Life is not the way you do. How we each interpret the game’s world and its rules is ultimately up to us.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem.

For me, gaming is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake. ~ Me, butchering someone else.

Previously, I discussed the issue with player manipulation. To recap: conditioned behavior is artificial fun and therefore lacks any meaning. Ultimately, this is a subset of possibly the worst problem in video game design right now: disrespect for the player base. At its worst, the problem means that gamers are seen as little more than sheep to be manipulated into spending money on things. Instead of being comfortable with letting gamers play how they want to, developers seem to have more interest in controlling every aspect of your experience.

In other words, the farmer is saying “hey, I raised this wheat, so I know the best way to make a cake.”

There are several examples of this. Because I already covered Valve in great detail last time, I’ll mention them briefly before moving on. The joy of cooking, as with jazz, is in improvisation. The best food is where you take the recipe and make it your own. In a cooking class, a good teacher will make sure their class understands the basics of good food before letting the students experiment with the recipes. Say the class final is a black forest cake; if the teacher’s done their job, then each student is going to come out with a cake that’s unique to them. Each student has made a true cake–one that’s as much an expression of who they are and how they interpret cooking as much as it is a great cake.

Valve, unfortunately, is a bad teacher. Oh, yes, every student will end up with a delicious cake, but at the same time, each cake will be virtually identical. Cooking, like gaming, should not be an assembly line process. The experience should not be manufactured, or it loses much of its appeal. Ultimately, a student who learns to bake a cake from Valve’s school of cooking, has baked a lie.

Okay, maybe this isn’t so brief. Back in my Eli Vance post, I pointed out that Valve also abandoned the silent protagonist approach of Half-Life for a similar, but fundamentally different approach in the sequel. Where Half-Life said “okay, you can kill anyone you want and behave however you feel like,” Half-Life 2 said “No. You are THIS guy. Even though you can’t talk, we have defined you through NPCs and how they treat you.” Ultimately, it’s as if Valve didn’t feel the player could create a compelling-enough experience for themselves, so they defined the persona of Gordon Freeman while offering the illusion of freedom.  It’s as if they want to have their cake and eat it too–they want to railroad the player through their story, but they want to make the player feel as if they’re actually free to do as they choose.

I tried to commit suicide by sticking my head in the oven, but there was a cake in it. ~ Lesley Boone 

The illusion of freedom is rather common in video gaming.

Before I get into that, however, I foresee a major objection that many pseudo-intellectuals might offer: “you haven’t really got any freedom in a video game!” This much is true. You haven’t got much freedom in real life either. You can no more move a mountain with your mind than rewind time itself, after all, so unless you’re God Almighty, when I’m talking about freedom, I’m clearly not talking about total freedom. Being a silent protagonist in a linear game like Half-Life still offers freedom, because, as I mentioned earlier, you can still be whoever you want to be. Perhaps you’re the earnest hero, attempting to save everyone from the disaster you blame yourself for. On the other hand, maybe you’re a psychopathic alien rights activist who intentionally sabotaged the experiment so you could get away with killing everyone and everything in Black Mesa!

Right. Enough about Valve.

Let’s talk about Bioware.

Dragon Age Origins is a great and wonderful game, and you ought to give it a playthrough. It might not be as rich or unique as, say, any isometric RPG ever made, but it has got things like great graphics, interesting ally AI, and better gameplay going for it. Dragon Age 2 is the worst RPG I’ve ever played. I’m sure there are worse RPGs out there, and I know for a fact that, say, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura has a more convoluted menu system, worse graphics, worse sound, and lower production value in general. Dragon Age 2 is still worse.

You see, one of the most important things in an RPG is player choice (JRPGs haven’t got this, which is why they aren’t JRPGs; they’re adventure games with stats in). Your ability to impact the world around you through your decisions is why the RPG is different from, say, a military arcade manshoot, where your job is just to shoot lots of things. This isn’t to say that every decision in an RPG must be a hugely meaningful one (such as choosing whether or not to topple an entire empire); merely that decisions must have some point. The FPS and the RPG fundamentally different game types, and as such, players expect fundamentally different things from them. I expected the ability to make meaningful choices in Dragon Age 2.

It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it. ~ Richard M. Nixon

Instead, what I got was an adventure game with stats in–a lot like a JRPG, in fact. I can honestly only think of two instances in the game where a choice I made served any purpose; one decision led to my mother’s frankensteining, and the other led to one party member leaving my party. In other words, none of my decisions had any positive impact on the world.

Indeed, Bioware was so intent on very specific outcomes that every decision that ought to have been a major one was steamrolled over by bad writing. Sided with the mages? Too bad! All but one will resort to using blood magic, and that one will hate you for a good long while. Kept the magic tool-thingy that is the only way to complete the magic mirror from Merrill? Too bad, she’ll fix the mirror anyway, and the game won’t even acknowledge it. Want to kill that Chantry woman who is trying to get you to killed? Too bad, the game won’t present you with the option to do so.

A good RPG would take into account everything the player wants to be able to do and allow them to attempt it. If Bioware’s writers really didn’t want you to kill the Chantry agent, then they could have had her run away, but they should have given you the option to attack, and you should have been able, at the very least, to kill her bodyguard person. In Mass Effect, how you treated Wrex ultimately determines whether or not he commits suicide. In Dragon Age 2, no matter how you treat Anders, he is going to straight up murder a bunch of innocent people because he is an insane psychopath. Unfortunately, if you want to keep him as a healer (Bioware refuses to let you teach anyone else anything from Anders’ bag of healing tricks), that isn’t going to happen.

In fact, the only choice the player can have is who they’d like to have a relationship with. Bioware’s gone a total 180 here and turned the game into a (pretty poor) dating sim, and you can romance almost any member of your party, regardless of gender, personality, or anything else. It’s not like the choices are that great–you can select from an emo elf, a walking STD farm, a naive/possibly underage welsh blood mage, or a complete murderous psychopath (who is like the worst spirit of Justice ever; and yes, I realize he became vengeance, but how did that happen, exactly?), for instance.

Once you get rid of integrity the rest is a piece of cake. ~ Larry Hagman

So… congrats. In the end, the one choice you make that matters is which character will leave with you at the end of the game because your character hates both the templars and the mages, ’cause they’re both stupid.

Much of the joy of Dragon Age Origins’ simplistic story revolved around how the player treated it. You could be whoever you wanted to be, right down to appearance, backstory, and race. Dragon Age 2 ignores this and locks you in to a rather boring story with two-dimensional anime-ripoff characters and relationships right out of a bad fanfiction. It’s got some great ideas, but it’s so intent on making sure you experience them that it forgets to give you any choice.

Could you imagine a jigsaw puzzle where every puzzle piece is numbered and you have a nice background to set all the pieces on? Where would the fun be in that? All you do is find piece number 1 and put it in the top left hand corner. Piece 2 goes next to that. Piece 3 goes right next to that… and on and on it goes. It’s not fun.

Another example: imagine that you buy a sandbox. Now imagine that you want to make a sandcastle in it. How much fun are you going to have if the guy who sold you the sandbox keeps coming over and telling you how you ought to build your castle? What happens if he kicks down everything you do that isn’t to his standards, ensuring that any decision you made that he didn’t want you to make is quite meaningless. Is that a sandbox worth having?

No, not really.

Would ye both eat your cake and have your cake? ~ John Heywood

Developers need to respect their players. Their responsibility is to design a framework around which players can have fun, not create an intensely controlled environment where even the most basic player response is a learned behavior. What makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution and The Witcher/Witcher 2 such great RPGs is that the player is taught how to play the game and let loose in the world to behave as they feel like.

The Witcher 2 has a great story, not just because of superb characters like Letho, Foltest, and Roche, but because it manages to really make you feel like you’re part of the plot, not just an outside observer. Some events will happen because of the (often difficult) choices that you make. Others will happen regardless of what you choose, and some will even happen despite your presence. It creates a realistic world where you have freedom, but some things are still beyond your control.

Ultimately, The Witcher 2 respects its players. It doesn’t ignore your choices, nor does it defer to you every time you want to do something. It says “alright, you can do this–so let’s see how you handle this kidnapping!” This sort of respect is a hallmark of great gaming: STALKER gives you a gun, some ammunition, bandages, and a first aid kit. It tells you how to play, but it doesn’t hold your hand. The onus is on the player to keep an eye on their health and armor, as well as to watch out for anomalies and enemies. STALKER trusts you to be good enough to carry the right gear and to be observant, and it’s certainly never cheap. If something kills you, it’s because you screwed up. I’ve heard similar praise in regards to PS3-exclusive Demon’s Souls.

The best games are those that respect their players and help those players craft a unique, exciting experience. I don’t know anyone that says “aww man, I did this thing in Half-Life 2 that was so awesome!” or “hey, in Dragon Age 2, I managed to…” I do, however, know people who play games like STALKER, Demon’s Souls, and The Witcher 2, and they absolutely love telling me about the decisions they made or the fights they got in.

Developers, respect your gamers. Give them a framework to operate in, but don’t treat them like they’re toddlers. In the end, they’ll love you for it.

What is Free to a Good Home?

I never asked for this.

If the reports are true, a bunch of dastardly (or heroic, depending on your point of view) Italians managed to steal (or liberate, depending on your point of view) a copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (or Deus Ex: Highlight Boogie, depending on your point of view) to the internet (or the information highway, if you’re stuck in 1994).

Square Enix/Eidos have taken this all rather well. They could have attempted damage control, talking about how evil piracy is, asking people not to download the game because it’s incomplete, and then finished with some dehumanizing marketing spiel, much like EA did when Crysis 2 was leaked. Instead, they took it in stride, going so far as to encourage discussion of the leak and request feedback, which was a great move. Where, like Crytek, they could have condemned their potential audience–people who downloaded the leak because they desperately wanted to play more Crysis–they embraced the leak and got their community involved. It showed that they were interested in making their game better. They weren’t just treating the leak like a demo–they were using the opportunity to dialog with their audience, and to make the game the best it could be.

I have seen discussions unfold where people who have played the leak actually convince others to preorder the game, or at least, check it out for themselves. Yes, it speaks to the high quality of the game, but it also brings to mind a question: why don’t developers and producers rely more on positive word of mouth?

In an era where game previews are guarded more tightly than state secrets, where demos have all-but disappeared (and, failing that, tend to be misleading or too short to provide an accurate picture of the game), and where reviews rarely come before the game is purchased, one might get the impression that developers are actually ashamed of their games. It’s as if the almighty marketing machine thinks that holding screenshots hostage is a better way to sell games than to get people talking about them.

The idea is, of course, hogwash.

Old Spice Bodywash is a superior alternative to hogwash.

Whether it’s Lost or The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, getting people to talk about something is the best way to sell it. Humans are social creatures, and we like sharing excitement. Most people weren’t terrifically excited by Human Revolution’s leaked screenshots; every game has those, and they’re from the same few levels that will be shown over and over again until the game is released. It’s hard to care about a picture beyond the initial game announcement phase. When Human Revolution was leaked, the excitement for the game skyrocketed. Once people got it in their hands and were able to play it, they got excited, especially when they got to experience things that had upset them before.

One of the biggest complaints about Deus Ex was object highlighting. A few people had got it in their heads that it would be an obtrusive “feature” forced on them by shoddy developers, so they started telling everyone how bad it was. Negative word-of-mouth spread fast. The team released gameplay videos, gaming websites said it wasn’t that bad, and Eidos Montreal said they’d include the option to turn it off, but nothing seemed able to stop the naysayers from their whining. It’s a different story now that the game’s been leaked, however; the complaints seem to have vanished.

Consumers do not trust the marketing machine, and, by extension, they rarely trust the gaming press. A consistent lack of respect from advertisers and phony excitement from the gaming press has helped foster an environment where consumers are increasingly cynical towards new games and longing for the excitement of the old. Even now, many gamers refuse to believe that XCOM will be a good game, despite 2K Marin’s solid history and a slew of excited previews.

Might be a great game. Might not.

How do developers entice the wary consumer? How does 2K calm down the X-COM faithful, or the people who say “it looks like all those other shooters?” After all, to everyone not wearing a tinfoil hat, the leak of Deus Ex was a happy accident. It’s not like it could become a legitimate business practice or anything…


Let me be clear: I am not talking about demos. Modern demos for AAA games rarely work; nobody wants to spend two hours downloading fifteen minutes of misleading gameplay. Fifteen minutes of gameplay is rarely enough to get anyone hooked on a video game. Players need something more substantial than that, and that’s where Free to Play comes in.

Judging by most reactions to those three words, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were slapping your forehead in disbelief right now, and I can’t say I blame you. Free to Play seems like a corporate scheme to make players spend $68 for a monocle, or to deliver neutered, unfun games that are only worth playing once you begin shelling out a small fortune on a regular basis in order to keep up with the rich kids who don’t mind doing that.

What I’m thinking of is more akin to the shareware model: offer the first several hours of your game for free to get people into it, and then let them pay for the rest. Of course, the shareware name is something that tends to be associated with small, indie products, as opposed to large AAA affairs, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Imagine at E3 if a developer said “oh, and you can download the same preview build we’ve got here on the floor right now, so check it out and let us know what you think!”

By allowing early access to the game, developers can allay fears while simultaneously building excitement for the title. There’s a bit more than that, though. If 2K Marin were to release a demo that put me in exactly one XCOM mission, I can’t say I’d necessarily be interested in buying the game. I definitely wouldn’t be interested in the story, because fifteen to thirty minutes generally isn’t enough time to get fully invested in a video game’s fiction. If they offered the game’s entire intro, on the other hand, as well as a few missions after that to whet my whistle, chances are I’d be gnashing at the bit, screaming for more. A sufficiently lengthy involvement in the game is required to stimulate the “well, I’ve come this far! I’ve got to keep going!” response, and that’s what developers should be wanting. They should be getting their audience to think “I need more of this and I need it now!” rather than “bah, this demo is probably all the best parts, and not even in the game.”

I feel wrong just posting a picture of this game.

In addition, letting players get a good feel for the game without some PR person standing over their shoulder watching their every move would allow gamers, particularly those who might not be able to attend various gaming conventions, to get a good feel for the game. It’s somewhat hard to be objective about a game when you’ve got people nearby who are incredibly excited about it and want you to be as excited as they are, which makes it difficult to offer any worthwhile criticism or helpful feedback.

At the same time, developers benefit. Bioware, for instance, has admitted that they made many mistakes with Dragon Age 2–if they had released the first few hours of gameplay some months before release, they would have been exposed to the overwhelmingly negative consumer reaction while there was still time to do something about it. As it happened, an iron-clad PR machine steamrolled through leaving no one with much bad to say about the game, because they simply didn’t have the opportunity to be critical. Shortly after the game’s release, negative word of mouth had spread far enough that its sales plummeted drastically over the next few weeks. With a substantial early release, developers could use the feedback from players to determine what could be improved. Shooter developers could take the opportunity to iron out kinks in the multiplayer, and, more importantly, offer a free version of their multiplayer to people who might otherwise not want to risk their cash on an untested FPS title.

See, as game prices increase, so has the number of “I’ll just wait for the Steam sale” remarks, which ultimately means lost profits. Offering several hours of a game for free means an opportunity to pique the interest of gamers who might not otherwise be interested in a title. STALKER’s a hard game to sell to people who are unfamiliar with it, because it’s so unique. If there was a free version of the game with, say, the Cordon and Garbage levels for players to explore, there would be no entry barrier, and anyone who was even remotely interested could give it a try. Many of the games I own were only purchased because I got to play them for a good few hours at a friend’s or something.

Essentially, it’s a win-win scenario. Gamers can formulate their own opinions about games before their release while building a better relationship with the developer, and the developer is, in turn, getting free crowdsourced focus testing and great PR. It’s high time developers rethought how they relate to their audiences. The current method is broken, and gamers are becoming increasingly dissatisfied by being forced to take a gamble on their games. Allowing the consumer to offer honest feedback about games before they’re released means better games, and ultimately, allowing people to try a game is the best way to get them to buy it.