What if “Closed Beta” is actually run in the open?

Recently, a new rumour about Guild Wars 2 going into beta surfaced, this time with dates (closed beta, but whatever — people like to see this as “AMG, THEY WILL RELEASE IT SOON! AMG AMG AMG!”).

Well, thing is, I always saw that ArenaNet is doing their open beta already, in specific points of their game. You will notice in the news about Gamescon and PAX 2011 that ArenaNet had a booth with the developers walking around, so you could talk, ask things, play the game… And then, in some other booth, more Guild Wars 2 (I remember that Alienware had Guild Wars 2 available to play — even the PvP match between PuGs and ArenaNet developers happened in the Alienware booth, if I’m not mistaken).

Now, if you know a bit about usability tests, you will understand that it sounds a lot like what they are doing: take some people with some unknown knowledge level about the game/genre and record what they are doing. Are they drinking potions all the time? Do they seem lost without the guidance of a quest giver? Can they understand the different things they need to do to complete the event?

Sure, the data is incomplete. The testing is not focused (as in “Simon says” way of doing usability tests with “Now I want you to… Jump your way to the nearest city and find your trainer”) and they don’t talk to the “testers” (“We noticed you walked around the city but never got in. Can you tell us why?”) so a lot of that data will come from simple speculation. But it’s usability test, none the less.

(On a note, I can remember Colin Johanson mentioning, in one presentation, how people were forming ad hoc groups simply by getting to the same point in the game and then, without any words, walking together, in an environment they could barely talk to each other, due the noise. And that’s a pretty good feedback, which Colin got by simply watching people play).

And there are things you don’t see. How are the servers reacting with so many people logging in and out? Do we see any memory leaks? Will we be required to do weekly maintenance reboots to solve some memory leak/database issues? With that many people playing, how is the server load and how many people we can put on the same server before it melts? With that information, how many servers will we need on launch?

There is a lot of information going to ArenaNet in those presentations and I pretty much believe the points (starting level, around level 30, PvP) were carefully chosen just to test things already.

Are those alpha tests? Maybe. But a test is a test nonetheless and, although we can’t see it, they are open.