I once saw a newspaper caption stating "This chain-link fence was no match for the rising flood waters." This was precisely the image invoked this week with the release of the RuneScape 3 beta and the associated gimmick Jagex attempted to pull off. We had been told previously that Premiere Club members, along with a handful of other members (to be selected later) would be granted access to the beta. That's all fine and I don't see any issue with it—after all, early access to betas was even promised when the Premiere Club was marketed early this year. Except for one little kink: all beta testers would be subject to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA).
Firstly, what does that mean? I doubt most players even understand that phrase (although the rate may be slightly higher among beta participants). In short, the implications are that players may not post images, discuss the beta, or anything related to it outside of a game. Apparently Jagex's aim is to suppress information about the beta and HTML5 to a small group of players, and then gather feedback from them. What are we going to do next, prevent free players from talking to members? (Want to talk to your P2P friends? Buy membership!)
I can understand creating a forum exclusive to people with access (and it is my understanding that they have done so). But to me, Jagex's reasoning seems vague, and the whole concept ridiculous. How would you enforce an NDA among a very large number of people? Why is it that, after posting every update and every stage of beta across not only their website but various social media sites, that they would suddenly lock everything up? They even went so far as to issue (later revoked) bans for it, perhaps before coming to their senses a couple hours later.
What are possible motivations? I can only speculate, but there are several possibilities:
1. Profit motive. This sounds a lot more eloquent than "cash grab," but either way I guess it could be possible. Should the nondisclosure agreement be obeyed by all players and well-enforced, there won't be any pictures or information floating around the internet. Searches will (ideally) lead to fansites explaining the existence and meaning of the NDA. Other players will become curious and inquire about accessing the beta. They might even log in and find out it was only for P2P members who happened to receive an invitation after signing up. Eventually, Jagex will open it to all members, as they've mentioned in newsposts, and these players will buy membership to gain access. Yet this still leaves some issues unsolved, i.e., why wouldn't players buy membership in any case if they wanted to play beta?
2. Trying to preserve intellectual property. Another theory is that Jagex didn't want any information about the beta released so that no one could copy it. In case you're not aware, there are illegal "copies" of RuneScape floating around on private servers. Maybe by preventing fansites from sharing all the details, the hope was that private servers would not have a head start on trying to imitate the code and make their own version as quickly. But still, with potentially tens of thousands of players and private servers with websites where they could share pictures or information anyway, this doesn't seem to be it.
3. Camouflaging poor performance. This is perhaps the most likely possibility. Now that the NDA has been lifted, I am allowed to say that the beta runs rife with FPS and lag issues. As a matter of fact, on the front page they have more or less admitted that it is an early beta and that those sorts of issues will exist. Black screening every ten minutes and failure for the client to show you which world you were even on in clan chat are undesirable things and not something you would want advertised. As just one example, many clan ranks have the potential to disappear and some people even appear to be on the wrong world or a nonexistent one!
Whatever the reason (although particularly in the case of the third), it was a silly idea from the get-go. If Jagex needed more time for the beta to be released in a better form, it should either have been delayed or they shouldn't have set as strict a timetable in the first place. In realistic terms, there's difficulty even controlling the behavior of players while they're playing RuneScape. Just look how many players are allegedly doubling money or running similar scams. What made them think they could try to contain tens of thousands of players from whispering one word among themselves on forums, even with cooperation from major fansites?
I'm not angry that the beta (which I can't play) isn't fully functional now, but I would hope that Jagex takes their time developing it and smoothing it out before forcing the rest of us to play a large update to the game that we never even had the opportunity to see prior to update. Given the amount of unhappiness generated with the Evolution of Combat and ends still being tidied up from releasing it, essentially in Jagex's own words, before it was ready, what do you think will happen if an update that cuts FPS and general performance will do?
Honesty is the best policy, even if players will be a little disappointed that the full update will not come until a little later. And with that in mind and the hope that Jagex will do that from here on in, let's get back to testing and hopefully improving RS3.