The revelry for the Queen’s diamond jubilee is due to get under way here in the (not so) United Kingdom and elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations (formally The Empire – cue The Imperial March) this coming weekend. I find myself unable to get excited about the event and, but for mini-Melmoth, would probably have hidden myself away until the whole sorry celebration had passed. I look back at previous jubilees and see people in carefree celebration of their love for Queen and Country, but now there seems to be the acrid fug of corporate sponsorship hanging over the whole affair, and in my darker moments I imagine later in my life watching films of the event, where children sit at long tables, wearing their Lloyds TSB t-shirts, eating little cakes with Hasbro logos on the top, and waving their Mastercard flags at the camera. More though, it seems to me as if a large section of society is keen to participate not with a mind to enjoying the rare pomp and circumstance that comes with a monarch’s long reign, but being able to brag at a later date of ‘having been there’ to those who weren’t. For me, it’s another small sample from the petri dish which cultures the sickness of modern society.

As m’colleague astutely pointed out: ‘Bit like MMO betas…’

Someone pulling the “Well, I was there in beta” seniority gambit is always a reliable indicator that the conversation is on a fast track to nowhere good. It’s been amusing to watch, with the openness of MMO betas in recent times, how this has now been amended to ‘closed beta’. Even better if you can lay claim to ‘in from alpha’ supremacy.

In alpha, am Alpha.

It seems to me that there will be difficulty in escalating this war of ultimate authority much further, without having to resort to claims of being a member of staff. Nevertheless, I’ll still not be surprised when I see someone yelling on a forum that they’re friends with someone who walks the dog of the partner of the hairdresser who once cut the hair of the community manager when they were in town for a convention.

And I frankly can’t wait for

“WELL I WAS PEERING THROUGH THE WINDOW DURING THE CONCEPTION OF THE GAME’S LEAD DEVELOPER!!!1″

which wins by a nose over

“I’m in a secret beta” (which I can’t tell you anything about. But I can tell you that I’m *in* the secret beta. And I must. Because then you’ll be fully aware that I am somewhat better than you.)

as the sort of strange statement which will make me Spock an eyebrow.

I think it’s a little sad that, for a large section of the community, these events have become nothing more than achievements themselves, titles perhaps, to be collected and displayed as little indicators of how they’re superior to all the other collectors of virtual tchotchke. And once the lording-it-over-others is complete, it’s swiftly on to the bitching-at-the-developers; primarily, it seems, because the beta wasn’t the immaculate gaming experience that the player had been fantasising over, as a substitute for that ruined copy of Penthouse under the bed.

So if you are in a beta for an MMO in the coming weeks because, oh I don’t know, you were lucky enough to be able to afford a ‘pre-purchase’, or lucky enough to win a competition for access, try to remember that it’s your chance to make the game a better place for others. By all means take the time to experiment with the game as you will, to blast through content and burn yourself out before the thing has even launched, if that’s your wont. But when you encounter a problem or frustration, as is the way of a beta, take a moment to report it in a calm, considered and constructive fashion. MMOs are big and complex beasts, and it is possible – however unlikely – that you may find a weakness which has not been found before.

Those are the achievements I’d like to see rewarded, and perhaps MMO developers should consider taking a more active part in this: handing out in-game perks and rewards for players having discovered bugs which were confirmed and fixed in beta. It could be a splendid way to get more players trading their glory for passion. Then again, maybe I’m wrong entirely, and MMO developers see beta as simply another source of fuel for the hype machine. But rare is the MMO beta which sees an overwhelmingly positive response from the online community, and indeed, it seems to me that it more often establishes a core community which is privileged and needy in spirit.

I believe a game’s community is grown, as though from seed. Thus, it would behove developers to consider well the current nature of beta tests, for this is the critical stage of sapling growth, where community can be both encouraged and guided, and then cultivated to a mature crop. Or it can be left to wither and sprawl, where it will eventually choke upon the suffocating rancour of its own thorny creepers. For, as much as I despair at the communities which tend to form around these MMO betas, you do, after all, reap what you sow.

Posted by Melmoth at 12:08 pm