Once again Activision continued its trend of encouraging players to pre-order Call of Duty by offering guaranteed access to a beta ahead of the game’s full release. This time it was for Call of Duty: WW2 with pre-orders granting access to the game’s “Private Beta” which was held on August 25, “first on PlayStation 4”. The Private Beta then began on Xbox One a few days later, again requiring a pre-order to access. The only beta which didn’t require a pre-order was the PC version of the game as Steam doesn’t seem to allow publishers to enable paywalls for betas.
Usually, these betas eventually become available to everyone, however that wasn’t the case with Call of Duty: WW2. Aside from the PC beta, the only way for players to take part ahead of launch was to pre-order the game. We get it, driving pre-orders by giving players early access to the game is great for financial reports as executives can throw around figures showing just how many people pre-ordered this year’s game. What it’s not good for is actually determining the state of the game and fixing bugs when it launches to the actual paying public.
Call of Duty: WW2 is a shining example of this.
This weekend Call of Duty: WW2 launched to the public and was plagued with server problems which ultimately prevented players playing the game that they’d paid £50+ for. According to Sledgehammer Games, they received higher than expected player numbers, and had to disable and scale back the multiplayer experience, among other things, to cater to these higher than expected player numbers.
Here’s the problem, these issues could have been properly prevented by the game’s beta being open to all. Instead, rather than using the beta to test the game, Activision used the beta as a carrot on a stick to lead dedicated players to pre-order so they can be among the first to get hands on with the game. But here’s the other issue, we all know how easy it is to pre-order a game, get your beta code, and cancel the pre-order. It’s commonplace nowadays. So pre-order numbers are barely worth the paper it’s printed on, what should matter is actual paying customers. Though that apparently isn’t the case here.
The confusing thing is that Activision know all-too-well that opening the beta to all can prevent issues. Look at Destiny 2, that game had an open beta across all platforms and credit where credit is due, it launched without that much of a hitch. So why go down this route with Call of Duty?
That’s obviously something I can’t answer, maybe it’s because Call of Duty is Activision’s biggest franchise and having a couple million in pre-orders is more valuable than pleasing the millions more fans who’ll actually follow-through with an actual purchase. At the end of the day though, putting betas behind pre-order paywalls help no one but the company asking for you to pre-order their game to access the beta. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with the argument against pre-ordering games full stop.
The only way we can really stop things like this becoming a part of video game releases is to simply stop pre-ordering, wait for the game to launch and if the multiplayer is unstable or the gameplay is buggy, you’ve saved yourself some cash.