Garriott: Too Many Beta Invitees Hurt Tabula Rasa
At the 2007 Independent Game Conference in Austin, Ultima and Tabula Rasa creator Richard Garriott was asked what, in his opinion, was done right (and what was done wrong) in the marketing of his just-launched, NCSoft-published Tabula Rasa PC MMO.
"Marketing is a black art,” Garriott replied. "We regularly go back and forth between it being all important, and irrelevant. At some basic level, I do believe that all great games will sell eventually, through word of mouth.”
He continued, “Marketing can definitely get you on the shelf, and in the first few weeks, get you off the shelf. In the long run, even with the best marketing, if it’s a bad game, word gets out, and your sales will come to halt.”
Specifically, “I think the formal marketing did fine,” he replied. "They let people know the game existed, and was coming out. I actually think the biggest mistake was made not by the marketing department, but by the development team. We invited too many people into the beta when the game was still too broken.”
“We burned out some quantity of our beta-testers when the game wasn’t yet fun," he said, adding, "As we’ve begun to sell the game, the people who hadn’t participated in the beta became our fast early-adopters.”
He continued, “And the people who did participate in the beta, we’ve had to go back to and say ‘look, look, we promise: we know it wasn’t fun two months ago, but we fixed all that. Really, come try it again.’ We’ve had to go out and develop free programs to invite those people back for free before they go buy it. So the beta process, which we used to think of as a QA process, is really a marketing process.”
He said the Guild Wars team did the best job, with their friends-and-family beta test remaining very small throughout development. “Only about two or three weeks before launch did they do the ‘open it up for pretty much anybody to play,’ when the game was basically done," concluded Garriott.