Here's an interview with Cliff Bleszinski by The Telegraph's Nick Cowen about the Gears of War 3 beta and how it's a test of the game itself but just as importantly, a marketing ploy to get the game some love from the fans.
Is this the first time Epic has done a Beta for a Triple A release?
We've done limited betas before internally for Gears Of War 2, which obviously didn't suss out all of the problems, because Gears 2's initial online launch wasn't very smooth. This if the first honest-to-God time we've ever launched one on a console. Epic, traditionally, was a company that was happy just to ship a great game and, you know, if God forbid, something goes wrong, we could add a title update.
This is kind of a paradigm shift for us as a studio. We're moving more towards the idea of putting something out ahead of release. TakeBulletstorm, for example. Bulletstorm actually had a demo. We didn't have a demo for some of our previous games. Gears Of War 3 has a beta. Well, we call it a beta, but let's be honest, it's actually also a marketing exercise. Gamers feel like VIPs, they feel like they're in the club with Epic. They feel like they have access to something that nobody else has. They're like: "did you get into the beta? I got into the beta!" This is all good because you want to create a sense of exclusivity. There's that old saying: if everyone's special, then nobody is.
So leveraging that, and doing a beta... and we're also producing the most polished Gears game yet ... Well, basically, the shift of the release date to September allows for that.
So what content are you including in the beta to encourage that sense of exclusivity?
It's a multifaceted approach. First off, how do you get access to the beta? The initial way is to buy Bulletstorm, but there will be other ways to get hold of it – which we haven't announced yet, so keep your ears peeled for that. At the same time we want players to get into the beta, play it, and get that taste of unlocking content.
You want gamers to marry your game, not just date it. You want to get your hooks into their interest. You have to reward them early and reward them often; that's what we like to say. At the end of a match they'll get experience points (XP) and they'll see a little ticker at the bottom of the screen telling them how close they are to unlocking the next item. A lot of games have done this in the past, but shooters have only started doing this in the last three or so years and we've woken up to that fact.
Is this a business model Epic will be using on all your future shooter titles?
It goes back to a statement I made a couple of years ago when I said I believe the future of shooters is RPGs. That's not to say that you're going to be having turn-based combat in a Gears Of War title, but at the same time, long-term goals and XP-based unlockable are key to having the disc stay in the tray for any sort of game.
So the beta encourages communication between Epic and the fans, as well as amongst the fans themselves?
Well, first and foremost, there's the communication on the headsets, as there's always been. But we're also trying to make sure that players have more co-op abilities. Spotting has been a really big thing; it started off as something one of our game designers pitched. It was like, if you're not a huge fan of talking to people on Xbox but all the same, you'd like to point out a weapon on the map to one of the other players, well now you can do that. You can highlight, say, a mortar to another player.
The leaders in our "Capture The Leader" mode can see through walls, so that means they can alert the people in their team to where the opposing forces are. We trying to encourage and facilitate that team-based play. Gears is not just "every man for himself". It's about team-based combat.
Would you then describe this beta as a work in progress while the fans are contributing to it?
I'd say it's a very well-polished work in progress. Even though it's a beta, players still expect a very high quality of gaming experience from day one from Gears - which this time, the dedicated servers will allow for.
That said, there will be bugs, and we want our fans to report back to us and we want them to give us feedback on everything. We want feedback on the maps. Feedback on the cover art. We want to hear from them about the balance on the weapons. Anything that they don't like, that we've tweaked.
At the same time, we're not only going to be listening to what they're saying, we're going to be reading behind the scenes to see what their actual stats are. This is because you can trust your customers about 80 per cent of the time, but occasionally there's the perceived thing about what they believe happened versus what actually happened in the game. So we use a well-balanced version of the two data heaps - message boards as well at the back-end numbers - to figure out what we're going to do with the game.
All of this is aimed at getting players into the multiplayer, right? I remember at a multiplayer event last year for Call Of Duty: Black Ops, Treyarch revealed that out of all the people who'd bought their games in the past, only around 30 to 40 per cent of them didn't bother to play the multiplayer. Has this been an issue with the Gears Of War players in the past?
Well, I don't have those figures off the cuff for you, but I think for Gearsit's lower than that. There's a certain type of player who doesn't want to play online.
So one of the things we're doing for Gears 3 is making it super-easy to get online games underway. When you fire up the menu, there's a party in the top right. Halo did a little of this and we're continuing with it. It's almost harder to get into the game if you don't have a friend along with you, because we want players to experience this blockbuster together. We want them to experience it multiple times.
I think online gameplay in many ways, is going to be the future. It's the ultimate way for us to keep players playing our games, keep them coming back for more. From a business standpoint it's a good way to mitigate rentals and used games. In terms of our games we want players to use it - as much as it's a cliche now to say it - as a service over a product.
There's lots of reports across the internet that all Xbox Live Gold member's will get access to the Gears Beta....