As part of last week’s DotA 2 update, Valve mentioned that it would be delivering test content to beta testers in a new way with this week’s patch. It turns out the patch for this week was delayed, but the new content delivery system is still on the way. Unfortunately, the new delivery system means fragmenting the existing test platform. In essence, Valve is launching a DotA 2 test environment alongside the current beta environment. The test environment will run one week ahead of the beta environment, the goal of which is to allow Valve to roll out new features without worrying so much about stability. It’s tough to say if this is a good or a bad thing, but if Valve doesn’t get more beta testers involved soon, it’s probably going to be a frustrating thing.
My baseline guess is this: Valve realizes they need to get DotA 2 to market sooner rather than later but at current development pace that isn’t going to happen until 2013 unless they launch with a limited hero roster or dramatically ramp up development. Moving to a split system allows them to a couple things. First, they can focus on churning out content without worrying about complaints of game-breaking bugs. This could mean more heroes releasing more quickly, even if they aren’t totally polished. A split system also allows them to continue to work on polishing the final product. Smaller bugs and graphical hiccups can slip through to the beta environment, which I’m guessing is where Valve hopes the majority of the beta community will still spend its time.
That is the question, though. Will people want to play the more stable environment or will everyone just move to the test realm? I have yet to see a concurrent user base over 21,000. When it gets down to 12,000-14,000, as it often does during the day, queue times start to get long. If just 20 percent of active players decide to play primarily on the test environment, those numbers are down below 10,000. That is a tiny testbed compared to the millions of players dropping on Riot’s servers every day.
This is why I also think the platform fragment will come with another wave of beta invites. If Valve wants to seriously test both realms, there have to be more people involved. No one wants to wait on 30 minute queues to test the beta of a game, stable or otherwise. If Valve wants to keep the interest of beta players, both realms have to be viable places to find a game.