The Diablo 4 beta that ran over the weekend was really good—a return to form for Blizzard in the eyes of many fans, myself included. But it was also rough around the edges in a number of notable ways. The reason, Diablo general manager Rod Fergusson told Eurogamer, is simple: It was a real, actual beta test.
"'Beta' has been a twisted word that has become 'marketing beta', which means demo, and for us this was a true beta because we wanted to be able to test that load and what does it mean to get a lot of players in?" Fergusson said. "And Friday was a little bumpy because of that, but the way that we looked at it is the issues we find now are issues that will be a lot smoother at launch. And so this weekend was to prepare for next weekend, and next weekend prepares for launch."
It's a fair point, and one that I, as an oldster, have grumbled about occasionally myself. There was a time when being in beta meant a game was close to, but not quite, finished, and the point of a test was to put the boots to it and find out what still needed work. In more recent years, though, it's become more of a marketing tool: A free preview event with what is essentially a finalized product. And so a lot of people just aren't used to seeing games that are in an actual beta state.
The good news is that Fergusson said the beta test accomplished what it was meant to: Blizzard was able to address server stability issues with "six really big hotfixes," and it's confident that it'll be able to handle the larger rush of players when it goes into full release.
"We had goals around how many people were going to be playing because we really wanted to test the servers, and so we've exceeded the number of players we thought we were going to get," Fergusson said. He didn't have the final player count on hand, but said that it was "well over a million people." Blizzard hopes to ramp that up to "millions of people" in the open beta that runs this weekend.
"The reason we're doing these tests—I mean, part of it is we want people to get hands-on and see if it's a great experience or not, and fortunately, once we got into Saturday, the last two days have been phenomenal in terms of feedback positivity," Fergusson said. "But beyond getting it into players' hands to try it themselves, and to get balance-feedback and other feedback that [game director Joe Shely’s] received, it really is about making sure we can run it at load."
From my perspective, I thought the beta went very well. The queue times on Friday were pretty rough and I did get booted straight out of the game once or twice, losing a little bit of progress each time. But by Saturday morning, there was basically no wait to get in, and I played without issue for hours on end. The game itself also made a very good impression overall: As one redditor put it, Diablo 4 "seems to be Blizzard back in their old form."
If you didn't make it into the first Diablo 4 beta, which was limited to people who preordered or received a promotional invitation, you can jump into the open beta this weekend: The action starts at 9 am PT/12 pm ET on March 24, and you can start preloading the game two days earlier, beginning at 9 am PT/12 pm ET on March 22.