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Dota 2’s Closed (Open) Beta

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For anyone who hasn’t played it for themselves, Valve’s DotA 2 has had one of the most confusing production stories and eventual beta releases of any game currently on the market.

First there is the original idea and ensuing legal battle surrounding it’s development. As you can guess by the number 2, DotA is a sequel to the original Defense of the Ancients mod. However, since the original wasn’t a standalone game and instead was a player-based mod created for Warcraft III, developing a sequel wasn’t without it’s red tape. The developer of DotA Allstars (although not the original creator of the DotA gametype) was a player called Icefrog, who accepted a position at Valve to develop DotA 2. But Blizzard Entertainment, original creators of Warcraft III, weren’t exactly happy to let this stand.

Blizzard argued, and rightly so, that upon opening the map maker for Warcraft III (which DotA was originally built in) there is a warning page which informs the user that anything built within the map maker remains the sole property of Blizzard Entertainment. This was taken to court, with Blizzard suing Valve for copyright infringement. It would prove to be a long battle which took long enough that the end project was completed before it was resolved – with the outcome being that Valve and Blizzard settled out of court and DotA 2 was allowed to keep its name.

Meanwhile, DotA 2 (a supposedly free-to-play game) launched in a closed beta which was accessible by signing up for an invite. Initially getting into the beta was contested, and beta keys were a highly valuable commodity. Then DotA 2 announced that you could buy a beta key (along with some bonus cosmetic items) for a flat price of $30 – and you would also receive a number of additional keys with your purchase. So friends of friends began getting in at a much faster rate.

As if that wasn’t enough, Valve began sending anyone who had made the initial purchase of a key even more bonus keys – to the extent that I personally now have about 8 unclaimed keys sitting in my Steam inventory.

With this influx of keys, it wasn’t long until everyone who wanted to play was playing – and anyone new who wanted to play could simply ask for a key on any online forum to receive one.

Which leaves us with two important questions:

  1. When exactly is Dota 2 going to release? It’s been on the market for about 3 years now.
  2. What exactly is the benefit of retaining a “key system” when anyone who wants to play can do so quite simply at this point in the “closed beta”?

To the first, anyone’s guess is as good as mine. But for the second, you have to wonder exactly what Valve’s logic is here. Do they keep the key system going on the offchance that someone will purchase a beta key (I assume the purchase system is still in place) instead of looking for a free one? Or is it merely an easy way of tracking exactly how many people are inviting others to play their game?

Either way, DotA 2’s beta is probably one of the strangest any game has gone through. Not only does it seem like they are done with testing (which is the original idea of a beta test) but it’s also gone on for so long, that the actual release of the game would be fairly anticlimactic.

I guess time will tell what lies in store for this “closed beta” of a game, even if for all intents and purposes its basically in an open beta – or even a release – in its current state.

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