The Dreams beta launch has been a bit of a disaster

I’ve been intrigued by Media Molecule’s upcoming creation game Dreams for quite some time, so naturally I was excited when the studio announced what it was calling a “public beta” beginning on January 11. I was equally excited to share my thoughts on the game’s powerful creation tools (as well as whatever horrible creations I could come up with).

Unfortunately, I can’t do either of those things because the Dreams beta has had a big old non-disclosure agreement (or NDA) slapped on it. The beta may be touted as “public,” but participants aren’t allowed to share or discuss anything about what they experience while playing the beta. Of course, as you’ll soon see, the presence of an NDA is just one part of a much larger issue.

My kingdom for a beta code

To its credit, Media Molecule has striven to be as transparent as possible while the beta is going on. The studio has been hosting weekly livestreams showing off curated content collections from the beta, and it has used both those livestreams and other social media platforms to answer as many beta-related questions as it can.

During the very first livestream on January 4, Media Molecule launched a beta sign-up webpage and the page got so much traffic so quickly that within moments the entire website had crashed. Media Molecule was quick to provide alternatives and workarounds to ensure everyone who wanted to sign on for the beta could do so. Suffice it to say, fans were really excited to try Dreams for themselves, even if it was only in beta form.

The first wave of beta codes was scheduled to go out on January 11. On several occasions Media Molecule mentioned how it wanted to get as many people into the beta as possible, and during a January 11 livestream it made good on that statement by announcing a second wave of beta codes for January 14. As of this writing the official Dreams subreddit is full of disappointed fans who have yet to receive a beta code, but Media Molecule's most recent update promises that everyone who signed up for a beta code will get one and the beta period has been extended until February 4.

The general consensus is that, despite Media Molecules promises, only a very small number of beta codes were actually distributed. And, as I mentioned earlier, those few who did get into the beta can’t even share what they’re playing because of the NDA. The beta code distribution method also seems to be completely random. Fans who applied shortly after the sign-ups page went up still haven’t received a code while those who signed up much later were promptly awarded a code on January 11.

One final thing to note is that, according to Media Molecule, it was Dreams publisher Sony who insisted on an NDA. Sony is also responsible for the distribution of Dreams beta codes.

Dark dreams

So why would Sony insist on an NDA and then put such a severe throttle on how many beta codes it sent out? One could argue that Sony is just trying to protect an internal property but that doesn’t make the one-two punch of a strictly enforced NDA and severely limited beta code distribution any easier to stomach.

After all, if any game would benefit from positive word of mouth and widespread availability, it would be a creation-based game like Dreams. However, Sony has decided to shoot itself in the foot on both those counts.

Some fans have theorized (and this is extremely “tinfoil hat” so apologies in advance) that Sony wants Dreams to fail. It’s a ridiculous notion to be sure given how much money Sony has already invested into the game, but at the same time it’s hard to ignore the plain-as-day evidence. What could Sony possibly gain by hamstringing the Dreams beta to such a harsh degree? Media Molecule has already been sharing a bunch of in-game creations via its livestreams so it’s not like players would be privy to information they didn’t already know about.

Unfortunately, speculation is all we really have at this point. Media Molecule’s official Twitter account has been mostly silent over the past few days, though this recent tweet seems to suggest additional beta code waves aren’t in the cards. Another beta livestream will be held on Friday, January 18, and Media Molecule will hopefully have more definitive information to share by then.

Meanwhile, whatever goodwill Media Molecule and Sony may have built up with all the beta buzz has most certainly crashed and burned by this point. Dreams will likely still be a critical and commercial success when it finally launches in full (or at least I hope it will be), but the game’s “public beta” will forever be remembered as a textbook example of how not to capitalize on fan anticipation.