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Fixing the PTR Experience

It's a common problem. Blizzard announces a new patch with tons of new changes and says, "The PTR is up, go test stuff!". You download the PTR, smile wide and spirits high, only to find yourself waiting in 600+ second queues because there is either no one else testing (common on most days past the initial go live of the PTR) or everyone is wanting to test the same thing. This has been a real problem since the inception of the PTR and greatly limits the amount of actual, real world testing that can be done. Sometimes this isn't really a big deal. It's just a new hero and a few balance changes, and inconsistencies can be fixed relatively easily once the changes are on live. However, for patches like the 2018 Game Update, PTR is not only important, it's essential for allowing players to test, and give constructive feedback on the new systems in as close to a live environment as possible. Sadly, this just isn't the case right now. So how can we fix it?

Incentivize. Yes, it's a bit of a buzz word, but it turns out that if you give people a bonus or a good reason to play something, they'll play it. Incentivization is something that our current PTR system is lacking. Sure, in a perfect world you wouldn't have to incentivize PTR play, and people would jump in and switch most of their playing time to it the week it's up so that they could provide valuable, constructive feedback to the Heroes team. To the people who actually do that, we salute you, you're awesome. The general Heroes population though will only play a few PTR games, if any at all, during the PTR testing phase.  

The first thing I would suggest doing is a Live/PTR account sync. Now, we'll ignore any potential engineering issues that might come with that (because I'm sure there are a few), and look to what it could achieve. To start, you wouldn't want to sync absolutely everything, but syncing Hero levels and xp gain would be a tremendous start. This would allow players a real sense of progression as they played their PTR games, allowing them to progress their Heroes (and on the side earn loot boxes and potentially gold in the live game), and cut down on the "sunk cost" feeling of PTR testing being a time waste. I feel this would be a good compromise, as, from Blizzard's perspective the player is playing the game as they usually would, only now they're also providing valuable data and feedback that they wouldn't have otherwise.

Another potential option (in case syncing turns out to be really hard) would be to use the quest system. The PTR could offer repeatable quests for games played (potentially even customized depending on what needed testing the most) that then translate into gold, shard, or gem rewards on the live servers. You could even offer a scaling quest, much like the current Dragon event that is going on, that offers tiers of rewards based on how many games you play.

Whatever the method, I think that a more consistent, populated PTR testing experience should be on Blizzard's radar. This only becomes more apparent when it is extremely hard to test large, game altering changes to allow for informed feedback. The fact that Blizzard scheduled a three week PTR for the 2018 Game Update shows that they are wanting that informed feedback. Now they just need the mechanisms that will incentivize the population for it.

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My armchair developer suggestion: give a daily PTR quest where the player plays N games and win a loot box when the patch goes live, potentially getting 7-8 free boxes.
I'm up for these, a few lootboxes here and there wouldn't break Blizzard but would give more incentive to play. There are some players of course who jump on all the new heroes and reworks ASAP without any stuff, but it would help to include more causal players into PTR.
Yup, it's all about getting the population up in general, and more consistently throughout the whole PTR cycle. If the population were high enough, some semblance of MM could potentially be brought in, and at the least, you'd be able to find and play more games much quicker
I brought this issue up during our interview at the Media Summit and the team's representatives didn't seem to be very concerned with it. I'm with you, man--the queue time makes testing anything outside of AI as allies games extremely time consuming!
Be very aware of this.

I like the whole sync idea. Definitely. However if you heavily Incentivize the PTR it'll kill* live servers during the time the new patch is on PTR. (Slightly dramatic*)

If anything, have players complete 1 daily (PTR) for week the new patch is on PTR, earn a loot chest for completing one each day and see that chest, along with the gold amount, synched to your Live Account.

Treat it like 'New Patch Launch Week Quests' as we treat new hero/ event quests. As with Halloween, 'Play certain number of games,' 'Secure XX Takedowns,' etc... Except have it be related to the patch. For example with the recent Support Nerf..'Play 5 games as a support' Li-li rework? 'Win 2 games as the new re-worked li-li.' You get my point.

We don't want the ratio to be 1:1 cause that will only influence players to farm dailies and that takes away from HOTS as a whole. Along with over-saturating Live servers with loot, gold ,etc.

I never play the PTR, doesn't have the same feeling as it did with LoL Test Servers. But a lil' bump and bonus before the new patch comes out? I love the idea.