My thoughts on the latest Beat Saber Update (0.13.x)

NB: This was written from the perspective of a Beat Saber Modder and BSMG Admin.

The latest Beat Saber update rolled around featuring the OST Volume II songs and Campaign mode from the PSVR release, along with the first DLC Music Pack; the Monstercat Music Pack. As with everything, I have some opinions on this and I wanted to get them down somewhere so I can go back to thinking about meaningless stuff.

Now, I'm not going to sugarcoat this, I have a couple of negative opinions on this update and the Early Access model they've gone with. But to start off, let me tell you about what I think are the best parts about this update. Firstly, the PSVR timed exclusives being finally released on PC after an agonising four months. Volume II of the OST contains some great songs from a nice range of new artists which I've been excited to play since the PSVR launch. Campaign mode is also a refreshing addition, which changes up the standard arcade-style play that has been the norm for nearly a year. I am also excited to see what modders can do with this, as custom campaigns seems like a really neat idea (and has actually been a thing for a while, albeit without the fancy UI).

One thing that felt like a missed opportunity this update was achievements. The PSVR release has trophies that give a sense of accomplishment for newer players, and give you a goal to work towards. Until now, it wouldn't have made sense for PC to have those achievements as some of the trophies were for completing certain parts of the campaign. However, now the PC game has campaign I would have thought it wouldn't be too hard to port the trophy logic over to Steam and Oculus Home achievements. While this certainly isn't a dealbreaker and more experienced players might not care too much, I think it would be a nice addition for new players; to give them a goal to work towards.

Now onto the elephant in the room, the paid DLC songs. Technically Beat Saber is still in Early Access on PC, and some might think that adding DLC to an early access game is a bit of a weird move, and could be misconstrued as a cheap cash-grab mode (more on this later). That aside, I think the Monstercat songs are a great addition. The mapping can be a bit off at times, but the songs themselves are great. Personally I would recommend getting the music pack, it expands the number of playable songs (which is especially nice on PSVR).

Going back to the point of paid DLC, some people seem to have been blinded by the modding scene that licensing music actually costs money; not to mention paying the mappers to make the beatmaps, almost all of which do mapping freelance and are not actually employees of Beat Games with regular pay. At first I thought that prioritising paid music packs was a bit of a shallow move, but a recent post from the devs has dispelled that notion. They confirm that working on music packs has no impact on developing the core game, which was my concern.

Unfortunately if you've been following the development of the game you know that there have only been a small handful of major updates to the game over the last year. Now I know that game development is hard and takes time, and that there has likely been a large amount of work behind the scenes between each patch. I acknowledge and appreciate all the work that the Beat Games team have put in over the years perfecting their masterpiece, however I think that releasing a small amount of large updates is not the best release model for a popular early access game, especially one that has gathered a large modding community.

You might think that long gaps between updates would be good for modding, as it means that mod-breaking updates are few and far between. In my opinion, this fosters the mindset that mods "just work" and gets people thinking that updates are bad, and then people start complaining that "devs break mods". I think that with smaller, more frequent updates, people would have a constant stream of original content and realise the work that the devs put in, rather than just complaining at them for breaking mods. Segueing on from this, I think a faster release cycle would also be beneficial as it allows the user base to see that the devs are actually working on stuff, rather than a lot of silent, behind the scenes work for months and then a comparatively small update relative to the time spent waiting.

My last thought also follows on from this, as I believe one key thing the devs could improve on is communication with the players. Yes, I understand that there are contractual reasons why you might not want to share information, but right now it feels like they're leaving their community in the dark about too many things. The way they've been handling this so far feels like months and months of silence where players are left speculating at what may be going on behind the scenes, and when certain features might be done. I feel this also contributes to the "devs are bad because they break mods" mentality as players rely on mods to fill the gaps left from the dev's promise of future content Soon™. With the devs giving regular updates on what's being worked on, I think people would learn to appreciate that they indeed are doing a lot of work behind the scenes, and that will help to cultivate a more positive community atmosphere.

That last paragraph got a bit wordy, so let's finish up. In conclusion, the 0.13.x Beat Saber update was a nice update, but I feel there are things the devs could do to improve regarding both the update itself, as well as the way they handle updates overall. I'm looking forward to seeing what'll be added to the game in the future, and hope they address some of these issues.