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The Devil's Advocate: Beta Do It Right

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on March 01, 2013

I dislike the seemingly growing perception of an MMO beta test as a mechanism for creating hype towards a game’s release. Chances are good that some beta testers spend more time seeing if a game is worth playing rather than actively working on improving the game. While that’s certainly one way of participating in a beta, I think certain attitudes need to change regarding what beta entails.

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Seeing as there a quite a number of high-profile beta tests going on right now, such as the ones for Defiance, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and Neverwinter, as well as public testing on content patches for titles like World of Warcraft, I figured it was time to delve into the muck to extract some shiny wisdom on how people should approach beta tests. Here are four things to remember during an MMORPG beta test if you want to do justice to the game you’re playing and testing:

Break the game

While general play is alright for an MMO beta test, you can do so much more if you’re willing to engage in erratic in-game behavior.  The premise of a beta test is to find ways to break the game, so that the issue you’ve found can be remedied prior to release. I am, of course,  assuming the developer isn’t going to saddle you with a horribly unfinished mess and then leave you to stumble madly in ignorance.

To do that, you have to be willing to do really inane things in addition to regular gameplay to make sure a beta is working right. You can’t test everything in a game, but by specializing and taking time from general enjoyment of the game to find a flaw, you can offer more concrete data to the devs looking for issues.

For instance, assuming your game’s beta is instituting jumping into its systems, such as Guild Wars 2 and FFXIV: ARR, you can test the mechanic repeatedly by jumping everywhere. If you get stuck in mid-air or clip a texture, you’ve done your beta test for the day. You can also be like me and repeatedly spam a button to force a UI element  to open, just to see if you can break it through rapid access.

Report that bug!

Once you’ve found a bug in an MMO, it stands to reason that you should report it so the devs can take a look and see what can done to fix it. It doesn’t mean, however, that this is your cue to to post a 15-page treatise on a bug.

As with this particular section of this week’s Devil’s Advocate, brevity is important. Give as much detail as you can that is important in replicating the bug, then send it.

Finding a bug and reporting it in an easy-to-digest manner for the developers is basically all you need to do to be a responsible beta tester. The next two bits in this piece are meant to help further the interests of the gamers and the game being tested, so stay alert and keep reading.

Not the Final Product

One thing I’ve seen on a number of betas, whether open or closed, is that some people tend to make a beta the sole basis for whether or not they will purchase a game. Worse still, they’ll try to use that discontentment as their feedback for the game right before they decide to stop testing.

This sort of maneuver is annoying, as it not only runs contrary to the idea of a beta test as something that actually needs testing. This also wastes a developer’s time when they have to scour the beta forums for worthwhile information to improve a game’s systems.

Unless you’re a developer who thinks he has ironed out the kinks in a beta and uses the beta to advertise the game, a beta is not the end result of a game development cycle yet. It’s the testers who have to help turn the beta into something worth shelling out money for, so quitting based on insufficient information is really disheartening to read.

Respect Non-Disclosure Agreements

If a game has an NDA, and you agreed to it, you really should respect that. I’ve opted not to give any concrete examples here, but basically, savvy Google users will probably find NDA-breaking streams of betas or information and files posted on various social sites in an attempt to get a scoop.

The idea that one agreed to maintain discussion of a beta for a game on the beta forums is simple. You simply get to discuss with other people with the same access as you, because they are more likely to understand your experiences with the game.

To go outside this circle of beta testers n the guise of providing public service about a game is just silly. You’re generally providing information that will soon become obsolete if your developer has a solid record of changing things up. You also risk your beta status getting revoked because you were impatient.

All in all, these are some simple reminders most long-standing beta testers already know. For the neophytes to beta testing, though, I hope you find these four tidbits of info useful, as they are the core tenets of any beta tester worth his salt. 

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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