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The List: Five Reasons to Avoid Beta

By William Murphy on July 20, 2010 | Columns | Comments

Five Reasons to Avoid Beta

In the summer months it’s easy to fall into a sort of gaming doldrums fit. For one, it’s so nice out that I feel guilty about playing too many games, usually reserving my sessions for after nightfall or on rainy days. For another there’s usually a lack of quality games released in the summer months. Part of me thinks the developers of some of gaming’s major upcoming MMOGs realize this and have strategically decided to start betas or at least begin sign-ups around the hot months. And while the itch to sign up for such an event may be often too hard to ignore, there are some valid reasons for saying no to the opportunity to test the next crop of MMORPGs.

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DC Universe just announced sign-ups, The Old Republic has begun testing, and Guild Wars 2’s beta is right around the corner. Sure there are a slew of positives, especially in the “Open Beta” phase serving as a sort of try-before-you-buy for games that generally don’t offer a demo at launch. But by and large, we think you may be better served by resisting the urge to hop on the beta bandwagon, and here’s why…

5.) Shh… It’s Secret!

Everyone has their own opinion on whether or not the secretive nature of most MMO betas is a necessary precaution for the developer or a pointless way to keep your potential user base out of the loop, but the main thing for the beta-hopeful to remember is that pretty much any game that lets you in on the fun will be expecting you to keep quiet about it. And if you’re the type of gamer who goes out of his way to sign up for a beta test, chances are you’re the type of game who wants to tell the world about it… and yet you can’t. This of course leads to the NDA leaks we all know and love/loathe, and then those who are on the inside start getting lambasted by those on the outside, the developers and PR people have a muck of a mess to deal with should said leaks damage the reputation of the game, and in general the whole thing just becomes a giant practice in aggravation on all sides. Unless some fearless game developer comes along and says, “Hey come test this game, and talk about it all you want” one could argue that it’s not worth your time to put up with the NDA attached to a beta experience.

4.) Beta (for the most part) =/= Live Game

This is always debatable, as often times the game you play in Open Beta is going to be very similar to the game you play at launch. But at times when you begin your stint as a tester in the early stages of development, chances are the game’s going to change tremendously between beta phases, much less between now and launch. As is too often the case, I see my friends and internet peers form opinions of a game from five minutes spent tooling around with the beta client, never to return or watch as that game progresses toward launch. I do believe that Open Beta is often a great indicator for a release product as developers usually use OB phases to merely stress test the game, but a great many developers who genuinely try and seek help from the community in terms of feedback only get players looking for free games to waste time with.

As anyone from years ago who spent time in the early World of Warcraft beta can attest, there’s a reason these things are often selective of who they invite to participate, and why they’re under NDA. Still maybe developers need to be even more selective… or just scrap the public beta notion altogether.

3.) Not Permanent

MMORPGs are known for their permanence. Beta tests for these games are not. Okay, so you’ve been accepted to test and play The Old Republic. Let’s say for the sake of this example that you can play all you want seven days a week. Let’s say that the game really hooks you, you offer plenty of feedback to the developers, and soon you find yourself playing TOR more than any other game on your hard drive. After all of your hard work leveling your Jedi Consular, after the weeks you spent leveling him or her up from scratch, and after all of the quests you’ve completed… it gets erased as the game moves forward into launch. And then you realize you’ve got to do it all over again. Yeah. That part sucks. Don’t pretend it doesn’t. But there are better reasons than that to avoid getting too into betas.

2.) It’s Really Meant to Be Work

Going back to number three, the beta testing experience is not meant to be just free time for you to play an unreleased game. It’s meant to be a volunteer “job” of sorts where you help out the developer by playing the game, reporting bugs, and providing feedback on the gameplay experience. All too often I hear of folks signing up for beta just to get an early taste of “The Next Big Thing” and they forget that the beta experience is supposed to be something of a QA job for dedicated hobbyists. Tying in with the above, if your goal in gaming is to have fun, beta might not be the best place to look. It’s bound to be riddled with bugs and deficiencies, downtimes and other development hell problems. So unless that part of the game development process really interests you as a fan of the industry, it might be wisest to stay away from beta testing.

1.) Burn-Out

Ultimately when we sign up for a beta, we’re signing up as gamers. All MMOs, no matter how deep and diverse they may be require a time from us when we must put them down, go outside, and take a break from the virtual world. MMO Burn-Out is a common side effect of indulging in too much of a good thing. I can’t think of a single game, MMO or not, that I haven’t needed a break from at one time or another. And I can name several that have gotten stale for me and have never reverted back to their “fresh” state. Why then would you want to risk running into this problem during beta? Why would you want to risk getting all your excitement for launch day worn out before the time launch day even rolls around? To me, this is the best reason to avoid playing a game’s beta.

I understand the need to “test drive” a potential purchase, and thankfully we have Open Betas for that very thing. But if you want to retain any sense of mystery and anticipation at all about some upcoming game you’re jazzed for, I’d heartily recommend avoiding the beta experience. It will wind up making those first steps into a new world that much more exciting.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.