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Beta: Serious Testing or Free Trial?

Editorials By Dan Fortier on January 20, 2007

Beta: Serious Testing or Free Trial?

Saturday Debate: Beta, Serious Testing, or Free Trial?

News Editor Derek Czerkaski and Staff Writer Dan Fortier sit down to discuss the issue of Beta and its actual role in game development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

Dan Fortier:

Back in the early days of MMORPGs, the beta phase of game development was nothing more than a tool for the designers to see how their ideas translated from paper to reality and to work out the bugs that would have otherwise been passed over. The list of players that were asked to join the early stages were those who were committed to testing and were eager to sacrifice their time to improve the stability and playability of a game that they were interested in.

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How far we've fallen since then.

Those were far from the glory days, but it seems that since everyone and their brother started jumping on the MMO bandwagon developers and players have changed their expectations and priorities. Devs have seemed to lose sight of the process somewhat and now seem more concerned with altering any game features that players dislike and trying to get big guilds involved as early as possible to spread interest to their friends. For the players part it seems like their expectation is one of a free trial. Rather than trying to discover bugs to report they seem more focused on 'figuring the game out' and finding what the most uber class will be or even purposefully keeping exploits a secret to use after release.

Derek Czerkaski:

Beta testing; what's the purpose of beta testing? Some would say it's solely to fix bugs, and to create an optimized product for a company to release to the public. Others would say it's a chance to "gain an edge", and learn the game before the majority of the population. Yet another group might state that a beta is nothing more than a make-it-or-break-it trial before considering whether or not to purchase a product. Is there any group that's completely right?

One thing game developers have seemingly forgotten these days is the most crucial piece of the puzzle; fun. Beta testers are willing enthusiasts who want to play your game. After all, who signs up for betas? The fans. Developers usually have a vision of how they want their game to turn out, and players usually have expectations of what they expect from that product. Obviously, you can never please everyone, and opinions are going to clash, but there's one thing we can all agree on; we're not interested in boring, lackluster game play.

This is an increasing problem I've noticed in the modern market. MMORPGs are flying off the shelves. This one offers the biggest world ever, that one has a special crafting system, and that one over there promises to revolutionize the genre. Let me ask you, who gives a damn if it's the most boring experience you've ever endured?

Dan Fortier:

Part of making the game fun involves insuring it’s not a bug riddled mess that is constantly being changed by who cries the loudest. At the rest were headed we’ll be hearing about special pre-order access to alpha. The real problem is that most players don’t see the big picture. They know what they want in a game, but don’t understand the full repercussions of the nice shiny things that they want oh-so-badly.

You can say “OMG the grafx suXor!” , but turning up particle effects and polygon count will make the people with lower end systems pout about how they need a supercomputer to run the game at a decent FPS. It’s up to the devs to have a strong vision for their product and to run the beta in the most efficient manner possible. If this means less ‘fun’ for a game your not paying for yet then so be it. Players looking for a free game to bash are counterproductive to the development process.

Derek Czerkaski:

Betas are a double-edged sword. Developers, you NEED those players to test your game, and the players WANT to test your product. It's your first and foremost duty to make a product that people WANT to explore, that they WANT to immerse themselves in, that, despite some problems, are WILLING to stick around and play. Betas are a sample platter of your work; any glaring problems and significant problems will be met with harsh criticism. Most players understand that you can't be perfect, but let's face it, even the biggest moron can tell when you've half-assed a product. If you're not going to take your own product seriously, then why should we?

Back in the day, betas were a privilege. Now they're a dime a dozen. If your game isn't up to par, there's 10 other betas out there begging for players to try them out. There betas exist for the player, not the developer. Want your game to be tested more thoroughly? Make your game stand out from the competition. Not a fan of the negative criticism on your official forums? Fix your game, and take action to make it a more enjoyable and functional experience. The fact is, players can and will play a buggy game if they're enjoying it. However, I'd be hard-pressed to find players who enjoy a completely functional, yet mind-numbingly boring game.

Players, get into all the betas you can. Quality control and bug-fixing should be secondary concerns to your personal enjoyment unless, of course, the bugs are so bad that they detract from the gameplay experience. Get into as many betas as you can, give them 2 days, and if you haven't found SOMETHING to keep your interest, then get the hell out. Send a message to developers.

"We don't care if you've got the biggest, fastest, prettiest game ever. Your game won't be FUNctional until it's FUN, because we're not going to waste our time on your sub-par piece of garbage."

Dan Fortier:

While developers have hurt themselves a bit by advertising beta as some kind of free trial to try and get a large tester base, some responsibility has to fall on the players to do what they agreed to: Test, not play, the game. The designers want your opinion, but only if it’s somewhat educated and based on a knowledge of the vision they have for the game. Betas are called that because they are not a complete game so trying to judge it based completely on a pre-release version is flawed at best.

You can learn a lot about how the designers will run their game after release by participating in early testing, but until all the game features are added any impression you get of the game is going to be skewed. If you can’t be bothered to help improve the game then why should the devs be bothered to take your opinion seriously?

That’s it for our part of the debate. While Derek and I go cool off why don’t you give us your take on things?