Stop It With The Betas

Closed betas. Open betas. I think I’m officially sick of betas. Used to be that the release date of a game was the release date of a game. Some games even went to great lengths to hype it up and make it an event. Anyone remember Mortal Monday? I do. I was positively wetting myself in anticipation at the release of Mortal Kombat on the Genesis/Mega Drive. Of course the idea of playing a game in which you can rip your opponents skull out when you’re 12 years old will do that to you.

Used to be that beta came after alpha and was actually used as a software engineering term to define the state of the game. For MMORPGs now though, it’s more than that. It’s now used as a way to play them early, check them out before you buy them, and even as incentives and prizes. Seems like no MMOPRG can have a dignified beta any more.

I’d like to see a return to more modest betas that are used to test stability, in a dignified and professional fashion. I don’t want to see my most highly anticipated games ravaged by critics before it’s even been released or every secret discovered and unveiled. Isn’t testing meant to be a serious thing anyway? I have to wonder how many beta testers actually ‘test’ the game and don’t just see it as an early trial or freebie. I know I do.

Part of it is self-control on my behalf. I played the Aion beta and am now downloading some megalithic patch for the Champions Online beta. Really makes me wonder why I do it though. Am I that desperate to play these games, I can’t wait a few extra weeks? Maybe. Ironically though I barely touched the Aion beta because I didn’t want to spoil it for myself.

I’d like to see MMORPGs reign in their betas. They shouldn’t be freebies or early access, they should be what they are meant to be – necessary testing in order to fix bugs and produce a a better game. I think the meaning got lost at some point.

On the counter side, I’ve just seen dozens of articles whiz by on my RSS reader about how much Champions Online sucks so I’ve cancelled the 3 gig download. Maybe open betas are good for something…

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19 Comments

  1. Pete S says:

    I agree, even though I sign up for betas almost compulsively. It’s like a sickness.

    I’m in CO beta, Fallen Earth beta, Section 8 beta (haven’t even tried it), CrimeCraft beta, Cities XL beta, League of Legends beta… I forget what I’m in, I’m in so many. Oh, Alganon.

    Most of it is via Fileplanet.

    I used to get in a beta and be really dedicated to trying to make the game better, but now I’m so jaded I just use them to judge whether or not I want to buy the game.

    I was just reading a blog post about CO where the author totally tore the game apart for being buggy when he played several months ago, and that’s where we’ve got to, I guess. People should *expect* bugs in beta, not be annoyed by them.

    • Gordon says:

      I think I’m going to take a break from betas now. I’ve gotten into the Champions Online one and will try it out but I feel so jaded with the way betas are treated I think I need to take a break from them and just wait and play the final games.

  2. Gremrod says:

    I am tired of studios/publishers of new mmo game doing a release of the game that says pre-order and you end up basically beta testing the game for them during your first 3 months of playing the game.

    Oh well I guess it is the trend right now. But I ahve stopped pre-order of mmo games now since WarHammer.

  3. Longasc says:

    Open Betas are not really Betas. Especially in the case of Aion it was more a promotion than a beta. The game is out for over a year in Korea, after all.

    They did not even ask for much feedback except blabla, and I wonder who really bothered to find out and report stuff ingame… I guess nobody.

    Open Betas are a bit server stress test and besides that pure promotion. Closed Betas with NDAs are probably the only thing nowdays that is like the “Betas” of former times.

    • Gordon says:

      The beta for Aion was clever. They are obviously very confident in the game (and why not, they’ve had plenty of time to polish and test it in Korea) and being able to tease Western players with odd weekends of play has only helped stimulated hype for it. Another example of betas being used for cunning purposes.

  4. JC says:

    I beta’d Vanguard. I got in early “Beta 3″ and I participated in test events and roundtables, etc. I /bugged every bug and /feedbacked everything I could think of, got into arguments with the “class lead tester” in front of the developers for the class I played most and showed the class lead to be an incompetent fool. I really felt involved in that one and becuz of it I had planned to get VG when it came out, but then they completely revamped combat a couple of weeks before launch and launched so crappily, etc etc.

    That kinda soured me to betas. They took everything that I (and many others) had tested and given feedback on and threw it away.

    I got in the LotRO beta also, but after a couple of days I quit it. It was well polished and such, so I didn’t find any bugs or anything, but it bored me and I knew I wasn’t going to play it once it went live, so. . . .uninstalled and that was it.

    I’ve avoided betas since then, and TBH don’t plan to join any future MMO (with the *possible* exception of SWTOR) until it’s been out at least 6 months.

  5. Andrew says:

    MMOs do have a unique need for large betas: there is no way that they can properly test the following things with in-house resources:

    1. Game balance
    2. Exploits / loop holes
    3. Realistic user load

    I do agree that the way companies treat betas these days is undignified. But hey…. CO is on the receiving end of the negative side effect betas can potentially have.

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that betas are necessary for load testing etc something as big as a MMO… but then you gotta wonder why all of these games still have such bad launches. I guess it goes to show that these betas aren’t being very effective in terms of actually testing the games.

  6. IRGRL says:

    I remember when betas were usually implemented along side regular game play, and it was admins choice of invite to the game. Usually veterans of the game were asked to play, people whom had dedicated and unusual amount of time.

    Beta’s in a sense have become game play, well, regular game play. Most people join them just to say, “Hey, Im playing the beta of SoandSo and Im playing this and that. Like a gaming badge of honor.
    I also don’t think there should be beta keys. Contests to give away the beta keys have watered down the whole point of the betas. Im not knocking them for doing it, and upping their player base. Giving away beta keys is a great cheap way of marketing your game without paying any money for the ads.

    Betas are there to work out the bugs, to get input and feedback from the players to improve a game. Not make the game Beta Champions Online, or Beta Aion, Beta Guild Wars, if you get my gist.

  7. Longasc says:

    There are mega-gaming guilds out there that have “divisions” for various MMOs that already start recruiting during closed and open beta.

    “Beta’s in a sense have become game play, well, regular game play.”

    Exactly. Release a BAD BETA, and you are BUSTED. One word: INTERNET. Word of mouth spreads quickly, regardless of NDA or not.

    It took marketing spin doctors and basically everyone not long to get the idea that a Beta can be boon or bust, and this is how they got turned into the promo shows of today.

    • Gordon says:

      Buuuut, we can see how drastically betas can change in a few days. Just look at Age of Conan and the ‘wonder’ patches it pulled out only a few days before the release of the game. It went from being utterly broken and unplayable to mildly broken and unplayable :D Seriously though, betas shouldn’t be used to judge a game, even 1 day before release :)

  8. Pitrelli says:

    For people to be judging or reviewing Champions Online from their CLOSED BETA experience is an absolute joke (I have a short post up but state it isnt a representation on the finished game).

    Closed beta is a very important stage for the beta community and devs to come together and squash bugs/ iron out any major issues. I was present in the closed beta and managed to log on last night after some patching drama. What did I see when I logged in? A vast improvement in stability, graphics and gameplay.

    If people want to tear into a game based on Closed beta then they should in my opinion consider not completing any others and just wait till the game is released. Its madness that people now treat this as a free trial (partially down to the way the companies market it to fair)

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that no one should judge a game based on a beta however I can forgive people for doing it given the way companies treat them. I mean, we have companies like Cryptic offering beta places as incentives to buy monthly subscriptions up front! Betas have lost all meaning now and I can see why people treat them as free trials.

  9. DM Osbon says:

    Just found your blog but we seem to have posted about a topic(Beta testing) from a close view point:

    http://regolith.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/never-trust-a-beta/

  10. [...] of We Fly Spitfires thinks the whole “beta” thing has simply gone out of control, with the true meaning, if any, entirely lost. He looks back to the times when a game’s [...]

  11. Tesh says:

    I was in the Wizard 101, DDO Unlimited and Atlantica Online betas, and they may as well have been free trials for as useful as they were. (Of course, they *do* have time-unlimited free content as full releases anyway.) I submitted bug reports but never heard back on them, and never saw them fixed. I didn’t mind seeing the game as a preview, but I never felt useful as a tester.

    Sure, I was one little cog in a stress test, so I wasn’t deleterious, but looking forward, I see little reason to report bugs if they aren’t going to be addressed.

    • Gordon says:

      I’d like to see MMOs offer official, free weekends or short trials of the game upon release before you have to plonk out the cash for it. Maybe even a way of paying $5 to play for a week and try it. I just think beta testing should be dignified, slient and used for proper testing.

      • Tesh says:

        Definitely. As one who has spent time testing games, it really does need to be done professionally. That said, they *should* be testing these things in-house, and the beta is little more than a stress test and a PR machine.

  12. Duane says:

    I normally don’t join betas for big advertised games, normally because I don’t feel that I can help, sometimes because it’s full and I missed the buck, or even because I get all hyped for a game, See screenshots and am filled with dissapointment that they revamped everything.

    I do, however, join betas for the indie games like Infinity, Z-Day and several other names you guys should hear about later on this year, because I feel like the less people are there, the more people will stop screwing around in a group and actually test the game.

    I fully agree, Gordon. Betas need to be serious again. They need to be Betas.

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