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What are your beta expectations?

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Beta communist

I’ve been thinking a lot about betas recently. It started when I played the beta for FFXIV: A Realm Reborn, but it’s come back after previewing The Elder Scrolls Online and preparing to play the Titanfall beta. I have certain expectations for Betas – do you have the same?

Development cycle

To me, the cycle of development is fairly clear. Developers have an idea that they throw around and start brainstorming and coding. That’s the Pre-Alpha. Once the game is playable (albeit barely and with plenty of broken parts), it’s in Alpha. This is then fixed, developed and tested internally until most or all of the features are present, moving the game into Beta. The Beta version should be feature complete, but will still have plenty of bugs, balancing issues and may still crash at random. However, it is ready to be released into the semi-wild (Open, Closed or Public Betas) in order to find all the problems so that they can be fixed.

When the game is at it’s final testing/development stages, developers will have a Release Candidate (RC) version, or version 1.0. From there, we can see an RTM version (release to Marketing/Manufacturing), later followed by the live release or the game going “gold”. Of course, this is based on a traditional development cycle, and doesn’t account for the Valve or Agile development methods which can turn this all on its head.

Now, I’ve played a bunch of games in the Beta (and Alpha) stages. Sometimes they are incredibly close to what you get as a final product, and sometimes they are miles away. It can also depend on the purpose of the Beta release – is it just about testing server capacity, character balancing, or full-on game testing? Developers do not need to release a final build of the game in order to test server capacity, and expectations need to be scaled appropriately.

That said, I received a lot of flak over some comments I made about both FFXIV and TESO. Apparently, all flaws in a game can be forgiven under the “but the game is still in Beta” excuse. Sure, plenty can be forgiven – I don’t mind quests that bug out and don’t let me complete, or character models being incomplete, or visual affects that aren’t turned on. All of that can make sense to me as part of Beta testing. However, when I am told to preview a game based on a Beta, I base my opinion on the look, feel, features and experiences of the game.

Tweaks will happen as the game moves through the development cycle, but I expect that by the time I receive a Beta invitation for the express purposes of writing an opinion, the game I’m playing should be a viable version. Bugs will happen, but the game has moved out of Alpha or early Beta and should be something worth previewing.

What are your expectations? Game development has changed so much in recent years – with Kickstarter and Steam Early Access, Alpha and Beta builds of games are available earlier and earlier. We have come to assume that a game we play early will be broken and missing pieces, but we’re so excited to get hands on that we grin and bear it. Klei, the developers of Mark of the Ninja and Don’t Starve, have attributed many awesome features to the feedback from Alpha and Beta players. Conversely, gamers now demand information about games earlier in their life cycles, and then jump to conclusions about finished products when all we’ve seen are pre-Alpha images.

I am a big believer in artistic/creative process. People need the freedom to make mistakes in early stages of their work – if they’re worried about failure they won’t try new things and we’ll just end up with millions of COD and Flappy Bird clones. No one wants to read the first drafts of my editorials, just as I’m sure I’d laugh at Alpha versions of some of my favorite games. However, at a certain point that product will be released into the wild where it will be judged.

So when do you start judging a game, and what are you willing or unwilling to accept from a game in Beta?

Last Updated: February 18, 2014

69 Comments

  1. TiMsTeR1033

    February 18, 2014 at 12:38

    Thats a lot of words… I am busy getting Broforce Beta will let you know my thoughts on that.

    Reply

    • VampyreSquirrel

      February 18, 2014 at 12:43

      You’re beta testing? Nice one!

      Reply

      • TiMsTeR1033

        February 18, 2014 at 12:49

        Something like that. Its actually available on humble bundle

        Reply

        • VampyreSquirrel

          February 18, 2014 at 12:51

          OMG! You’re getting humble bundles?

          Reply

          • TiMsTeR1033

            February 18, 2014 at 12:52

            something like that…

          • VampyreSquirrel

            February 18, 2014 at 12:54

            No wonder its so freaking hot.

            Nick! It’s Tim’s fault you’re melting in CT!.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            February 18, 2014 at 12:54

            When in doubt blame Tim..

          • VampyreSquirrel

            February 18, 2014 at 12:55

            lol, just for the heat… everything else is Nick’s fault.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            February 18, 2014 at 12:56

            Flippin hot today here man! when Outside and foooking bright!

          • VampyreSquirrel

            February 18, 2014 at 12:56

            I’m melting dude… it’s nuts πŸ™

          • TiMsTeR1033

            February 18, 2014 at 12:59

            That is saying alot from a squirrel!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            February 18, 2014 at 12:58

            And that Nick.

          • RinceandLeSIGH

            February 18, 2014 at 15:45

            I agree. I agree, I agree. There! *RUNS

          • RinceandLeSIGH

            February 18, 2014 at 15:40

            I accept this claim, and revel in it.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            February 18, 2014 at 12:59

            It’s your fault I was doubting in the first place.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            February 18, 2014 at 12:59

            I’ll try harder next time.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            February 18, 2014 at 12:58

            Damn that Tim.

          • RinceandLeSIGH

            February 18, 2014 at 15:40

            HAHAHAHA! I KNEW IT!

  2. Tarisma

    February 18, 2014 at 12:38

    I expect a beta to give me a fair representation of what the finished product will be like.

    Reply

    • TiMsTeR1033

      February 18, 2014 at 12:39

      Well said.

      Reply

    • Willem Swanepoel

      February 18, 2014 at 13:58

      What he said!

      Reply

  3. VampyreSquirrel

    February 18, 2014 at 12:43

    when Beta testing the game has to be playable, bugs and glitches can still be forgiven at this stage. I get the idea behind giving people a weekend or whatever, but feel that to get proper testing done, especially for end game content, there should be more people testing for longer periods of time.

    If I can’t even get into the beta because of installs, or a glitch, or even if the first quest/mission is faulty, then I leave the beta and never return to it, even if they fix it.

    That all being said, it needs to be very close to finished when it goes to beta, as beta is testing before release and finishing up the last coupla fixes.

    Most irritating beta I’ve been in… SWTOR! Characters were reset 3 times in a week, how am I supposed to progress to test things further into the game if I’m restarting the game every couple days? Seriously!

    Reply

    • Ultimo_Cleric N7

      February 18, 2014 at 12:52

      Oh man, alsmost downloaded that beta for testing as well. So glad I didnt.

      Reply

      • VampyreSquirrel

        February 18, 2014 at 12:53

        It was so frustrating, get to level 25, log off, go back on the next day and you have no characters.

        Reply

        • TiMsTeR1033

          February 18, 2014 at 12:55

          hahaha that must of really pissed you off!

          Reply

          • VampyreSquirrel

            February 18, 2014 at 13:10

            You have no idea… needless to say I’ve never played SWTOR again.

  4. Umar Reborn

    February 18, 2014 at 12:44

    As close to finished product.

    Reply

  5. Hammersteyn

    February 18, 2014 at 12:48

    I never expect to buy Beta games. But it happens. Thank heavens for day one updates.

    Reply

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      February 18, 2014 at 12:52

      Unless you bought Batman AO? tee hee

      Reply

      • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

        February 18, 2014 at 15:32

        How dare you! πŸ™

        Reply

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          February 18, 2014 at 15:40

          Too soon?

          Reply

          • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

            February 18, 2014 at 15:51

            I love AO. Don’t diss AO πŸ™

          • Mark Treloar

            February 18, 2014 at 16:25

            Any company that states they wont fix issues are not getting money from me.

          • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

            February 18, 2014 at 16:34

            I will not defend that. That’s unacceptable. But luckily my personal copy of the game had no issues so I love it πŸ™‚

  6. Alien Emperor Trevor

    February 18, 2014 at 12:51

    Betas are for seeing what tweaks can be made based on user feedback & bug finding. It should be functional & all major features implemented. I’m not bothered by things like missing textures or other bugs – report it & move on – that’s the point.

    Reply

  7. VampyreSquirrel

    February 18, 2014 at 12:51

    Speaking of testing… anyone got a XBL profile with Minecraft that I can hijack for a couple hours so I can install the game on my Xbox?

    Reply

    • TiMsTeR1033

      February 18, 2014 at 12:52

      but you need to be at home for that?

      Reply

      • VampyreSquirrel

        February 18, 2014 at 12:52

        lol! I’ll use the account for the duration of downloading and installing, and then delete the account off my xbox and the person can reset their password.

        Reply

        • TiMsTeR1033

          February 18, 2014 at 12:54

          Sometime need to get Witcher 2 from you I really do! but I shall finish Dark Souls first.

          Reply

          • Kromas

            February 18, 2014 at 14:39

            Witcher 2 on steam $3 …. oh wait … pc. πŸ˜›

  8. Ultimo_Cleric N7

    February 18, 2014 at 12:51

    I hate added costs in a beta, unless the final product is a FTP game that will get said costs (like Hearthstone). The reason for this is that you are essentially paying now for something that might be broken, but have a PROMISE of being fixed at a later stage.
    But the big judgement for me is not fixing blatent problems brought up in the beta (ala Battlefield 4)

    Reply

  9. TiMsTeR1033

    February 18, 2014 at 13:01

    Has anyone tried RUST yet?

    Reply

    • VampyreSquirrel

      February 18, 2014 at 13:02

      Kromas has, if memory serves correctly.

      It’s on my wishlist though.

      Reply

      • TiMsTeR1033

        February 18, 2014 at 13:02

        Looks very cool, but very unfinished..

        Reply

        • Kromas

          February 18, 2014 at 14:00

          Half the island has nothing on it and takes you about 2 hours to run though (if you don’t get bored and suicide or die of hunger). Also it could do with a bit of work. The crafting system makes loot obsolete and the only point left to the game is building a huge tower and killing people.

          Edit: If you don’t mind grafix rather try out Project Zomboid. Multiplayer is being implemented in the next major patch.

          Reply

      • Kromas

        February 18, 2014 at 13:58

        Your are correct sir. Rust is what happens if DayZ got sexually assaulted by CoD and had a baby that somehow had Source genes.

        Reply

        • VampyreSquirrel

          February 18, 2014 at 14:08

          BWAHAHAHAHA! Awesome explanation!

          Reply

  10. Unavengedavo

    February 18, 2014 at 13:04

    I think a beta should have most of the final gameplay and stuff already in it so that people can have a go at it, but people should not expect it to be the final cut and certain things left out so that when you play the full game you are still amazed with it

    Reply

  11. TiMsTeR1033

    February 18, 2014 at 13:06

    • VampyreSquirrel

      February 18, 2014 at 13:12

      That looks pretty awesome man

      Reply

      • TiMsTeR1033

        February 18, 2014 at 13:27

        It is one reason to get a decent pc.

        Reply

        • VampyreSquirrel

          February 18, 2014 at 13:32

          Yeah, the graphics look insane… time to think about a slow upgrade -.-

          Reply

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          February 18, 2014 at 13:33

          The other reason is, EVERYTHING.

          Reply

          • VampyreSquirrel

            February 18, 2014 at 13:34

            How far have you leveled in Loadout?

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            February 18, 2014 at 13:36

            I just hit lvl 8 last night, but my weapon components are all still lvl 1 – long way away from upgrading any of those.

          • VampyreSquirrel

            February 18, 2014 at 14:09

            I found it doesn’t help if you keep changing your loadout… gotta stick to two guns and shoot like a crazed chipmunk on speed and testosterone.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            February 18, 2014 at 14:22

            Yes, that’s what I’m doing pretty much. I’m using two slightly diff loadouts depending on what type of game I’m playing – either go for a shield or grenades & slightly diff spec on the main weapon. Use a rocket launcher as a secondary weapon – just fire off that as an opener then switch straight away to the main, if I’m still alive after a few seconds then I’ll reload lol.

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          February 18, 2014 at 13:35

          I think you’ll enjoy this one Tim.

          “PCs are for taxes” gets me every time.

          Reply

          • El Capitan del Blade

            February 18, 2014 at 14:09

            This Video…. such greatness….

    • Admiral Chief in Vegas

      February 18, 2014 at 13:17

      Platform?

      Reply

      • VampyreSquirrel

        February 18, 2014 at 13:23

        P…C

        Reply

      • VampyreSquirrel

        February 18, 2014 at 13:24

        The Forest is an open world survival horror game currently in development for PC.
        Build, explore, survive in this terrifying first person survival horror simulator.

        Reply

  12. Rags

    February 18, 2014 at 13:40

    You did not get flack because you highlighted issues, but more because you did not give us any indication of what it is actually like to play the game and instead focused on some nit picking and talked about other things not relevant to the game.

    The Titanfall preview was brilliant and gave us a good impression what its like to play. That is what a beta is for, how it plays what can we expect, not a review of technical or aesthetic details. Those are for the actual review imo.

    Reply

    • VampyreSquirrel

      February 18, 2014 at 13:41

      Really well said!

      Reply

  13. Brady miaau

    February 18, 2014 at 14:07

    I expect not to be involved the Beta Test process.

    Reply

  14. ZumaIsPoes

    February 18, 2014 at 14:19

    does that mean battlefield launched as a ALPHA product , now after the last patch its in BETA and by june we will have battle field 4 final product ?

    bait….

    Reply

  15. Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

    February 18, 2014 at 15:28

    I expect it to be beta when it’s released

    Reply

  16. RinceandLeSIGH

    February 18, 2014 at 15:42

    What about the days when there was none of this beta testing? Imagine Mario beta testing on the Nes? Game not working? Blow on it or go home… That’s what she said?0-O

    Reply

  17. BacchusZA

    February 19, 2014 at 22:35

    I’m of the opinion that a beta, especially an open / public one, should be essentially the finished product. Perhaps with a few minor features switched off, or yet to be implemented, but for all intents & purposes you’re using the general gaming public to stress test & bug-find the product you’re 95% ready to release.

    You also have to consider that alpha & beta access are evidently becoming as much marketing tools as anything else – “here you go, download the 20gb release client a few weeks early, so you can “test” it for us, and get a taste for free, so you’re more likely to spend money to get the final product in 2-3 weeks”. I could be off base here, but since the GW2 beta it seems they’re increasingly becoming “demos’ on steroids” rather than an actual beta.

    Reply

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