Your Beta is Not a Demo

your bets is not a demoIn a trend that’s becoming far too common in the games industry, Betas are being used to promote a game rather than their proper form of stress-tests and bug finding. Three high profile games this year, Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3 and Uncharted 3 have all used Betas to lure people into pre-ordering the games or buying a different title.

While all of these games did make good use of their respective testing phases (Gears 3 had a lot of map layout changes, for example) the fact still stands that Betas are increasingly becoming a marketing tool, one that may harm the industry if overused. How can we fix this?

The first thing that needs to be done is the immediate halt of Betas as pre-order incentives. This is flat out wrong, mostly because a large percentage of the user base doesn’t know what a Beta is. Betas are unfinished, buggy games with a lot of balancing issues and user interface stuff that needs to be fixed. Using Betas to test dedicated servers is also pretty popular as was the case with Gears 3. The average video game player probably (we’re the exception here at GamerSushi rather than the rule) doesn’t know that this is part and parcel with a testing experience; you’re there to find bugs and report them. If you think a Beta is a sneak-peek, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Take the Battlefield 3 Beta as a great example of this. DICE was so eager to get people testing the game (and Battlelog) that they and EA doled out a Beta key with every chance they got. Bought Medal of Honor? Beta key. Pre-order? Beta key. Battlefield veteran and a news-letter recipient? Heck, test the Alpha. Despite the fact that I understood that I was testing a work-in-progress, people seemed shocked that the Battlefield 3 Beta was in such a sorry state and the Battlelog forums were flooded with posts. This half worked to DICE’s advantage as a lot of user suggestions were implemented (like squads), but how many people do you think stuck around to actually see that their complaints were being addressed? I’d wager that quite a few of them left after the first few rounds of them falling through the earth on Operation Metro.

Betas should be reserved for people who understand that what you see is probably not what you’re going to get. True, if a company is going for massive stress-testing, the more the merrier, but this seems counter-intuitive. If DICE or Epic were to open up Beta registration on their forums with the understanding that things will go wrong and the game is not finished, I’d bet that there’d be a lot of people who’d sign up and properly test the game.

battlefield 3 beta impressions

Don’t get me wrong, early testing does have its place, but more often than not it backfires. Not to go back to the Battlefield 3 well, but how many of you were put of by that lackluster Beta (especially us PC players who couldn’t join our friends in game and had to put up with that lousy Battlelog)? DICE chose a really strange map for the Beta too; instead of giving us classic Battlefield with combined arms warfare, they gave us a Call of Duty map.

I’ve made my thoughts on the Battlefield 3 Beta clear before, but that was one test that blew up in their collective faces. The Gears of War 3 Beta back in April could have been just as big a disaster if the game wasn’t in pretty good shape already. Again, packaging a Beta invitation with Bulletstorm was a really shady marketing move; I can guarantee that Bulletstorm moved a couple extra thousand copies because of that, at minimum (I would know, I bought it for that reason).

Betas are being used to nab early pre-orders and aren’t being clearly explained. Eventually it will get to the point where Alpha tests are being handed out and that will really affect gaming. Minecraft also falls under this category, having been in Beta for a good long while but being available for full purchase (true, you do get the final version and this sort of thing helps indie devs stay afloat).

So what do you guys think of this recent trend? Is this a bad way for the industry to be heading? How should Beta tests be handled?

Written by Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Mister_L Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: PUBG, Rainbow 6: Siege, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Total War: Warhammer 2

8 thoughts on “Your Beta is Not a Demo”

  1. I bite my tongue a lot, and I know you guys might hope I disappear, but:

    “…mostly because a large percentage of the user base doesn’t know what a Beta is…”

    EXACTLY! Look, I’ve got a lot of friends who play console only, and I support them in their efforts. But there is a reason that in the past, code was only revealed to those who understood unfinished code. I’m not saying “no console players understand coding”, I’m just saying that’s where it was built.

    It’s okay to share among those who understand ‘unfinished’. I would never send a half-written song to someone who leisurely listens to music; I would (and do) only send to those who write and produce themselves.

    “Minecraft also falls under this category, having been in Beta for a good long while but being available for full purchase (true, you do get the final version and this sort of thing helps indie devs stay afloat).”

    No. “So far 15,121,483 people have registered and 3,826,996 people bought the game.”

    Here’s the beautiful part:

    “Piracy is not theft,” said Persson during the session. “If you steal a car, the original is lost. If you copy a game, there are simply more of them in the world. There is no such thing as a ‘lost sale.’ Is a bad review a lost sale? What about a missed ship date?” [Forbes]

    Notch gets it.

    To answer your question: A beta is better than no demo at all.

  2. Like Uncharted and Gears (minus the early access with pre-orders), that’s how. Both of them were done months ahead of the game’s release so that issue’s could be addressed. Uncharted 3 already felt quite finished so if it’s literally just polish up until release then huzzah for the consumer. BF3 and BFBC 2 were made public not long before the release of the game so how the hell do DICE intend on implementing the feedback from fans? A huge day-one patch? Probably, and that won’t make me happy. I agree that it’s a bad direction for the industry to head but I genuinely can’t see this hurting the game as much as you say.
    FTR, Mitch, Squad systems didn’t work on the PS3 either in BF3’s Beta.

  3. I agree Mitch, this thing with BF3 lately has frustrated the hell out of me because I would argue 90% of those who played it saw it as a demo and just freaked out. Betas should be reserved for those that sign up and go through a “I know what I’m getting into” process, not anyone and everyone.

  4. I feel like people SHOULD know what a BETA means. If you dont, thats your fault (or the companies for not educating people). I thought the BF3 BETA was garbage really. Too much was so shitty and wrong. Now granted it means it gets changed, so I cant really complain. It also let me know I was definitely going to buy the game. But it was just so bad. With that, friends of mine are NOT getting the game because of the BETA, which is what you talked about and how it can affect companies and their games. Like Drell said many people are considering the BETA to be some sort of demo of the game.

    I think BETAs should be something that only certain games do. I dont want companies to let US fix their games, thats part of their job. Now letting some feedback come in is a good thing, just dont have us find every bug you have int he game. I think they are nice though, it helps you get excited for a game. Its delicate, but I wouldnt want them to stop offering BETAs. Just make sure BETAs are not more like ALPHAs and let people know what they are getting into. Its almost better to have closed BETAs rather than open BETAs

  5. what ever happened to the days of demo’s? im not gonna tell if i can justify a purchase based on a buggy beta, i’d rather have a nice finished demo to try. and the demo’s should stay up for a while to. if a game company handles pr and marketing right for a free demo, and the demo is good, your pretty much guaranteed more interest in sale then to just throw out a beta to everyone. a closed beta for the more involved community members would be good, because then you get what you need out of the beta, but i agree, don’t replace the demo.

  6. I think Skuba hit the nail on the head. If a beta is run months out from release, then people “should” realise that a game is likely not quite done yet. But if its only a month away from launch then the expectation is that this is the final build, and should be up to scratch.

  7. Instead of a pre-order incentive, Betas really should be limited to players who actually care about the Beta process. That way, they’ll be able to join a game instead of having to wait for hours for the company to deal with the lobby requests. It’s not healthy to stress test a Beta as brutally as BF3, and it’s also better to keep it relatively low-key so fans are salivating over only a few Youtube videos while the bugs are being fixed with feedback on a dedicated forum. Betas need to be more focused than what BF3 did.

  8. I’m not sure that it’s as simple as ‘some people don’t know what a beta is’. Game developers also seem to have different definitions for Beta. Bugnie’s Halo betas weren’t about fixing technical issues, they felt like finished games. Instead they were testing to see how the game feels. I believe I read in an article somewhere that the most significant changes from the Halo 3 beta were altering the geography of Valhalla, since the majority of deaths occurred around one base and statistics showed one team had an advantage, and that the assault rifles range was too short.
    The Battlefield beta felt like a technical beta, and people who played Halo and Gears betas weren’t expecting that.

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