Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in most every beta I opted in for. I started it back when beta was actually a beta and not a sales pitch. Most betas today are so polished that they are really just soft launches and not test platforms.
Then you have stress tests. I work in the IT field. Oddly enough, yesterday I was writing up an FRTM and test plan. Stress tests are for two purposes. First is authentication (logon screen) and the second is core systems. Think of it as front door and inside the house. Stress tests on the front door today should not be public. There are hundreds of testing options for testing capacity on authentication. The actual fallout of having your public test this feature is extremely poor press and word of mouth. NDAs are all fine and dandy but people talk anyhow and a 21 gig character creation tool sells nothing.
What you want from a true stress test is putting a bunch of people inside the house and trying the various appliances. You want 1000 people trying to PvP. You want 1000 people to craft at the same time. You want 1000 people looting at the exact same time. Your transactional services need to be pushed to capacity and black box testing can only get you so far.
If you want to spend 3 days stress testing and the only thing you’re testing is the logon screen, then you just wasted 3 days.
The average public beta of a new MMO is 60 days. This gives some balancing numbers and time to tweak systems. Most NDA’s drop on public beta to create buzz and word of mouth. SWTOR is a recent example of a game with such a window, character wipes and a fairly strong NDA. It was a rather bad beta, compared to previous ones. RIFT is the complete opposite. Beta was polished and the core task for testers was balance. Balance takes time and takes recursive tests and non-logical functions. That’s why you put people in the game, to do stupid things.
Considering we have a few big MMOs launching this year, I am somewhat curious as to the status of beta windows and NDA drops. The goal isn’t to put something out the door. That ship has sailed. Fingers crossed.