Paying for Beta

I responded to Azuriel’s post about the recent updates in the online gaming world, taking issue with the paid beta aspect.  Actually, I’ve posted on a few spots about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to beta test nearly every large online game since UO.  I had a “beta tester resume” for a long time.  For the longest time, it really was like being a beta tester.  You’d log in, do what you needed to do and send reports in.  There’d be a log on the forums about all the bugs and their status.  The reason they invited other people was that not everyone is practical and straightforward.  This was before “meta gaming” was a thing mind you, so internal test cases usually only focused on the “happy path”.  Beta testers were there to test everything else.  Like, what if I try levitating and walking across the ocean to fish.  Or finding a unique corner in a house where you could loot the neighbor.

Suffice to say, it was actual testing and there was noticeable progress until release of the game.  So when you actually were at launch, the majority of the issues were due to scaling, and only a few core bugs remained.

I remember beta testing WoW vanilla.  Even 3 months before launch, the game underwent a fair chunk of changes but nearly all of it was related to bug reports.  I filed a TON of reports on that game and only a couple remained at launch.  For those who were there, the game was highly polished but the servers took a break for 3 months.

It’s also important to note that it was at this point that I wrote guide for games, for profit.  I had written a lot before hand, FFXI in particular, but this was a turning point.

The Shift

I did the beta for most major MMOs from that point forward but the turning point for me is Star Trek Online.  Fall of 2009 I was in the beta group as I’m a fan of the IP and space battles are cool.  Earth and Beyond was a while back, so I was looking forward to it.  The content for beta only covered the first 2 zones up until December.  There was a kitchen sink patch that put in the rest of the game and they shut down the beta the week following, so that only early access folk could see it.  I was in EA as the guide company paid for it.

All through beta I had logged dozens of bug reports.  There were some core issues with the game, places where you just could not progress.  I think 2 of the bugs were fixed, everything else was still there.  Even during the EA portion the bugs were still present.  History has enough tracks as to what happened to the game.  After about a year, the practically rebuilt the game, outside of the art assets.

It was here where I realized that beta tests were obviously providing little benefit when the marketing folk wanted to get paid.

The Nail

The last beta I did was for SWTOR in 2011, or at least the last one where I consider it a beta.  The devs took feedback and chatted, they understood the issues.  I had mathcrafted DPS sheets for 2 classes, clearly showing issues with balance.  The community had provided a ton of feedback on needed changes.

I think Alacrity(haste) is going to be my stickler here.  Math is hard to argue against and math was clearly pointing out that it was a bad stat for almost everyone (knights and warriors were the exception).  And it’s not like this was raised just before launch, it was obvious months and months before.  Didn’t get fixed until patch 2.0!

The upper tier however had a different approach.  Every 2 weeks there’d be a full wipe and new content added.  You had to slosh through the early part again and again.  Imagine a day 1 launch happening every 2 weeks, that’s what beta testing was about.  Their PTR after launch didn’t have a character transfer or a boost to 50 and had wipes as well.  So you can guess how useful that thing was.  Top level content was seriously broken at launch and well… you know what happened next.

The Coffin

Betas today are not betas.  They are PR events and technical stress tests.  It allows companies to ensure that their network architecture works and to get some positive news before launch.  Where before you had to apply to get into beta, that overhead is gone now.  Instead there’s a paywall, which makes it easier for the dev to manage.  Since they are going to ignore everyone of your bug requests before launch anyhow, you aren’t of any actual value outside of stress testing and telling your friends about it.

What beta does provide is an easy out for the developer when things go bad.  “It’s just beta” used to be common on forums in the day and it was accurate too.  Since betas today have nothing to do except have the same name, it’s just an excuse to ignore you.

And that’s the kicker really.  Betas are just paid early access at a higher price point.  Like, you’re really eager to get into the door so you pay more.  If I wait a few months, I can get it for free (outside of box costs). So Heroes of the Storm is charging people for this and I’m ok with the process.  Just don’t call it beta.

Alphas…well let’s just be honest about that for a second.  You’re paying the developer on a promise of delivering something later.  Whether they listen to you or not.  You have no assurances that they will deliver on spec, or on time.  I personally think it’s more akin to venture capital than anything to do with gaming, except you have no voice in the matter.  The company already has your money and isn’t going to refund it.

“A fool and his money are soon parted.”

4 thoughts on “Paying for Beta

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