Beta No More

Posted: March 16, 2011 in Gaming, Technology
Tags: , , , , ,

So, I saw Gears of War 3 yesterday. It was good, actually. I’ve never really been that good at playing Gears online – I find it requires a level of skill and concentration that’s a lot different to what COD or Battlefield needs, and I was just never that good at it. I should really finish Gears of War 2‘s campaign though… that’s been in my Pile ‘o shame for a long while.

I wrote a preview of it for the site, which you can read here for more thoughts, but long story short I love the new bayonet lancer. Skewing people on that thing is proper Napoleonic, it’s amazing.

What was really interesting though was the interview we did with Rod Fergusson, you can read the full transcript here, but it was mainly this news piece that we took from it that raised an interesting point. Basically, Fergusson mentioned during the presentation that you can’t really do technical betas anymore – something that I’d heard before when I interviewed one of the lead developers for MMO RIFT (still playing through that). I didn’t follow up on that last time, but this time I felt I had too as this was the second time someone had commented on the state of the beta these days.

As you can see, Fergusson believes that true beta tests – where you play an unfinished product to help work out the kinks and test out features, are hard to now for a console audience:

“The idea of a console beta that’s an unfinished product is really foreign to that audience and so their expectation is that this is representative of the quality of the game and they have to judge it on this. It’s really hard to do betas then because you have to make it so polished and so far along that it’s hard to get the feedback you want.”

Whilst the RIFT developer was talking more about how betas had become another marketing tool as opposed to something gamers no longer understood, both points highlight the decline of the beta process, and as a possible result the decline of the QA process as well. I mean when you get Obsidian levels of bad QA, then you know there’s something else wrong there, but the fact that developers no longer want to rely on their consumer base to help test the game means that they have less people to help them do quality assurance.

I mean sure, every company hire QA testers as part of the process, but they never have, and should never be, the sole source of troubleshooting beta-builds. There’s nothing quite like tens of thousands of people testing out a game all at once, especially for online components to help iron out the kinks, but now the developers are so shit scared of their games being judge before they’re ready that it’s practically unheard of now outside of PC gaming, and even there you’re starting to see less technical betas.

And do you know what? It’s partly our fault. Well, not my fault – your fault. I don’t judge games before they are released, even though that’s what I’m paid to do… erm… anyway: Sure, there’s no escaping the fact that Publishers are actively using betas and demos as marketing now – that part of it is all their doing, but Fergusson is right also, gamers DO look at betas, look at demos, and judge the whole game based on those, and at the end of the day these guys want their game to sell so instead of concentrating on just making a game, they have to split their attention and try and sell it at the same time.

Just something to think about. Rather chuffed though, that news story got picked up in a few places which is always nice, so you could say it’s another spotted.

Until next time.

  1. Emily says:

    I’ve never expected much of demos. Never even applied to be part of a beta.

    • I didn’t either before I started this line of work, and apart from one or two I haven’t done a beta that I’ve needed to do as part of work either.

      • Emily says:

        I just remembered that I did put myself down for the beta for Fallout Online, but if Interplay’s vision ever gets past Bethesda’s legal wranglings reaching a beta phase will be a miracle in itself.

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