The Ultimate Deflection Shield: “It’s In Beta”

“Wow, this game is really buggy!”

“It’s only in beta, fool!”

“I can’t log on to these servers, they’re overloaded!”

“What did you expect?  It’s just beta.”

“This title has a lot of severe issues with it… I don’t think it’s ready for launch.”

“Dude, it’s in beta! Shut your mouth!”

So here’s the thing.  Every time we roll around to another major MMO release, the same back-and-forth fireplace discussion is hauled out of a dusty trunk for a nice repeat.  Guy A, who might be anything from a “hater” (man, I loathe that term) to a dispassionate observer/tester, offers up a criticism of a game in open beta.  Guy B, who is most definitely a fanboy and/or suffering from a blow to the head and thinks he lives in a fantasy world where last minute patches cure all wounds, effectively tells Guy A he can’t say anything against the game, because it’s still in beta and doesn’t he know what “IN BETA” means?

And so round and round the forums they go, circling and snapping and getting absolutely nowhere.  Personally, I’m pretty tired of the whole song-and-dance, with tempers running high as if they never heard this argument before.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, as it usually is.  Yes, even an open beta is still, technically, a “beta”.  It’s not a finished version.  It is undergoing stress testing, with an overworked dev team frantically trying to respond to the biggest player concerns by pumping out a rapid series of patches (or the near-mythical last minute “Hail Mary” mega-patch) to shore it up.  Players are allowed in because both parties get something out of it: players get to have an early peek and enjoy themselves, companies get advance press (hopefully good word of mouth) and can see how the servers function when half of the gaming world tries to plow in the front doors.

But on the other side, the whole “It’s in beta” deflection has weakened to the point of nothingness these days.  It’s a matter of perception becoming reality.  Once a MMO moves into open beta and drops the NDA, then everyone is free to discuss the game and point out its successes and its flaws.  Notice that none of the game’s defenders are particularly upset when someone has something positive to say about their MMO while it’s in beta — the anger is unleashed and the “It’s in beta!” defense is mustered only when issues, flaws, bugs and personal feelings of disappointment are shared.

You can say “It’s in beta!” until you’re blue in the face, but you’d be part of a rapidly declining majority who gives a crap whether open beta is holy sacred ground that should never be violated with honest observations and opinions.  Just like those folks who look for every opportunity to gripe how we won’t really move into the new decade until 2011 even though the vast, overwhelming majority of people consider it a done deal aready, whether you’re technically right doesn’t matter on this point.*  Especially when several MMO developers have come out and admitted that open beta is, for better or worse, less about testing and bug fixing than it is about hype and free advertisement.

Sure, sometimes games rapidly change between open beta and launch (or even by the first month post-launch), and it’s certainly not fair to keep judging them solely by beta experiences.  And when that time rolls around, it should be expected for people to talk about the game as it is, not as it was.  But there’s no need to get all badger-angry over people dissing a beta you’re enjoying — it’s all part of the conversation, and if you’re allowed to gush over a game that’s just “in beta”, so they can critique it.  You can’t have one and not the other without looking like a loon.

* And sherbet’s pronounced “sher-bet” not “sher-bert”.  Look it up.

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23 thoughts on “The Ultimate Deflection Shield: “It’s In Beta”

  1. To be hones, I played Fallen earth beta since early stages and decided not to play it.
    Then, after release, everybody started raving about it and I gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised.
    So, you see, sometimes a beta IS a beta.

    Generally I don’t understand people who preorder to get into Close or Open Beta thinking it’s like a free trial, and when they cannot login because the servers are full start screaming that they will cancel the preorder because the game ‘sucks’.

    or people who complain that there is no end-game, when the Beta is limited to level 16 ….

    I would imagine is that kind of comment that pisses people off, one thing is posting what you think about a game (everybody is unfortunately entitled to his opinions – or to say it with Clint Eastwood, ‘opinions are like balls, everyone has his own’) other is ranting and insulting and saying that WOW is much better or crap like that

  2. The open beta thing is definitely a shield. It’s companies essentially wanting to have their cake and eat it. They want to be able to attract players to the game, hype them up but then have a comeback for bugs and issues. It’s called a soft launch and I think it’s a perfectly viable strategy.

    Of course, gamers shouldn’t expect that a beta is the final product. Reality is, they are getting to play a game for free, without commitment, and that’s a pretty sweet deal. Until the moment the game is released, we really shouldn’t judge betas. Yes, it’s unlikely that a miracle patch will occur but it *may* happen and we owe it to the devs to allow them that opportunity.

    As soon as one buys the retail copy of the game though, well, then they have every right to moan about whatever they want :)

  3. I agree with that last paragraph, but not the gist of this post.

    Or more like, I think you’re over-simplifying.

    If someone in the current beta of STO says “I hate this game…all this space combat is boring.” and someone counters with “It’s a beta, stupid.” then yup, I agree with you.

    But the first time I played WoW there was 1 race in the game (the undead). If I’d said “This game is going to suck because there’s only 1 race in it!” and someone said “It’s beta stupid, they want everyone focused on this 1 race.” then I would’ve been rightfully shot down.

    If you’re talking about that tiny sliver of beta that comes with pre-orders and contests and anything else marketing can come up with, then I agree with you insofar as major design decisions are concerned (see example 1 above) but I still don’t agree with you in regards to anything that relates to server hardware.

    As a developer myself, our “beta testing” is always done on an in-house server that has a fraction of the capacity of our release servers, for fiscal reasons. So our beta release never has the capacity of our launch release.

    The same is going to be true of most MMOs. They don’t have the beta hardware capacity that they’ll have at launch, in most cases. So saying a game is going to suck because the login servers are jammed during beta doesn’t really hold water. The game might suck…maybe release will be just as bad. But it might be a completely different experience, too. We just can’t know without taking a tour of the data center and seeing hard numbers.

    Beta is too broad a term to talk in absolutes about it.

    But I do agree that there’s no need to get all badger-angry about the issue, or about anything having to do with games.

  4. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to follow the letter of the law of beta: log in, play, and in the course of playing, report any bugs you find. What you end up doing is helping the developers nail down the things that they missed, and the things that they can’t test (things that require huge amounts of players to stress).

    I take beta as one part preview, one part responsibility. Can you use beta to check out the game before it’s released? Sure. Should you actually participate in beta the way it has historically been offered — to help squash bugs? Absolutely. I’m of the mind that when you willfully sign up for beta, you implicitly agree to do your utmost to report bugs, log in during stress test windows (time willing) and do your part to help make the game better.

    If a person uses beta STRICTLY to get free play time during the period where the developers are still working on the game, and if that user does nothing but complain about performance, about server queues, downtimes and the like, then I believe that that person is an idiot. Like it or not, and regardless of how open beta is marketed or intended in the current atmosphere of hype and marketing, developers DO still use beta — the active and willful input of the community — to MAKE THE GAME BETTER. Simply showing up doesn’t cut it. Bitching about performance doesn’t cut it. If you have technical issues, log it. If you have crashes, log it. Refusing to be active in the improvement process signals your acquiescence in the state of the game, regardless of how many forum or blog posts you create.

  5. It just makes you want to bang someones head on the desk. Failing that you could always just stop looking at the forums. I know I do.

  6. Well, you get nonsensical, purely emotional rants on either side of beta and release, and those usually should be disregarded outright.

    But if someone is testing the beta and says “I’m not liking it because of Reason A, Reason B, and Reason C, and here’s how they might shore things up”, then that’s constructive criticism and equally valid as the person who loves the game because of another set of reasons.

    I think most people are intelligent enough to understand that beta means beta — I wasn’t making a case here that beta should be judged as a released product, mind you — and that things do change over time in MMOs. That’s like saying the sky is blueeeee.

  7. I have been lucky enough to beta nearly every MMO of the past 10 years, starting with UO. Seeing the progression from true beta – as programmers know it – to the fanfare/publicity blitz of open betas today has certainly changed the way companies present their product.

    At the most basic level, when a game reaches the end of closed beta, every game breaking – 100% repeatable – affects everyone bug should be squashed or that content should be removed. This is the main reason many MMOs remove content before open beta as it’s just not ready for massive eyes. The game at open beta should be about stress testing, finding those elusive bugs and balancing.

    There is a massive difference between being disconnected a few times over a few days and being completely unable to login for a week.

    You will never see untested features appear in open beta or massive game-changing ideas. There’s simply no time to test them.

    “It’s beta” is just a metaphor for “man I hope they fix this SOON”.

  8. The sky is blue. I’m looking at it right now. A grey blue colour.

    I think it’s easy enough to identify irrational idiots either side of the arguments used to either disgrace the game in BETA, judging it as you would a fully developed product, and; telling constructive critics to shut up cause it’s just a BETA.

    Neither help the devs out at all.

  9. Also…do not confuse sorbet with sherbet. Or italian ice for that matter. The frozen dessert gods will smite you with furious frozen cherry-flavored anger.

  10. I don’t think there is a black and white answer. For some thing you can answer “it’s beta” because it can be fixed… like a misspelled word in quest text or a bad pathing issue.

    Some thing, though, are not fixable/changeable without a complete overhaul. It’s a core mechanic, and so saying “it’s beta” is a weak deflection at best because more than likely the point cannot be improved.

  11. I completely agree with this, for to long now people have been living in some fantasy world induced by the hype surrounding the product (and thus them).

    Sure bugs will get fixed, but I highly doubt the game will go through some radical gameplay/mechanics changes from open beta to launch.

    Never say never though and there are exceptions but the likely hood is slim to none!

  12. I think betas have jumped the shark. There was a time when a public beta accomplished what they were originally intended to do, which was stress the servers and provide feedback that QA couldn’t have possibly produced in their limited environment.

    Now, they are a marketing tool and a free to play preview. This corrupts the data gathering job as most people aren’t professional testers and don’t have a good idea how to write a helpful bug report. It’s also backfiring more and more as most games now enter this stage of their metamorphosis in an incomplete state, leading to the (forgive me) circle jerk that you are referencing.

    I really wish companies would get back to a serious invite-only beta for a longer period of time, and save the open beta for a week or so prior to release to accomplish stress testing and to uncover exploits that may have been missed. Call me a dinosaur but to me any “open” beta should be on what would otherwise be considered a release candidate.

    Of course that is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  13. If we take STO as a public promo beta, it was for sure not the best promotion. I know a lot of people who cancelled.

    I cannot take a beta as a “true beta” if it is somewhat open and happens 2-3 weeks before release. So yeah, many excuses are a bit delusional, in the way that major gameplay elements change completely before launch.

    If people get worked up about the “spaceship on ground” or “man in space” bugs, I am pretty sure these will be adressed.

    I cannot understand if people get worked up about something like that – but I also do not understand why people should get worked up about those people either. :)

  14. I also know someone who played got a Massively beta key, then preordered the game and got a lifetime subscription. It goes both ways.

  15. Pete S has the crux of it: some things are ok to complain about in beta tests, and some are nonsensical. All beta tests are to some extent stress tests, and so lag and overcrowding aren’t issues worth mentioning. Sometimes, especially in closed betas, certain parts of the game are locked away because devs want players to focus on one part; this can give a false sense of a lack of content. If you experience those issues in the game after release, ok, you have every right to complain.

    On the other hand, complaints about bugs, game balance, gameplay variety, GUI issues, writing quality, etc. are completely valid. I’ve been in rather a lot of beta tests and by and large these issues will remain in the game at launch. Sure, a lot of stuff gets patched – more in some games than in others – but by and large what you experience in open beta is what the game will be like on release. You’re not doing the devs or the community any favors by covering up or making excuses for real flaws.

  16. Pingback: Star Trek Online : Second Impression « A High Latency Life

  17. Of course the second decade of the 21st century does not start until 2011; anyone who doubts this fails utterly at counting and should be retroactively flunked out of kindergarten. This includes all programmers, who every year create thousands of bugs because they cannot keep their 1,2,3s straight.

    The open beta debate is a very different thing. That is the eternal conflict between Naive Faith and Worldly Experience. We wiser, seasoned folk must help our fannish brethren to set aside their child-like folly with the sage wisdom we have accumulated over the years. Lo, I have voyaged through Vanguard and traversed Tabula Rasa, and yea, I was there even when Lord British himself was slain. I tell you true: if that missing feature ain’t there now, it almost surely won’t be on launch day. And if by chance it is, it will be so buggy as to be virtually unusable. Now go forth and fanboi no more!

    (The decade issue, by contrast, is a matter of Eternal Truth versus Savage Ignorance. Those who cling to ignorance cannot be helped, only extirpated by fire and steel.)

  18. hu WHAT ?

    I disagree

    you truly thinks the new decade is in 2010 because BILLIONS OF BILLioNS of idiots think that ?

    than a truth is made because there GAZILLIONS of idiots believing it ?

    so, why should not rewrite the books ? ho I know : because years and stuff are too much serious stuff to let idiots tweak them.

    so call stuff like you want , you can call a dog a cat, I don’t CARE. and you let me sell aluminium hat to stup.. customers.


    and ho, yeah, there are REAL “haters” in the world. it’s not a term to loathe, it’s a term to accept.

    no, not every mmo was in beta just to fool people. it’s true many game will not change after they go in public beta. if it suck, yup, you can be sure it will suck at launch day. but it’s not an universal law, it’s alla about the editors/publishers of the game.


    sometime people are right to criticize and sometimes they are wrong.

    you are ranting here, in the other side of the argument.

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