“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.