These days the word “Beta” is thrown around like an old dirty rag and doesn’t really mean much to the end user other than “oh it’s a beta, it must be buggy”. Why is this word thrown around in such a way and because of what? What is fundamentally broken with the consumers perspective of the word Beta.
These are some of the questions I will be attempting to tackle within this article. Bare with me on this as everything mentioned in this article is based purely on my opinion and observation of the community, whether it be on forums or YouTube comments these people are still part of the community. With that said let’s get into it.
The word “Beta” within the context of video games is used to define which stage of development a video game is in. There are several steps prior to that of Beta, such as Concept, Prototype, Alpha, Beta, Final Build, Release build. Some development studios may have slightly different approaches to how they create games, for example some may have several concept phases or prototype phases. With all of these different stages how does this translate to the game getting the “Greenlight”, which basically means the game will receive funding, to officially start investing in asset creation, voice actors, the works. First the game developer needs to provide a pitch which is generally done during the concept or prototype phase, the pitch will be what the developer presents to a publisher. The Publisher determines if they want to fund the project.
Now that we have the idea of game creation in our minds, the chances of a Beta being released to the public is very marginal at best. Though in recent years we are starting to see an increase in publicly available Beta’s. Games that have had both public and closed Beta’s are “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Titanfall, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege and recent Beta’s include Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. All of these games had Beta’s that were public in some fashion meaning they were not just seen behind closed doors or in-house.
Is moving the Beta from the development studio into the hands of consumers a good or bad thing? On the one hand we have the opportunity for the end user to be able to get a hands on experience with the game which allows them to decide if they are willing to purchase the title. On the other hand we have the notion that if you release a Beta publicly then the people that jump on it will play their fair share of it and not want to invest in the game after launch.
There are two sides to that idea and something developers have been struggling to notice is the fact that both sides do occur. There needs to be a balance between the content we do see and the length the player gets to experience within the Beta. Limiting this but still keeping the content fun and enjoyable will leave the player wanting more rather than playing hours and hours during a Beta and never wanting to play it again.
I can’t sit here and tell you what the correct balance is. That is really up to the game designer and marketing team to work on but what I can tell you is there has been a sudden shift in the Beta market whereas we used to just have public Beta’s but now we’re seeing the rise of Exclusive Beta’s. Have you wondered why recent games you’ve pre-ordered have come with a Beta for another game? That is the concept behind Exclusive Beta’s, they are designed to compel fans into buying one game to gain early access to content for another yet to be released game. Carrot meet stick. We have seen this in the past with Uncharted 3: Darke’s Deception where you would gain access to the Multiplayer Beta if you pre-ordered Infamous 2. People who had Infamous 2 or Playstation Plus got to play the Multiplayer Beta on June 28, 2011 whereas if you didn’t have either you got to play the “Public” version July 5th, 2011, a full 9 days later.
Some may not agree with this approach but the aim is to gain more sales for one game while building interest in another game among fans. With that said we have seen a Multiplayer Beta for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End recently that was considered a “Closed Beta” even though it was given to everyone who purchased Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. The catch was, even if you paid for that game bundle you were still required to have PlayStation Plus to play the content you earned by purchasing the Uncharted Collection. For people like myself who refuse to purchase Playstation Plus, we may be out of luck, though to me the Uncharted 4 Multiplayer Beta was a publicly available Beta awarded to everyone but it had a pay wall as it needed a license for the Uncharted Collection to be playable. So while developers are technically awarding purchasers with access to their Beta, they are in actuality limiting the amount of people who could gain access to them purely based on this PlayStation Plus restriction. To me this seemed rather daft that a Multiplayer Beta, technically not a closed Beta, required this.
It doesn’t stop there, the new Hitman title, which by the way is a multi-platform title, also has an exclusive Beta but instead of it being locked to pre-orders no no no my friend it is limited to the Playstation 4 and only to those who have subscribed to Playstation Plus. Wait so a game that isn’t even an exclusive or includes multiplayer… is locked to PS4 users and out of those users only the ones that pay for Playstation Plus? Seems like a lot of hoops to jump through.
This is the kind of behavior that annoys me, as a gamer or as a writer honestly I can’t understand why a developer would limit their public testing phase to only one platform. We all know that out of all the platforms the game’s released on PC will have the most issues day one (Let me know if you disagree below). Now, I say that with the knowledge that a lot of PC games of late have had major performance issues. Would it not benefit the developers and the gamer to have Beta’s focused on platforms, like the PC, who have had issues? Rather than focusing only on console releases.
The whole point of open public Beta’s was to improve the final product of the game. With the emergence of exclusive beta’s we’ve introduced a whole new dynamic of what a beta is. It’s almost become a sales feature now rather than a constructive tool. And the PlayStation Plus restriction is yet another obstacle to prevent people from taking part. Do you think the changes seen in how Beta’s are handled is a good thing for the industry and in improving games? Or is it just becoming another gimmick to make more money? Let us know what you think in the comment section below. Believe me, I will be responding to many of them.