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Beta Tests: Technical vs Stunt

Beta Hitman

Games in beta are technically unfinished, and they are undergoing beta test phases to help polish up the final product for release. From indie titles like The Culling, North and Encom to AAA entries like Overwatch, Hitman and The Division – all these titles are currently in beta as of writing.

Yet in recent history, games in beta have become increasingly popular tools for promoting rather than testing a game. The ability to try out a game before anyone else is a powerful motivator to spend money on a game that’s still in development and therefore is still technically unfinished.

Before diving into the beta of a game, here are a couple of ways that can help us to determine whether we are signing up for a technical test or a PR stunt.

Technical Betas

First offered to professional testers. The very early stages of a game beta will be fraught with bugs, errors and balance issues. This is why most games in alpha or early beta are offered to those that actually know how to test a game and are often paid to do so. These people sign non-disclosure agreements and are often required to give their assessments in a very specific format. They’re also required to play the game thoroughly over multiple playthroughs, which makes beta testing more like work than play.

Emphasis on feedback and stability. Technical beta tests want your feedback to make the game better, and they make this a lot easier by providing the means to make it easier to communicate with the development team. This ranges from developers actively responding to issues being pointed out on the game’s forums to surveys and/or questionnaires to help structure your feedback regarding the game.

Advertised features are available to be tried out. Technical betas want you, the beta tester, to see whether certain features work properly or not. This can range from checking out core gameplay mechanics to running stress tests on whether the servers can survive a deluge of players all hopping on at once. Do note, though, that the game’s developers may not explicitly tell you what features you’re testing. This is often the case in open betas where they quietly gather data from a large pool of players as they go about testing the game.

Stunt Betas

Excessive emphasis on monetization. One of the most obvious signs that you are looking at a stunt beta is if the developer pushes you to buy the game or spend cash on in-game items. Founders packs, early bird prizes or pre-order privileges are not inherently bad, but too much focus on getting you to part with your money is a strong sign that you’re buying a game that’s not yet finished but not for beta testing it.

Features are advertised but not present in-game. Another glaring sign of a PR stunt masquerading as a beta test is when the game’s publishers are banking on promises to attract you to sign up. While few publishers would outright lie, you need to be on the lookout against ones that spend too much time and effort hyping up non-existent features.

Feedback is either ignored, discouraged or censored. A beta test is supposed to be about testing a game to spot bugs and balance issues that will hamper gameplay. If the developers are unresponsive to issues being pointed out by the testing community, or if the devs prevent this discussion or even shut them down altogether, then they’re not as invested in improving the game based on the feedback of the testers.

Do keep in mind, however, that betas are becoming increasingly popular tools not just for testing but for marketing as well. It is inevitable that elements of both testing and marketing elements will blend together, but knowing a thing or two about their differences will better inform both consumers and retailers about what kind of beta they’re looking at.

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