May 10, 2011

The always present desire to Beta

The age old desire of the average gamer to get into a beta test. Yea, I remember that feeling, the desire and hope that I would get selected. Even going so far as to try and hype up how great of a tester I would be and how many bug reports I would fill out. Every net nerd who has ever desired to play a game before its scheduled release has either typed it, said it or just thought about it. There is no denying that no matter what, you want in that beta because you know how unbelievably cool that will be.

And then you get invited and... well everything you thought would be awesome just falls apart right in front of you. Beta's are not glamorous or all that fun. I've been in plenty, even been in a few alphas before, and quite frankly, even though I submit beta applications still for games I am interested in, I more or less hope I don't get selected anymore. Oh yea, there is a part of me that really wants to play the game and such, but the realistic part, the part that has been in more betas than I care to remember, understands that even though some parts will be fun, more parts will be frustrating.

Saying I've been in a lot of betas would be an understatement. Honestly, it would be easier to ask which MMOs I have not beta'd than to ask which ones I have been in. And the wow factor of getting into the beta comes crashing to a halt once you get in and you see the product as it is currently in testing, months out from when it is suppose to be ready. Sure, a lot changes in those months, but you also come to the realization that you are there to provide feedback and find bugs and break things. That means playing a lot of stuff over and over and over a lot in a beta. That gets very tedious.

Then of course comes the other problems. Even if you have a rather uneventful near bugless time and things run smoothly, you are still going to run into the issue of having to constantly repeat content, server wipes to test changes, and expected buffs, nerfs, and complete changes to entire systems as they stand as developers toe the waters on what might be good and what might not. It's a never ending process and it happens rapidly, sometimes giving you almost no time to even play with a change and explore its full potential before its gone again other times changes that do nothing but frustrate you for weeks on end even up to launch.

Then of course this boils down to another problem inherent with beta testing in general; the been there done that syndrome. As a tester, you are encouraged to do everything you can possibly do in the game. That's all and well, but when the game finally reaches the point it's gone live, you've already done it. There is almost no chance that you will actually be mildly astonished when the game has gone live, at all. So what are you going to be left with?

Truthfully, you will be left with waiting for the next big thing to happen in that game you tried so desperately to get into before it even was ready to launch. Honestly, you will have ruined your palette for it. It's a sad but honest truth. Nothing will ever be the same way the second time, because you know the answers and how things are suppose to be done. Or even worse, how something would of worked if the original systems worked properly and how much cooler something would of been if it worked that way.

Being a beta tester is a provincial curse, as it were. As awesome as it is to get involved in the game early, and how great it is you can feel to supply information to developers and help shape and lead the game in a direction you think will help, the end result will be devastating to you in the end, because you will have an early sense of been there and done that. I've watched so many games in their development process, some having real potential being ruined by the few vocal minority that never planned to actually continue playing the game after launch and then there are the ones who are just there to play a game and not even really help the testing process.

It's a very hard thing for a developer to find a decent pool of people to test for them. But, like my last blog, I am going to offer some advice on how to present testing feedback if your heart is dead set on trying every possible way to get into a beta.

First, play the game, but remember you are there to test it. Expect wipes and expect to do the same things over a lot. Be sure to screenshot regularly if you can, and learn how to create detailed reports.

Second, create a proper bug report. Many bug reports have multiple sections to file it under, do your best to do that. And fill in as much detail, even down to the clothes you were wearing on your character, of what was going on. Even the tiniest detail could lead to a clue why a bug happened. After all, I've ran into some very interesting ones, like looking at a certain wall texture with glowing eyes would cause a crash.

Third, the moment a bug occurs, screenshot it and try to fill out the bug report then. If it's a crash bug, when the crash monitor comes up, try to put as much detail into the report as possible. Again, like down to the clothing, as much detail may help the developers isolate the bug faster.

Fourth, when discussing balance do not think of just what would work for you, but think of how it would affect everyone. Just because you believe you should one shot everyone with ease doesn't mean you are balanced. Try to think of the power from all angles including the one where it is used against you. A power might sound awesome when you first start thinking about it, but then when you apply it to you being used against you or what even the twinks could do with it, then thinks start to unravel.

In closing, as awesome as getting in a beta might be, the worst thing about it is the disappointment you might experience, especially if you hyped yourself up over the product in general. Betas are long, drawn out processes, that involve lots of lag, crashes and buggie things that happen. Though you can have fun experiences and it will be one of the few times that you will probably get to interact directly with developers, one has to wonder if the negatives outweigh the perks. Because you could potentially ruin an entire game for yourself before it is even ready, not to mention the frustration that can come if one unexpected showstopping bug appears.

Have any comments, please leave them here. :)

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