Betas: What Are They and Do We Really Need Them?

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Imagine purchasing what you hope to be a delicious chicken parmigiana at your favourite restaurant, but only to find that it is missing the cheese, ham and the sauce. That’s called a schnitzel, not a parmigiana, and it’s safe to say that you feel ripped off. These days when it comes to video games, the full release feels much like this. The games are full of bugs, crash problems and performance issues.

Publishers and developers seem to only care about building hype for their new game. But then it crashes and burns, after fans have handed over their cash. This is where Betas come into play. Betas are the version of the game that are soon to be fully released, but allow the developers to measure performance and search for bugs and crashes before they reach the final product.

Recently, developers have released these Betas to the public, usually through closed programs for the bigger fans of the companies or for people who pre-purchase the games, however some games do get released to the entire public for a day or so, known as ‘Open Betas’. This allows developers to get mass feedback from players who may or may not be fans of their game or their company, which in return provides the developers with the information to fix or change things in their game before they release it to the public as a full game.

Long-time video game player, Web Design student and video game critic, Torryn ‘PurpleFlavoured’ Clark believes that Betas act as glorified ads, attempting to make a disappointing game look good to reach more sales.

“Betas these days are too close to the release date and developers care more about pre-orders than actually fixing games. An example is Destiny 2, which has so many fundamental flaws that could have been phased out years ago, but (publisher) Activision only care about sales and shock value. They don’t let anyone near the game until it’s basically done, hence the Beta of Destiny 2 being released only a month before its full release,” he said.

Games like Call of Duty and Destiny 2, are Activision’s triple A titles in which they put some degree of effort into producing for their large fan bases. However, in comparison to Blizzard’s triple A titles such as Overwatch and World of Warcraft, you would question whether you were getting a schnitzel when paying for a parmigiana. Blizzard takes pride and puts a great deal of effort into their titles, while Activision relies on shock value to get sales.

“World of Warcraft (WoW) is how you do Betas correctly. Select members of the community, who are veterans, highly knowledgeable (or) good Beta feedback suppliers, were allowed into the Beta, so they can provide much needed information for the developers so they can refine the game at every fundamental level for a perfect product. That’s why WoW’s content is robust, where the only time in its history where the quality dipped was when Activison had too much of a say during one expansion and severely crippled the Beta to get better sales,” Mr Clark said.

The fact that in the past two years alone, there have been more than 10 triple A titles being initially released to the public via Beta, testing proves that Betas are popular among triple A developers. Games like Overwatch, Call of Duty, Battleborn and recently Destiny 2 are some of the few triple A titles that were showcased to players mere months before their full releases but, as previously mentioned, is this to find issues within games or are these merely ploys to sell more copies of these video games?

Deakin student and gaming fanatic, Martin ‘Shadow’ Bouma has been a Beta tester for video games since their prime inception more than five years ago. 

“I am currently playing the beta for Fortnite. I enjoy the ability to be able to assist the developers fine tune their games. I prefer games having open or paid Betas rather than releasing a product that isn’t ready for mass market yet. I can think of a few games that were reduced without a proper Beta test. It’s really good when developers are active in the community either via forums or reddit to be able to get a grip on the issues coming up in games. Some games even with Beta testers didn’t have the developers actually listening to what players were saying, which in turn disenfranchised the player base,” Mr Bouma said.

While Betas are a brilliant means of testing for issues within a video game, the primary issue caused by these testings is whether or not developers and publishers are just providing a means to an end, offering a parmigiana, when merely providing players with a schnitzel. While some companies do Betas right, Blizzard being my example with Overwatch and WoW, others’, like Activision, primary goal only seems to be advertising, and come release no changes are even implemented. Betas are incredibly useful and provide determined and faithful developers the information and tools to fix their product before its release, but if companies are going to keep using Betas as a mere shock value ploy to up sales, then I firmly believe that we can all just wait for the full release date.

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