Picture the scene. It’s that time of year when your favourite shooter comes out. It could be an annually released title, or it could be one you’ve been waiting years for. You’re dying to play it, but you skipped over the option of pre-ordering the game to get beta access, so that you would be able to play it completely on launch day, with all of it to savour. You weren’t the only one with this mindset.
The game releases and in a freak scenario (bear with me, please!), not one person pre-ordered the game to play the beta, instead waiting to play the game in full on day one. You start up the game, and the game is buggy, faulty, and everyone is using the same weapon/trick to try win the game/match. Lobby systems are broken, friends can’t connect to you, nobody can communicate, you fall through the floor, the game doesn’t save your progress, and at the end of it all, you’re nothing but disappointed.
The developer speaks out on social media and in a press release saying “Well, you should have pre-ordered. Not enough people played the beta, so we couldn’t stress test it or follow up on user feedback. Blame the consumers.”
Thankfully this wouldn’t happen, not even close to it. People will put money down for beta access and all sorts of pre-order incentives, whether it’s extra costumes, guns, a bonus level or mission, and then there’s the physical pre-order bonuses, which we won’t go into here. But why tease fans with beta access for an upfront payment of your product? Beta access or not, handing over money in advance for an unfinished, still in development product is a bad idea. Sure, if it’s for a series that has proven itself in the past, by all means, have some faith. A brand new IP though, you would want to be careful.
Betas are a fantastic way in this day and age, thanks to technology, to test out your product in a live environment, and get tonnes of background data to find out what works, what doesn’t work, what needs fixing, and what works well. Offering a testing ground to your consumers but behind a paywall is a bit far-fetched, and somewhat cheeky. Fans may defend the idea, but overall, it’s cheap. Developers should be encouraging fans to try out the beta, and make it into the best product it can be come launch day. To offer it only to those who pay in advance is a snide tactic, another way of squeezing money out of people’s pockets before the product hits the shelves.
What if, after the beta test period, the game launches and it still has issues found in the beta? Did the fan feedback help, or was there no time to apply the fixes before launch? What use was the beta then? Was it an teasing demo promoted as a ‘beta’, just to start the flow of money? Even still, a demo is a demo, and trying to sell a demonstration as a pre-order incentive is uncool. You don’t see demonstrations in grocery stores trying to sell you a sliver of cake or breaded chicken, they want you to try it for free, to give you taste of it, so you’ll buy the whole product yourself.
The bottom line and the meaning behind all this is that betas should be accessible to the game’s community, or at least as part of a random selection which fans can sign up for. Developers should be prohibited from offering a beta as an incentive to part with cash.