The Sorry State of Beta-Access Incentives

beta accessPicture 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.

pre order for beta accessThe 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.

destiny betaBetas 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.

doom betaWhat 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.

One comment

  1. Rob Pearce ( User Karma: 5 ) says:

    An excellent read, sorry for the wall of text .
    To often these days we get a Beta dangled in front of us to try to temp us to to pre- order. I remember my first Beta participation , it was CoD: World at war. I suspect it’s purpose was two fold. One to stress test, seek balance and bug hunt, and two , show the fans that this Treyarch Call of duty would be a dam slight better than cod 3 (to be fair they weren’t really at fault for that game). On both counts they succeeded. Beta test invites went out to the community on the forums, to well known competitive players and keys went out in waves. There was no pre-order incentive. Bugs were found in the beta and fixed for release where possible, balance issues raised and addressed, the community provided valuable feedback because the developer asked the right people. They asked the fans who cared and who were prepared to engage on the forums before a beta was even mentioned. On a side note I regret taking part in that because I played it to death and by the time it actually released it didn’t feel new anymore, it took a bit of the release day excitement out of it for me.

    These days it seems that bar a few exceptions you have to pre-order for beta access. They are asking people to blindly invest in order to test the game, sometimes those tests come too close to release to actually implement changes. Are they asking the right people to test their games? Why go for the people who pre-order just to play it early but don’t engage with the community or on the forums? Why not reward the forum community who want to help make the release smooth and will provide you with the valuable information the ones who go beyond just buying the game and playing. For a call of duty title a pre-order beta is nothing more than a cash grab and it’s got Activision written all over it. It’s a cheap ploy in my book.
    Games like Rainbow Six are taking a different approach. They’ve had closed alpha tests (changes from that have indeed been made) and a closed beta is to come soon but it seems IGN have been dishing out these codes (I have one), which leads me to wonder how wise it is and whether that’ll effect impartiality when reviewing.
    Halo MCC would have benefitted greatly from a larger beta test (although there may have been unknown hinge at play) and would have saved a lot of anger and embarrassmental.
    So what is the answer?

    I think that closed betas should be used to test changes implimented as a result of the Apha test. An open beta shouled be held if the developer requires a bigger sample size and to put the servers under greater stress, in essence alphas and betas should be used and considered for technical reasons, not financial ones.

    *Early access is another option like we get with Elite dangerous (great game btw) on xbox one where you can trial the game and purchase if you like what you see although this is kind of different to a traditional beta test us console users are used too.

Leave a Reply