Whilst I’m between the podcast, in which I talked about the issues I had been having with the Neverwinter Beta, which you can hear about to in two parts on the MGLMix Podcast, and the next installment of Mobile friendly I kind of wanted to talk a bit more about alphas and betas in general.
First off, beta as a term is literally the second stage/step after alpha, which is why in gaming we get an Alpha, and then a Beta with some games – the purposes of these usually short term and even more usually small scale releases vary
In the most general terms the release of an alpha or beta is to:
- Test that a newer mechanic isn’t game breaking, or that the game moves fluidly with its slightly tweaked physics adjustment.
- Stress test a server, whilst this is more commonplace on multiplayer games, or open world MMORPG’s, the game needs to be able to handle traffic, and not bug out from sheer volume of people playing the game.
- Give development teams the community feedback that otherwise might only surface after launch, this behaviour alone is the reason we often get a day one patch on titles because of an Alpha/Beta or test level issue that the developers hadn’t had time to address during the creation of the ‘final’ product
Having played the Titanfall, Destiny, Neverwinter and Evolve Betas, as well as the Dying Light and the earlier Evolve alphas, what is interesting is the comparative approaches between the different games (although to look at all of them but Dying Light are primarily a stress test issue)
I recall people selling spare Titanfall beta keys when that dropped and EA had made a total hash of the thing, not that I or anyone at My Games Lounge have an issue with EA (please don’t sue) but they totally dropped a clanger – and the reason I point at them is that they were the publisher and therefore had control over the release of alpha/beta content
Destiny, effectively gave us a quarter of the finished game in that you could do all of Earths missions, what Activision and Bungie did well was that the limited experience within the beta showed off a lot of what Destiny was about, the reception was good, and the few fed back ideas were well received and address to greater and lesser extents in the final product, depending on the developments approach it was both a good and bad beta, and in hindsight should have maybe been a warning flag, but more on that later.
The Dying Light alpha build I played, I actually played on an Xbox 360 about a year and a half ago (by the way I touch on this in our Dying light podcast) – I found that having only played multiplayer builds early, it was nicer to have your own thing to do, and the parkour already worked really well. Effectively I smashed up zombies with a hatchet for twenty minutes (a fact that Cat would be happy with) and decided that this would be a game worth following the progress of.
The Evolve Alpha taught me that I don’t like 4 v 1, it taught me that the game (at that time) was an unbalanced, joyless, pointless mess (sorry to all of you who worked on it, just my opinion), the beta, well it did nothing to improve my perception of things. I kind of wanted to go more into Evolve, but (unlike other sites) we here at My Games Lounge don’t always peddle negativity, so I won’t. The final product also recived a very good review score too so it may have been fixed nicely since then. Check that out below!
The Neverwinter Beta came out, and has now abruptly closed, no warning on the dashboard, no prompts through Xbox live, just closed. The experience for me was a mixed bag, what worked, worked really well, what didn’t work (again have listen to a podcast for my insight on that) was heartbreaking, I will still invest time and effort in the Neverwinter game, which will be free-to-play of course, but now it’s with a sense of foreboding and Impending doom.
Now, secondly (yes that was all derived from my point that Alpha and Beta releases are for development purposes) there is more to the alpha/beta than meets the eye, much like a Transformer it changes, or actually has changed, time was when everything above this paragraph was the truth and the whole truth at that, now however (and I guess to a lesser extent before) there are other factors in the release of a beta
- The release of a beta is a marketing tool, a buzz for the Hype machine, see Destiny and Evolve in slightly more detail momentarily
- It’s a crowded world of gaming, so putting out a free version of an earlier build, or small section of your game, might give players who maybe missed the E3/Games com press conference an opportunity to experience the game(s) discussed first hand, giving them an opportunity to decide if the game is worthy of their cash
I mention the hype machine, and the thing is, I am right, me and Dave referenced the hype machine for Destiny in the MGLMix Podcast (yes, it is so good I will keep on plugging it) and the fact is the Beta was part of that, at the time we all assumed that earth was a small fragment of the massive scale of Destiny
But now, here we are about to receive a second DLC pack and the game still feels hollow, unfinished, and I like Destiny, have a poster up and everything, the thing is, the Beta for Destiny was used to fuel the marketing machine and frankly it did
It was the same for Titanfall, imagine this, you pay for a beta, seriously people were for Titanfall, and what that did was make other gamers sit up and take note, there was a genuine scramble for places on this Beta and people NEEDED to play it
Marketing job done.
With Destiny the hype for a new Bungie/Activision collaboration and the fact it was (rightly or wrongly) being pushed hard by Sony as the “must play game” for PS4, made Destiny already seem like a big deal
Then the Beta came out and the fans, again, went mad for it, it probably also helped the game that it was the first openly co-operative, bro-shooter that had come out on new-gen consoles
Evolve had some big chops to contend with when it’s alpha dropped, and what was interesting at the time was even when the Alpha was announced, and again that self sustaining hype machine was in full flow of this original 4 v 1 idea (clearly you’ve never played gang beasts) was carrying the momentum to be a full on, full speed ahead freight train
But some people were murmuring, some hushed words were thrown around
Repetitive, boring, one gamer even said words along the line of ‘After Destiny I won’t get sucked into another Hype machine’
Interestingly, Titanfall released, got some sales, but then gamers eventually became disinterested in its modes as it is just a multiplayer shooter (until frontier defence was added – which is the only mode I play now, if you’re wondering) – effectively we paid £50 or so, for some maps. Think about it.
Destiny got released and everyone, EVERYONE, said “is that it?” – small additions and playlist dressing up does not disguise the fact that there is legitimately no real content worth £50, and baring in mind we got Earth in the beta, we effectively paid £50 for the moon, Mars and Venus.. oh and a cut scene in a purple asteroid belt.
Evolve has come out (yep you guessed it, Sub mentioned it on our podcast) and has received a mix bag of reviews (if reviews are still your thing) but the feedback I have been picking up on is, you got exactly what you were playing in the beta, just with a couple of extra maps, and a new, over powered, monster.
The fact is modern gaming needs to learn how to do an Alpha/Beta (or demo if you’d prefer) correctly, give us just enough to wet our taste buds, and just enough to keep us guessing, but it still needs to be a great experience (and shouldn’t constitute a quarter of the final game)
The last demo/alpha/beta/marketing exercise that got it right (for me, if you have a different view please feel free to comment in the section below) was Halo 3. I remember liking Halo 1 & 2, I had bought an Xbox 360, and was looking forward to the release of a few games, but got Crackdown because it was shipped with Halo 3 demo access
Granted Crackdown is a stellar game, but this was a great marketing exercise, the maps were only multiplayer. There was literally no content from the campaign on the demo, just a few playable maps.
This was demos done right, other Halo games have repeated this demoing to the letter and pulled it off, other franchises have got it right, but maybe the lesson here is this – do a super limited beta if your game is multiplayer only, if it is a sequel do it amongst the pros, let your marketing division release videos, the hype will build anyway
Anyway, in closing I have a checklist for alpha/beta/demo/marketing ploy releases to come:
- Make sure it’s fun (laggy as hell and unbalanced isn’t fun)
- Make sure it’s not a quarter of your game (the first mission and a couple of multiplayer maps should suffice, and if that is a quarter of your game, good luck)
- Make it either A) a pre-order exclusive or B) in case of sequel give it to people with highest prestige? – C) do not engage in email sign up tactics, you will see your codes on EBay before weeks end
- Make sure it captures the essence of the game (which I don’t think some Beta’s do)
That’s it, feel free to comment, argue, agree, buy me chocolate. Whatever. You can catch our thoughts on a couple of the games I’ve discussed here, in out Podcast, you can get involved, ask questions, and if you want, if it’s not too much trouble, share it out.