The beta is a very important stage of game production. It's where problems are ironed out before the game hits the shelves, and where feedback is given and improvements are made.
Beta's tend to have two major stages. The first being private beta, these tend to be invite only. Invites are mostly given to gamers who have played previous titles of the publisher. An invite is even more likely if the gamer has experience playing the prequel as these gamers are their core fan-base and are more likely to be forgiving with rough edges and they are more likely to know how to smooth them out.
The other stage is public beta which sometimes actually has two stages within itself, or more of a phased approach which allows players who are premium members or who fans who pre-ordered the game to join the beta a little bit earlier then others. This being as its name implies, tends to be when a game opens its doors to more members of the gaming community acting almost like a demo, raising profile and giving gamers a taste of what to expect. This is where it becomes a double edged sword, it makes or breaks a games reputation.
I am currently tracking two games both of which are in their own beta testing stages; Dust 514 and StarHawk. Two games that may not be on your radar, but definitely games worth checking out and picking up once they are available (both scheduled for Spring 2012). Both games will offer unique experiences on the Playstation 3.
StarHawk uses an innovative system called Build n' Battle. This allows gamers to actually affect the battlefield, dropping various pieces of equipment such as sniper towers, weapon bunkers, turrets and even vehicles.
With a game this ambitious, taking time with it and giving the game time to develop and grow in beta stage is crucial. After internal testing and the developers waiting until it had reached a satisfactory level, the game was opened up to select gamers for private beta testing.
The game went the private beta route picking gamers who had interacted with them previously and who were in a position to give valuable feedback. With the feedback coming from experienced gamers from the WarHawk community (WarHawk is the sort of prequel to StarHawk)it was crucial that Lightbox (the development team behind StarHawk) listened and more importantly acted upon what was said.
Luckily they did, well going from what community members have said, regarding the game at the start of its journey. StarHawk was not half as polished as the version I was lucky enough to get my hands on, showing you that a developer who uses the beta stage to its fullest can really help their title.
Dust 514 is another ambitious game which brings the universe of MMO EVE to a new space, an FPS on PS3. Dusters take up the role of mercenaries, contracted by EVE pilots. Fighting their war, not in the skies but on the ground as they fight for control over thousands of planets in the EVE solar system.
With this ground breaking interaction between a PC game and a PS3 title, which actually allows EVE pilots to support or hinder the PS3 gamers on the planet below. CCP (creators of Dust 514) also chose to take the private beta approach, opening up quite rightly to their existing EVE fanbase, as they are the ones who will be most effected by the changes Dust 514 promises to make to their established universe, who will no doubt valuable feedback to provide.
For anything attempting to do what Dust514 is setting out to achieve, testing is vital. Being that this is their first foray into the console market, you can bet before that falls into the general publics hands it will be extensively tested and tweaked.
So if companies such as Lightbox, and CCP understand the importance of having more then just a polished turd shown to the public, I fail to see why a company as large as EA doesn't.
EA have just released a demo for their new game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, I was tragically disappointed by this game. It's an action RPG, which has had some stand out titles already; I mean who has stopped playing Skyrim yet?
But with Kingdoms of Amalur just playing through the demo you can tell it was not ready to be released, even in demo format. There were graphical and sound issues, not to mention I would have NPC dialog completely skip till I am to give an input, makes it a little hard to make an informed choice not knowing what was said (not that it's hard to see what choice your supposed to make).
Sadly this is not the first time EA has released a game before its ready. With their beta release for Battlefield 3, EA again rushed the game through to PSN and Xbox Live hoping it would build up hype. Instead it harms the game in the media as well as the gamer's eyes. Gamers tend to be a fickle bunch one bad review or experience is all it takes to put them off a game and take a negative stance on it and its not like they are short on choice, with almost every genre having two or three AAA titles.
As much as a Beta or even a demo does not represent the game you're likely to pick up in stores, some gamers don't keep this in mind and just think the game itself is poor, just saying "Not representative of final product" wont change this. It may be a negative way of thinking, but that is how it works (did I mention gamers are fickle).
Games designers need to get it right or fear the consequences.
I am sure Kingdoms of Amalur will be a fine game (I mean any game with Todd McFarlane's influence should be good) but the demo, which you can try for yourselves on PSN or XBL now (if you're a Mass Effect fan fighting through this 45min+ demo does get you armour and a gun for the up and coming Mass Effect 3) did not show it in it's best light.
How do you think Beta's and demos should be used? Just to pacify the gaming public wanting any kind of fix, or should they be given as much care as launching the game itself, slowly involving more and more people till the product is ready.
Have you played StarHawk, Dust 514 or even Kingdom of Amalur? Or have you played a demo that has put you off from buying a game?
Please comment below to share your opinion.
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