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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Beta Testing Too

Well, Rich replied to my last post, mentioning Beta Testing, and so, now I have to talk about that too.

Open Beta testing is probably one of the worst ideas ever. It does two very bad things. 1. It makes the players aware of the hidden mathematics and systems in the game (which is just asking for exploitation) and 2. It gives players an unfinished product, and makes them think that their suggestions will actually be listened to.

The first point is something people often actually want. Let's face it, in the MMO world especially, knowing the precise math behind your actions can make things work a lot smoother than they would otherwise. If you know exactly how many points of agility per point of strength you need for that uber character, then you're just a little better than that guy who's just guessing. For a player, knowing the math also means less in-game experimentation and fun. Figuring out the game and how it works is often most of the fun of the game, by beta testing you loose a lot of that.

For a Game Developer, knowing exactly how the math works means exploits are easy. You start seeing very specific hacking, and players utilizing strange combinations of items to produce a profound effect. If the players know the math, they will use that for any advantage they can, whether these advantages are legal or not.

The second problem with beta testing is the simple fact that players get to see the inner workings of the game. They get first-hand experience of game elements that may not make it to final production, and they get to see what the game developers are really like. They also get to see the broken game, before it is polished and finished. These aspects can quickly sour a player to a game.

Also, players who beta test ofen have a lot of good ideas, all of which cannot possibly be implimented. A good idea may be cast to the way-side. Sometimes, this means a loss in faith of the dev team. Sometimes, a really good idea is skewed by the devs, and it seems ruined. Players often don't forget these infractions.

Something to weight carefully when considering a beta test is the potential for fixes and retooling beta testing provides compared to the raw impact of a released game. Beta testing takes away some of that thunder, because gamers, like everyone else, want to be the first to try something. Games loose some appeal after a beta test (unless it's an amazing game, and then they only gain speed).

Overall, beta testing has more negatives than positives. It doesn't really fix all that much more than an in-house testing could, and often releases too much information about a potential game. I just don't think it's worth it to have any sort of beta testing outside of the gaming company.

So, up next is a continuation of Star Wars: Rebellion. Stay tuned.

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