There’s no two ways about it, games are a complicated business. Making sure something is totally bug free is a nigh-on impossible task, with countless permutations of player movement and choice to accurately predict. The more systems you layer in, the more difficult it becomes to understand how to counter all of the issues that may flare up. Bethesda might not have expected you to put one of Fallout 4’s key items in a bloatfly corpse and try to fire it out of a Junk Jet. Hey presto, you’ve stumbled on a game-ending bug.
The way around this is testing. The bigger publishers use small armies of testers to play through sections of game many times over, scrutinising every mechanic for potentially odd behaviour. Smaller devs often have to painstakingly do it on their own, but it’s not an exact science. Paying testers doesn’t come cheap. Get 20 in for a year and you could have easily spent half a million dollars. The cheapest and easiest way to do it is to get gamers to do it for you. For free. And now, it turns out, people will even pay for the privilege.
I mean, talk about turning the tables. People are paying publishers, which rake in billions of dollars of revenue, to test their games for them. It’s like giving Wladimir Klitschko a tenner to smash you in the face before a big fight. You know, just to get some practice in. Well that’s exactly the situation we had with The Division beta, which is running right now.
The $10 tier in a Humble Bundle granted you guaranteed access to the beta test. Failing that you could have pre-ordered a copy and got yourself a key. I tried this, with the intention of cancelling my pre-order once I had the key. I was told my account would have to be charged and my purchase locked-in if I accepted the beta key. Swivel, Ubisoft, it could be an absolute stinker.
They are by no means alone though. Beta keys are being thrown out with abandon for all sorts of pre-orders, and it’s increasingly being used as a marketing trick to hook players in, rather than as a genuine attempt to bug test the game. Which is, by my estimation, a very ugly way of doing things. Public perception has been skewed like they’re doing us a favour, with “Beta Key Giveaways” and “Exclusive Access!”, when the absolute opposite is true. When you beta test, you are helping them create a better product. A better product which they then turn around and sell to you.
You can probably tell where I stand on this matter, but what do you think? Do you just look at betas as a chance to play a game early? Have you ever paid for a beta key? Let us know!