Up For Debate - Is it Fair to Judge a Beta Test as a Game Demo?

Written by Jon Sutton on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 5:23 PM
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The closed beta for Sea of Thieves kicked off this week, and it didn’t take long for the hot takes to roll in. There were widespread server issues and general technical problems that prevented people from playing, leading to Rare extending the beta test by another two days. I saw someone suggest the game was already a sinking ship, implying that beta tests shouldn’t be deployed in this sort of state.

Which kind of got me thinking just how the meaning of the words ‘beta test’ has eroded in recent years. To my mind, the very reason the Sea of Thieves closed beta has even taken place is so that these exact issues come up and steps can be taken to solve them before launch. Rare still has nearly two months to go until Sea of Thieves’ March 20th release date so there’s plenty of time to make changes, particularly on the technical side of things.

But regardless, players were disappointed, and there’s an argument being made that a beta test serves as a demo, and it’s not good enough it shouldn’t be provided to players. A lot of this is down to a few publishers clearly using open betas as temporary demos. When you’ve got the likes of Battlefield 4 and Star Wars Battlefront playable the week before the games are due to launch, it’s more a case of marketing than testing. It’s caused a gradual erosion in how we perceive beta tests; many expect a fantastic, playable game in a near-final state or they cry foul.

It wasn’t always like this though. Years ago, beta tests were a fair bit less common but they were also deployed to the community in the understanding that this was for testing. Things would change and the feedback from players would help to change it. Players were being given an early chance to play the game in order to help out the development team. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

I think a lot of the added complexity of this situation comes down to the bizarre trend of charging gamers for beta access, whether that’s a direct payment for an early edition or a pre-order bonus. The instant this is done, as was the case with Sea of Thieves, gamers shift from being beta testers to paying customers. It’s really strange that this has even become a thing, let alone a standard, with fans effectively paying to do the testing for a game. It does mean that if anything about a beta test should disappoint, they’re going to complain, and we’re seeing this with Sea of Thieves. While Rare hasn’t come right out and said it, this is probably a large factor in why the beta has been extended. Fans have stumped up $60 for a pre-order on the assumption they’d get to play the SoT beta for four days, and when they don’t get that they’re probably right to ask to be recompensed.

When I started writing this piece I was vehemently on the side of a beta test being exactly that - a beta for testing purposes. The further delve into the issue though, the greater the argument a beta, particularly when paid for, does act as a demo, and perhaps gamers are right to expect more. The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere inbetween.

What are your thoughts? Should beta testers cut developers some slack, or is it right to slam a game if the beta has serious issues? Let us know your thoughts!

Is it Fair to Judge a Beta Test as a Game Demo?

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12:36 Jan-28-2018

Since demos are pretty rare these days and betas offer some sort of an early look at the game, I say yes.

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14:58 Jan-27-2018

Yes, demo's are non existant almost these days.

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14:18 Jan-27-2018

In beta if there are some bugs then it's fine but if the gameplay is boring then you should judge it

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13:27 Jan-27-2018

I'm against the pre-order culture in general, therefore any beta that requires you to pre-order is, to me, a demo. You can do closed betas for subscriptors or w/e, but the minute you put money on the table its a demo.

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06:28 Jan-27-2018

If it is EA, yes. If it isn't EA then no. EA treats open beta as demo.

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03:49 Jan-27-2018

Maybe. Beta tests are just that: a test. Some issues simply cannot be found without pushing the game into a live environment. Server issues are pretty much a guarantee.


Unless it's a situation like EA where the "beta tests" are literally just glorified demos.

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01:35 Jan-27-2018

i think beta is an "unfinished" version game and demo is "finished but incomplete/tini fraction of the actual version" game. while the words are similiar, they're completely different.

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22:52 Jan-26-2018

Maybe, since beta is suppose to be representative of what you will get. Limited sure and it should be judged as unfinished product. But just because it is unfinished, this doesn't mean it has to get free pass.However,if you judge it publicly, you absolutely should make it clear it is not finished, so things can change.

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22:12 Jan-26-2018

if it's an open beta(open means u don't have to pre order it to gain access right?) then no it's alright even pre order bonuses are OK.
bugs are common things on online based games it shouldn't be surpising!

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22:07 Jan-26-2018

Remember when monthly magz have discs with a few demos of a few games in it?And till the time of release they have QA people?...
Yeah.That was demo because the developers/publishers paid.This is not,if you pay to play an unfinished game.They just don't hire QA anymore and they can get some cash back fast and have a bunch of people test the game before the date.

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21:24 Jan-26-2018

I don't at all believe in paying for the exclusive right to access a beta, under any circumstances. In a lot of cases, open betas are a good way to generate interest among curious players who would otherwise be put off from buying the game.
The concept of what a beta is seems to be lost on too many people these days.

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21:22 Jan-26-2018

Betas are not demos. A demo is a piece of an already complete game that's supposed to present you accurate performance and gameplay of that game in order for you to decide whether you want to buy it or not. Beta test is a functionality test of an unfinished game. But that doesn't mean that games during the beta phase cannot be criticized nor judged.

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21:22 Jan-26-2018

Games in the beta phase are near their finishing point where the overall gameplay loop and all essential features are implemented and working, at least they should be.
It's the "ironing out" phase, where you check the functionality of your game, deal with as much bugs as you can and add some small finishing touches and fix errors.

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21:22 Jan-26-2018

Therefore I think they can be criticized and judged, while keeping in mind that you shouldn't be criticizing bugs and software errors because they'll most probably be fixed.

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18:06 Jan-26-2018

What I find more frustrating is that some people are ''misinformed'' Sea of Thieves closed beta is actually finished product when devs have said that they removed most of the content for the beta and left it for launch (they even disabled quite a lot of closed alpha content for the beta).

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17:56 Jan-26-2018

I belive it depends on how much time there still is until the launch. If the beta test is one week before the launch, then it's fair to say we are playing a demo. If the beta is a few months before the launch then it is an early build test.

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17:53 Jan-26-2018

It depends what stage the beta is in, and what the problems are..... If a game is a year or more away from release, at NO point is it fair to judge the game by the beta. If a game is only a couple months from release, it's pretty safe to assume that what you're playing is largely what you're going to get, so if there were any huge glaring problems that would likely require a significant amount of changes to fix, it might be fair to judge the game.

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17:55 Jan-26-2018

Conversely.... judging a game beta because of poor server connectivity, trouble logging in, or minor technical issues is completely stupid, late stage betas pretty much entirely exist for sorting out those types of issues.

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21:24 Jan-26-2018

I agree with you on this pretty much 100%.

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17:45 Jan-26-2018

Not when you have to pay for it!

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17:45 Jan-26-2018

Using basic logic, a demo is a small part of an already finished game. So it illustrates the final values of that said product. A beta test, is just what the name implies. The intended audience is sampling the product, which is still in development. What I don't agree is paying a sum to gain access, beta testing should be free.
As for the complaints part, some gamers are just entitled little weasels that need a good hard spanking! :)

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