The Importance of Beta Testing
It seems like you can’t step foot in the gaming world these days without the latest early access title or paid beta slapping you across the face, simultaneously advertising promises while begging you to cough up just a few units of your precious currency of choice to sample something that is clearly not quite done yet. With this trend increasing at an alarming rate, its easy to forget what the point of a beta test actually is, and how best to use it.
There’s no doubt playtesting is one of the most important things you should be doing when creating a game, and you should be doing a lot of it. Playtesting is the best way to reveal any one of a mass of possible issues from game breaking bugs to performance problems. The problem is, sometimes as the developer, you know too much about your game. Sometimes you need those outside the development team to play it, not just to see how other people play, but also because they will likely find bugs and issues you could never find. Holding beta tests is one of the best ways to get testers to try your game.
The other thing about holding a beta test is that in recent times, a lot of developers have used the early access method to conduct their beta tests, getting gamers to pay for access to unfinished versions of the game before release. This is a good idea for a lot of developers, as it allows you to gain funding while you develop your unfinished game, but only works if you have a decent following before you open early access and have plenty to show to get potential players excited. Many big names in the industry have released games under open betas that have happily gathered thousands of people willing to pay for access to the game before release, and plenty have left gamers behind leaving their unfinished games in early access, while those who paid for it are left with unfinished products.
There is a similar problem on the other side too, in that what a lot of developers want out of a beta test is feedback, and plenty of it too. Even in early access, many of the users will sign up to the beta test or buy access and either post poor feedback or no feedback at all unless they come up against a game killing bug. That sort of thing is ok if you’re only after that sort of feedback, or stress testing an online game, but quite often devs will need detailed level by level feedback from users in beta tests. These days the vast majority of users seem to be far more interested in getting free steam keys than actually helping a developer in need, and so plenty of smaller developers are struggling to find people to test their games, having to release buggy or unbalanced games even after releasing hundreds of beta keys.
Being a beta tester is a great opportunity for many things. To become a member of a community, to make a positive change to a developer that might really need it, to support a product you are looking forward to seeing released and to also gain experience in testing and reporting test outcomes. Similarly, starting a beta test as a small developer is also a chance to build your community, gather support from users and gain some great advertising. Its just important that as either testers or developers, you do the right thing and not just look for something for free with little effort, whether it be money or games.