Topic of the Week: betas, demos or marketing? | PCGamesN

Topic of the Week: betas, demos or marketing?

With Overwatch and The Division fresh in our minds, we come to you, dear readers, with a question: what do you think of betas? It's the Topic of the Week, and this time it's definitely going to keep getting done, every Wednesday, from now until the end of time.

Check out the best PC games ever. Why? Because they're great, and we've already got two of 2016's finest on there.

So: betas. They come in many forms these days, and never seem to do quite what they say on the tin. There's the Early Access version where they truly are that, a hunt for bugs and a testing ground for new things. There's The Division's pre-order bonus, operating as an incentive to buy, a way to get a look at the game early and the developers get to see how it handles large numbers of players. Overwatch is its own thing, part honest-to-goodness beta with lots of changes happening regularly, but obviously a big marketing push from Blizzard as well, who ensured it got into the hands of every streamer and member of the press they could, much to the (slightly unfair) chagrin of their community.

There are many more, and the concept of this early access to a limited portion of the game used to have a different name - a demo. 'Betas' have certainly replaced those, with demos few, far between and often months after release now, developers preferring to give their game away entirely for free over a weekend rather than develop a special, locked off portion.

What do you think of this development? Are you fine with it, but wish they'd pick different names so you knew what you were getting into? Would you rather the return of smaller but more functional demos? Let us know in the comments below.

Sign in to Commentlogin to comment
Matt Purslow avatarKirk McKeand avatarMrAptronym avatarAever avatarPhil Iwaniuk avatarShriven avatar+1
Kirk McKeand Avatar
2 Years ago

Personally, I'd like game betas to release further in advance of the game, at least giving the illusion that developers have time to respond to the feedback/bug reports. It would also be nice if beta access wasn't bundled with other games. I also really fancy a curry, for some reason.

Matt Purslow Avatar
2 Years ago

I think on the whole betas are a good thing, but agree their form has been warped for marketing reasons. Things like The Division, which is a pre-order bonus, ideally shouldn't exist. If it must, that should be early access for people who paid up before launch. Or, even better, a demo released to show the game off and help gamers make a choice.

I don't mind participating in betas, and enjoy getting to play ahead of time, but frequently I find them too close to actual launch. It means I'm replaying content again very soon after the beta, which can be tiresome.

MrAptronym Avatar
2 Years ago

This is what an 'open beta' has been for forever. It started in MMOs a long while back, I know I was involved in some by 2006 at the absolute latest. Its a marketing thing and a stress-test. Calling it a beta probably makes people feel special for taking part, more involved.

On the plus side they can start to test infrastructure, stability across more systems and tweak balancing before they have to actually call it a finished product.

On the downside, laypeople are probably awful as testers and only make up for it in sheer manhours if at all. Plus there is early access where games just wallow endlessly in a half-finished state; fending off criticism by saying they aren't complete while still making bank. They also have really confounded public perception of what terms like 'alpha' and 'beta' have meant as well as what software testing involves.

Overall I regard it with the same mild disdain I do other marketing ploys. Yeah, it is there and it's fine, but all the noise they make about it and the hype they try and play up is really tiresome.

Aever Avatar
2 Years ago

lol, there are no betas anymore. Well, actually maybe MMO patches that can be previewed on test servers can be considered as legit betas. But otherwise, what is labeled as "beta" is usually a released version of the game that the developer and/or publisher doesn't want to claim responsibility for. You have games in "beta" for years and, funny enough, with real money shops enabled. Beta ... yeah, right.

Betas should be free and have a very limited, well defined, lifespan. Should also be based on the release candidate version of your product. All forms on monetization should be disabled, any sort of payed-for currency needed for the scope of the beta should be provided, not purchased, even if refunded at the end of the beta.

People joining betas are doing you a favor, get your hands of their wallets, you haven't earned the right to do that yet.

Phil Iwaniuk Avatar
2 Years ago

A big part of gaming for me is nostalgia, and the idea of a demo is a massive nostalgia hit so I'm naturally drawn to any free chunk of game. Betas obviously weren't conceived to fulfil that hit, but a combination of consumer expectation and a shift in industry-wide marketing strategy means we often enter what's essentially a test phase for the wrong reasons.

Vaguely related: I'm always fascinated by the practice of releasing a beta so close to release. Does the studio really have time to turn all that feedback into meaningful guided development a month before the game ships?

Shriven Avatar
2 Years ago

Marketing. Companies have learned all they need to by the time a Beta launches. Its hype.

AnAuldWolf Avatar
2 Years ago

I personally prefer demos. But then, I'm a neurotic autistic introvert and thus completely immune to marketing as a whole (well, outside of being conned with misinformation, but no one's immune to that). Which sometimes includes ignoring everything that's going on as it all looks dreadfully depressing and focusing on an old game. I've been doing that lately by replaying Skies of Arcadia.

Outside of Undertale, Skies of Arcadia's still better than anything released in 2015. Or 2016, thus far. Felt great to hook the old Dreamcast up again, and through VGA! It's so shiny. And oh golly gosh are the dungeons clever. The one where Aika/Fina and Vyse/Gilder get split up... You know the one, if you've played it.

This is why I do this. I can't often relate to news of new games, as very little interests me. I have a drive for novelty, peculiarity, the exotic, and general xenophila, I've a wanderlust that just isn't sated by a whole lot of games. I find that most of them revel in their verisimilitude and I do sometimes wonder if I live in a world of Jerries (Rick & Morty, yes).

Fallout 4 was a massive disappointment for me. It wasn't as well written as New Vegas, and it couldn't even manage to be funny in places a la Fallout 3 either (and I never thought I'd be considering Fallout 3 favourably against anything else). And how they conned so many into thinking the player might have been something as interesting as a synth? That's done nothing other than left me even more bitter, further hardened to the promise of anything interesting happening again in the land of video games.

This is why it takes word of mouth from someone I trust to even try anything. Which is how I ended up playing Undertale, and I don't regret that one bit. The next on the agenda that I'm being pestered about is Firewatch, and I suspect that I'll enjoy that, too.

I've become hardened against buying games... I can't help that. The vast majority of them are just so uninteresting, so safe, so uncannily samey that I can't really tell them apart. I want variety! I want novelty! I want good writing! I want choices that matter! I want exploration in lands so unusual that I can't immediately adapt to them! I want to experience life as a weird alien rather than just another dull, gormless, po-faced spod! I want all of these things. Very few games provide even one of them.

So, yes. I was pestered to play Undertale and that resulted in a very happy me. Had games still furnished me with demos, I think I'd be a little more open to them. I mean, the disappointment is hardly so crushing if someone hasn't spent money on them.

Though I know I'm not the audience. The verisimilitude-loving extraverted horde is, the kind of people who'd buy poo in a box if it were marketed well enough. I'm just a relic, really.

Still, I say demos, for whatever that's worth.