A Guided History: Beta Testing and Its Controversies, Part One
One of the most anticipated betas of last year was Activision Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. This past summer saw people from all over the globe trying to get an invite key to the incredibly hard-to-get-into closed beta. In fact, the game is still in closed beta with the planned open beta being pushed back into 2014. This leaves many would-be players still stuck out in the cold for another few months. Those of us who have been in the beta since last summer will be leaps and bounds more experienced than the average player when the game finally goes into open public beta, with the official release shortly thereafter. However, there is a question that keeps popping into my tiny, insignificant brain.
Are current closed-beta invitees really the winners here?
I mean sure, it is great to be able to provide feedback on a game that we were lucky enough to test before the general public. I love that I was able to witness the Shaman class be able to stand up against a Mage before completely unnecessary balance changes made the Mage the ultimate warrior. I’m thrilled to know that I was able to reach the top of the leaderboards in ranked play, only to be taken down to the lowest rank after a mandatory account wipe. Oh, and I am truly grateful to be able to test the game for the dev team by giving them money to test the in-game store and in return be given one of the worst cards in the game to thank me for my dedication.
As you can probably tell, I am now kicking myself for being a part of the closed-beta testing. Some would say that I should count my blessings since it was, especially around last August, almost impossible to get an invite key. I should bow down to the gaming gods for giving me the privilege of playing, what some would say, is the best online trading card game ever known on this side of the universe. Please though, keep reading. My statements come from a place of honor and love for games. Before I can go into my thoughts on these betas we are all so eager to join, let’s first take a look at what a beta is, or at least what it used to be.
What is a Beta?
The term Beta was first used by IBM back in the 1950s. Back in those days, there were several tests administered to a piece of software by a company before it was sent off to be manufactured. Some of the big, milestone tests included: the Pre-alpha test, the Alpha test, and the Beta test. There was also a fourth test called the “C” test which was the final test for the software before it became available to the public. As the years progressed, the general public caught wind of the term “Beta Test” and started using it as a general term for customer testing. Many companies call this type of testing Field Testing.
In the gaming world, studios used to include a select group of individuals from the various communities, like active forum users or close family and friends, to participate in the Beta testing phase. However, at some point, the studios and publishers decided that they should ride the trend and start doing “Public Beta Tests.” It is here where the confusion starts to rear its ugly head. Both the studios and publishers started using the Beta term incorrectly, or even deceptively. The “Closed Beta Test,” “Open Beta,” or just simply put “Beta” of a game is not what it used to be. These are the field tests that IBM began calling them 50 years ago. By the time a game reaches its “Open Beta” state, it is really already past the actual Beta phase. For single player games, this means that in today’s use of the term, any so-called “Beta Testing” is simply a demo; a litmus test to see how much interest there is in the game and whether the publisher needs to budget more money toward marketing.
So what does all this mean for multiplayer games like Hearthstone?
Click here for part 2!