Blog Post: The Dangers and Benefits of Alphas and Betas

Alphas, betas, technical tests, whatever developers want to call them, seem to be getting more and more common in the last couple of years. While demos have slowly been going away and at this point very few games offer a demo for players to check out before deciding on a purchase, the demo nowadays are the alphas and betas that are occurring sometimes months before a game launches or even within the time the game has already gone gold, it doesn't make much sense I know but we'll let it slide for now. Developers use these pre-release versions of the game to gain feedback from the community so they can fine tune elements that will give players the best experience, they also use it to test servers and gauge interest on their title.

These alphas and betas for games can both be a huge benefit and making sure aspects of the game are as tight as they can be, but they also can be quite dangerous and completely dissuade players from picking up the final product if they are left unsatisfied with what they experienced from these tests.

Titanfall 2 recently had its technical test and let players get their hands on some of the new modes, Titans, and equipment in the game. I personally thought Titanfall 2 has a strong showing at E3 this year and I liked some of the improvements the game looked like it was making, so I was looking forward to getting my hands on the game and seeing how it felt for myself. Titanfall 2's test is a good example of a pre-release test being both beneficial and also being damaging as well.

The first weekend of Titanfall 2's technical test left me, along with a good amount of fans, a bit perplexed and dissatisfied with some of the changes the game had made. Players didn't like how long it could take to get a Titan and also the reduced speed of the game, while still extremely twitch based, it was a slight step down from the first game. The first weekend left many with losing interests in the game, but luckily for Respawn they got the chance to tweak and adjust aspects due to feedback and deliver another opportunity to test out these tweaks the following weekend.

Personally, I would say my enjoyment of Titanfall 2 was much higher the second time around and it restored some of my faith in the game. The combination of these slight adjustments to gameplay and, let's be honest here, probably me getting used to some of the changes, led me to have a much better time playing the game during the second weekend. Titanfall 2's technical test started out as potentially dangerous but as the purpose of a test, alpha, or beta is, it allowed the developer to improve the game based on community feedback, overall making the tech. test beneficial in the long run.

I remember the original Titanfall's first alpha/beta that occurred a few months before it released. It was a game I was extremely interested in but I wasn't going to buy an Xbox One or upgrade my PC in order to play it, nevertheless I gave the alpha a try and completely loved it and was so sold on the game that I pre-ordered the Xbox One bundle for the game, which in retrospect was not a great idea but that's the power of having an outstanding pre-release test of a game in can be so beneficial that a person will completely change their mind on a game and decide to buy it because they were impressed by the small chunk they got to play. It can even be so impactful that it benefits someone like Microsoft as well, it goes to show how beneficial at times a alpha/beta can be.

Overwatch was another example for me, of a beta that was beneficial. I started the beta with very little interest in the game and not expecting to purchase the game, after playing the beta for a couple of hours my mind completely changed and I was sold on the game. I guess when you have such solid gameplay and polish as Overwatch had, it only makes sense to offer a beta to let players experience for themselves the great gameplay that the game offers, cause in all likelihood you end gaining more players than you end up losing players. Overwatch is one my favorite games of the year and one of the best-selling games of the year and I believe a lot of that has to do with the alphas and betas the game offered before release, that sold players on the game.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, a beta that isn't beneficial can impact a game in a variety of ways. One of the major ways is the negative atmosphere that can come from a "bad" alpha/beta, if a beta is received negatively with many testers not enjoying or liking what they experience, it can cause the negativity to spread and lead to the game having a bad reputation by the time the game releases. A good example of this is Battleborn, for as much as Overwatch was praised during its beta, Battleborn was bashed for its beta, a lot of this has to do with the quality of the games but the negativity of the beta for Battleborn continued on to release, causing the game to completely bomb.

Earlier this year, Nioh received an alpha (it could have been just a limited demo but its the same thing) and I was interested to check out the game since it reminded me a little like Dark Souls but with samurai. After trying out the alpha, I ended up losing most of my interest in the title, which I might be in the minority of those who didn't like it but I just didn't enjoy many of the aspects of the game. The difference between Nioh and many other "dangerous" pre-release tests, is that it truly was an alpha, as the game is still a ways off from releasing giving the developer plenty of time to change aspects that players were less than fond of.

At the moment I believe there is another demo for the game that has addressed some of the issues that players had the first time around, which I might give another try, but it is still early enough that wouldn't be surprised to see another beta close to release to finalize some of the tweaks that were brought about by letting players try out the game and give feedback.

Nioh may have hurt itself in some ways with loss interest from some people, like myself, but the tests it is offering earlier than usual will no doubt make the game itself better, which in the long run is the best thing you can do. Nobody wants or cares about a bad game, but a good game everyone wants to talk about and play. It doesn't matter if it's an alpha, technical test, or anything in-between, depending on how well players receive a game's pre-release build it can greatly impact a game when it does actually release in both a beneficial way and also in a damaging way.

Got any thoughts? Do you have any favorite alphas or betas in recent memories? Feel free to comment below any thoughts.