Blogging about Betas

Posted on August 19, 2009


No, not Bettas. Those are fish. I’m talking about beta tests for software. There are, essentially, two kinds of beta tests: Closed and open.

A closed beta test exists in order to invite outsiders to run your software. PCs have a variety of configurations that borders on infinite. Your budget, as a game studio, only allows you to test on a small number of configurations. A closed beta, therefore, exists in order to test your software on more configurations without you having to buy all that hardware. It’s an engineering/programming/development tool.

An open beta test, on the other hand, is more of a marketing tool. Yes, of course the game studio is still fixing bugs – and with more people testing, you find more bugs. You also get to enjoy, as Cryptic Studios discovered, stress-testing your servers. However, studios often lift Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) during the open beta, which allows all the testers to speak openly, and frankly, about your product. You hope they’ll be enthusiastic evangelists, but you don’t control it. You need to have excellent community management and customer service ready for your beta test, and you need to monitor social media for people talking about your game.

I recently started beta testing Champions Online. It’s an open beta, and the NDA has been lifted. I didn’t start blogging about it immediately because I wanted to actually think about my experiences rather than reacting. As I thought about it, I decided to limit my blogging. It’s still an early beta, which means there are a lot of missions that need bug fixing. It means there are tons of low-level characters, so all the areas are crowded – to the point where you can’t complete many open missions because everyone is camping the spawn points (hanging around, waiting for something to spawn). In fact, most of my comments would be more purposeful in the Champions Online forums than in my blog.

Here’s what I will say about the game, though: Due to video problems on my end that Champions Online revealed but did not cause, my mouse cursor was barely visible when I started. I still played for three hours. Now that’s a fun game. When I did stop playing, I found the solution to the mouse cursor issue on the Champions Online forums. See you in Millennium City!