Public betas have become the bread and butter of the industry. Want to server stress your game? Beta. Want some free QA testers? Beta. Want to give off a demo while still having some bugs that need to be fixed? Beta. Want some free publicity? Beta. You get my point.
Developers have a variety of reasons to let customers try out their games for extended periods at a time for free. Myself, I’ve taken part in a fair number of betas in the past, mostly in order to try out the multiplayer side of said games. I would occasionally report the obvious bug or two that I spotted, but for me, a beta was mainly to gauge my interest in the product. The Old Republic was the last full beta that I participated in, and it took days of playing for me to realize I don’t want to participate in another beta again. Why? Playing betas honestly feels like a complete waste of time.
Before someone makes a smart-ass comment along the lines of “DERP! All games are technically a waste of time!”, I was specifically talking about betas in the frame of gaming in general. During a recent GChat conversation with Sean, the topic of buying Steam sale games on the cheap (or rebuying ones you own on another console) was brought up. I was again reminded that I have a huge backlog of games I haven’t even touched yet; in fact, my gaming backlog situation is so bad that some of these titles are still in their original packaging. So, with such a rapidly expanding stockpile of stuff to play, there shouldn’t be any reason for me to be spending my precious gaming hours on products that aren’t even finished yet. Right?
I also came up with another good reason why I should stop playing betas – none of the time I put into and progress made in betas actually matters. Consider this – most betas are multiplayer, where you could argue that the ultimate aim is to grind your way into being the ultimate badass. But the big problem with doing this on a beta is that all the time that you’ve spent levelling up and accumulating better equipment means nothing come retail. Got that character to level 20 during the beta? Have fun doing that all over again! Accumulated enough cash to get that awesome new weapon? Too bad that means jack squat in retail!
I deliberately stayed away from the Trooper class during The Old Republic beta because that’s what I wanted to play on release day. I was part of the Starhawk beta both from owning Uncharted 3 and being a PS+ member, but I only played about 3 matches. Any XP gained in that game was XP that I’d never see again. Sure you could argue that perfecting the mechanics of the game would give me an edge, but the sheer number of people that probably will be playing the game for the first time outweighs everyone who exclusively played the beta while it was out.
And speaking of experiences, any beta will severely hinder your enjoyment of that particular aspect of the game. Remember when Battlefield 3 released their beta for the Metro Station level? Want to take a guess which map Battlefield 3 players hate the most? Yep – it’s Metro Station. Some people will argue that this is because the design of Metro Station goes against the expansive nature of Battlefield maps. However, it’s pretty likely that many seasoned Battlefield 3 players were continuously force-fed this map in the beta – and, given the choice, would like to never see it again.
Despite all this, I’ll probably still hop into a beta for a half hour or so – as I did recently with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. But beyond that, my free time can be better spent on games that I actually own. If I’m going to be caught providing QA for a developer again, I damn well better be getting paid for it.