Recently, Bethesda Game Studios released open beta-testing for their game Fallout 4, originally released on November 10th 2015, for their introduction of a new “survival mode”, including such features as needing to eat, sleep, drink, and monitor various illnesses and diseases, or having to go see a doctor to get these ailments cured. Bethesda has a history of listening to their fans, whether that’s the introduction of an open-platform modding system delivered via the “Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK)”, or allowing the introduction of modifications to consoles instead of just the Personal computer. However, this is not about Bethesda’s willingness to listen to their fans – it is about the unwillingness of other developers and publishers to take the title of “Beta” seriously.
For example, DICE studios, developers of popular games such as Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefield, have continuously released “Betas” for their games. However, these betas often amount to nothing more than early-access to the game in question. No listening to feedback, no paying attention to problems – it often amounts to nothing more than simply stress-testing their internal servers to be sure that, on launch day, players can actually participate in online matches. While there is nothing wrong with this practice, the term Beta has been widely overused in the past few years of gaming. Instead of releasing a beta to find what is wrong with the game, Betas instead are reserved for those who pre-purchase the game – essentially making the “Beta” nothing more than a way to participate in the game early, and not offer constructive feedback. Instead of inviting players to actively critique and test the game for glitches or unsavory elements, it is simply used as a crutch to show publishers how many players are interested in the game, much like the ancient concept of pre-orders.
This practice is unacceptable to the gaming community. It is a blatant misuse of the term Beta, much like the term Alpha has been used to describe games on the Steam Greenlight service, despite those games being almost finished or about 90% away from actually being completed. Blatantly lying to consumers like this is what causes old practices, similar to pre-orders, to come back into play.
Opening up your game for players to, essentially, become your play-testers is okay, However, if these beta servers are only belong used to appeal to players who have already pre-ordered your game, then what is the point? Beta-testing should be reserved for those who are actively willing to participate in the bug-testing of your game, and not those who are already willing to buy your product regardless of the final outcome.