One big shift that’s been occurring in gaming is the gradual disappearance of the game demo. It hasn’t disappeared entirely as there are still demos out there for people to download on Steam or XBL but one thing I absolutely cannot stand is when a title launches what the publisher refers to as a beta. The most recent example being when everyone who pre-ordered Gears of War 3 got to participate in the multiplayer beta.
There’s one thing wrong with this though; it isn’t a beta. This is what a beta is:
Beta (named after the second letter of the Greek alphabet) is the software development phase following alpha. It generally begins when the software is feature complete. Software in the beta phase will generally have many more bugs in it than completed software, as well as speed/performance issues. The focus of beta testing is reducing impacts to users, often incorporating usability testing. The process of delivering a beta version to the users is called beta release and this is typically the first time that the software is available outside of the organization that developed it.
The users of a beta version are called beta testers. They are usually customers or prospective customers of the organization that develops the software, willing to test the software without charge, often receiving the final software free of charge or for a reduced price.
Beta version software is often useful for demonstrations and previews within an organization and to prospective customers. Some developers refer to this stage as a preview, prototype, technical preview (TP), or early access.
Some software is kept in perpetual beta—where new features and functionality is continually added to the software without establishing a firm “final” release.
The ‘beta’ stage in a games development (coming after alpha) is usually where the product is 95% finished but needs tweaking and adjustments to weed out unbalanced gameplay, errors and glitches that could cause problems upon release. If these glitches are allowed to be included in the release it could reflect badly on the developers reputation. Usually developers will allow a select amount of players to play what they have so far and report any problems they find so they can weed out those problems. If they’re smart they will hire professional testers. The reason the GoW beta is not a true beta is because they have allowed their entire fanbase (aka everyone who pre-ordered GoW3 which might as well have been every single GoW fan) into their beta. That is not a beta, it is incentive to get you to pre-order.
When you pre-order they don’t have to worry about things like reviews or peer opinions getting in the way of you purchasing the game. I guarantee you they are not weeding out problems by allowing everyone to play the multiplayer early. If they really wanted feedback on issues to fix before release they would not invite their entire fanbase to do so as they would then get tons of people commenting on the same issues. If it were a real beta they would do a closed beta where people have to sign up and be accepted by them. The only time this actually works is in cases like Counter Strike Source and Team Fortress 2 which have beta versions you can download so you can test out new features they are planning to put into the game. These games are already released and the testing necessary for the new versions is minimal.
When a new AAA title is announced these days and players say things like “I hope they release a beta” what they really want is a demo not a beta. If it were a beta then the gameplay will have changed a bit by the time you play the full version, but it won’t be different. It will be exactly the same way it is in this so called “beta”.
A demo is where you’re allowed to play a small chunk of the game to see what it’s like and evaluate if you like it or not but you can’t get the rest until you actually buy it. The only difference between this GoW beta and a demo is that they throw on the ‘beta’ tag to make it feel as though you are doing something cooler than playing a demo. They’ve also foregone the whole ‘try the gameplay then decide if you want to buy it’ concept and replaced it with ‘you can’t even try our game until you pre-order it.’