Beta tread carefully. Let us know if you’re backing Rod Fergusson Twitter.
Well, someone had to say it. Gamers may have noticed an increase in betas available for upcoming games. The Division got one, Battleborn had one, Doom’s got one, and Overwatch is getting on. But right now, for most Xboxers, it’s all about the Gears of War 4 beta running from now until May 1st.
Now the Gears of War studio head, the magnificently bearded Rod Fergusson, has had a pop at the industry for mislabelling demos as betas.
In an interview with MCV, Fergusson stated pretty firmly…
The industry has taken the word beta and twisted it to mean ‘pre-release demo. The community thinks they should be a highly polished demo. We are really focused on saying we’re pre-alpha right now. I even joked that we should call our beta an alpha just so people understand where we are and that we are actually looking for feedback and we’re actually testing systems.
Games Pulp have nostalgically likened these so-called betas to renting a weekend game from the video store – back when video stores were a thing.
The difference between game demos and betas lies in its purpose. A demo should be a polished excerpt from a game; a beta is a rough-around-the-edges technical version, and designed to test gameplay and stress-test servers. It’s a chance for studios to get valuable feedback from their fans.
But according to The Coalition’s top man, gamers are being tricked into conflating the two, and set their expectations too high. Just look at the flak Bethesda’s Doom beta is getting, despite not being released for several weeks.
You can understand Fergusson’s gloriously viking-like fury. It comes from a passion for Gears and for games; from a man who uses betas for the right reason, and thinks the industry should be acting more responsibly.
We stumbled out of the gate with Gears 2 because it was our first time doing party-based match-making. We were testing that with 1,000 people internally with Microsoft and all of a sudden it was a million people and everything falls down.
Which is why it’s suspicious when betas hit consoles soon before the full game’s release. Sure, they may collect some valuable data to make sure the game runs on release, but it can often seem like just a marketing ploy to hook a few thousand more players. Does anyone think The Division’s open beta added any more information that the closed beta didn’t? Or did Ubisoft realise the good coverage they were getting for the cover shooter, and decide to let everyone have a bash?
Well, our Rod ain’t happy about that.