Beta Complex

When people look back on the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii generation of consoles, two distinct trends will be seen. Firstly the rise of “casual gaming”, which hopefully will one day be given a new name as it’s the most bland corporate term imaginable. Secondly the “Windowsification” (okay, I can’t come up with terms either) of console gaming came of age this generation more than any other.

The days of console exclusives and PC exclusives is well and truly dead with games like Mass Effect, Assassins Creed and Call of Duty breaking ground in how cross-computer exclusives perform and how they are perceived by the gamer. Patching of games on consoles are now commonplace and on PC more console-esque programs which bring social gaming to the fore are now commonplace and are increasingly sophisticated (XFire and Steam spring to mind).

One aspect of PC gaming which has proven popular on consoles is the humble beta. PC gamers are no strangers to being part of the testing process for a game, selflessly throwing themselves into a world of crashes, glitches and server stress testing for the sake of a better end product but until this generation that simply wasn’t possible for console gamers. Now with the proliferation of digital delivery, developers can give gamers that extra role in development. Halo 3 kicked it off with a multiplayer beta that also served to help give Crackdown the attention it deserved and that was followed by Call of Duty, Red Faction, Uncharted and even betas of new Xbox dashboards. Yet the whole console beta scene is one that utterly baffles me.Crackdown game cover

Whenever I participated in a PC beta I found it to be half work, half play. It was great fun playing about in a game I wanted months before it was finished, but I was generally asked to do stuff. Come on at certain times to stress test the servers, send bug reports, detail problems you’ve had on beta forums etc etc. You watched each update to the beta code eagerly to see if the problem you had flagged got fixed and if not then you did it all again for the sake of a better game. A beta for a console title is distinctly different however. To begin with you usually sign up for a PC beta giving your set up so they can bring in the kind of gamer they want when they want. Console games give you entry if you buy another game or have a Fileplanet subscription and as such tend to be advertised as a perk (the fanfare surrounding the Halo Reach beta being bundled with Halo: ODST being a prime example).

The whole work aspect isn’t really present either. No bug reporting, no notion that the beta is evolving and changing as the developer develops: you are faced with a static experience and little interaction with the product you are testing. Granted the developer can get information without you delivering it to them but bug reporting on PC betas have been around for years for a reason, it works and gamers can often find problems that quality assurance will miss.

It begs the question that if testing is clearly not as big an aspect for the console beta compared to the PC beta then why not just ditch the beta tag and call it a multiplayer demo? After all, a demo is unfinished code so that should cover the devs from criticism and this way would let everyone play and not just the select few who manage to blag a beta code. As I said, the beta scene is baffling and I suspect that the marketing thought behind putting a beta out is simply beyond comprehension for simple gamers such as myself. However despite being confusing and diluted compared to its bigger PC brother I’m still waiting and hoping for a Modern Warfare 2 beta along with a sneak peak into Bioshock 2’s multiplayer.

After all, I’m a gamer… they are games and getting to try a game early is our holy grail.







3 responses to “Beta Complex”

  1. Ben avatar

    I think it’s two different setups, comparing to PC and console.

    Back in the day Beta was just for MMORPG’s, and it’s still around now – obviously different levels of beta depend on the stage of the game (alpha / closed / open).

    Champions Online is a good example, as its currently in closed beta but will be in open beta within the month of August.

    Obviously the beta for the high profile MMO’s attract a bucket load of players, which is good – and needed, as it’s not only the game they are testing but also the hardware setup such as the servers capabilities.

    For consoles I think it’s a slightly different thing, above all else I do think it is mainly a marketing scheme. The Halo 3 multiplayer beta being bundled with Crackdown springs to mind (which they got wrong as Crackdown was great anyway) – suffice, entry into a high profile multiplayer beta will turn an average selling game into a high profile selling game.

    Of course, the lines cross every now and then (beta for Dawn of War II patch that’s currently running as an example).

    Nice entry John 🙂

  2. Michael avatar

    Windowsification… fenestration. Or not.

    Maybe testing is not such a big aspect of console betas because, as you pretty much said, it’s still in “infancy”. Given time, as well as console(-only?) gamers growing more savvy about such an idea, a more PC-style approach may be used. No?


  3. Lorna avatar

    A great and maybe cheap way of getting their games tested and glitch-listed…never been involved myself, I don’t think I could stomach the slog 🙂

    Great article.

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