I’ve been involved in numerous MMO Beta tests in the past, ranging from major titles like World of Warcraft to many of the little known F2P MMOs on the internet today. No matter where I go or what game I’m testing for, I always come across people in the Beta who consider it nothing more than an excuse to “play the game” early. This really aggravates me. The purpose of a Beta test is to make sure the game works. You’re supposed to be checking for glitches and reporting them to the Devs as they come along, especially if the glitch is repeatable and not just a one time fluke. It’s not meant to allow people a free chance to quest through the game ahead of everyone else and level up a character that is only going to get erased at launch anyway. Even now I, along with several other people I know personally, are involved in the Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta. The majority of people in this group have made comments about how awesome it will be to play the game before everyone else, and how much cooler they are than the people who weren’t picked. They have even gone so far as to start scheduling their real lives around the Beta times so that they can meet up and quest together. With gamers like these being allowed to be involved in Beta testing it’s no wonder why so many piss-poor MMOs have been released in the past. Beta testing is there to make sure the game is play-worthy at launch, and from my experience it’s an obligation that gamers don’t take seriously. Games are meant to be fun, Beta testing is meant to be tedious. Although it is exciting to be involved in the development of a game, players will only get out of it what they put into it as testers. And of course, I’m not just basing this opinion on the words of others. I’ve seen games flop and eventually completely die off because of poor tester feedback on a first-hand basis.
Tabula Rasa was a game that I originally had high hopes for when I Beta tested for it, even though it had numerous flaws: enemies would still be animated even after they were killed, special abilities would register their damage but the animation wouldn’t work until you were out of combat, and characters would shoot enemies without ever actually aiming their guns. These were a few of the many bugs I submitted. What really troubled me at the time was that there were no other bug tickets submitted about these issues. Where’s the game now? It’s gone! The game was apparently so terrible that it didn’t have the gaming community to be worth running anymore, and so the servers were taken offline. Half the MMO players I know have never even heard of Tabula Rasa! And don’t even get me started with Matrix Online! Sometimes though, things aren’t as bad as they seem. My very first character I made for the Champions Online Beta was a fire user. One of the powers you could get allowed you to charge a ball of fire in between your hands and shoot it out as an Area of Affect attack. However, there was a glitch that left the charged fireball hovering in front of my character’s chest, even after having fired that same fireball off. It was fully animated; it looked like an animated ball of fire, and it even left a trail when I moved around. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one who reported it. But what really pissed me off was the gamer that got angry with me for submitting the bug! Apparently they thought the glitch looked cool and wanted the game to keep it, knowing full well that this was not the intended effect the Devs wanted to see. In their opinion, their personal preference took precedent over the game’s programmed mechanics. They didn’t care that it could cause additional issues with the game. It’s people like this that only perpetuate the development of sub-par MMOs, and the saddest part is that lax attitudes like these not only have a negative impact on the game’s world, but on the real world as well!
I know several people that want to work as in-house game testers for professional game studios, myself included. I even applied a few times to be a tester at 38 Studios (the company that is owned by Curt Schilling and is developing Kingdoms of Amalur). At PAX East 2011, I attended a panel about careers in the gaming industry, and I even had the chance to speak with an employee of 38 Studios (who shall remain nameless), both of which were able to verify some information that I heard on that panel. I informed them that I had applied to their company on several occasions and even listed off some of my online testing experience, making sure to include the titles of each game in my resume. I figured I had more than enough under my belt to qualify for the position. So, after assuring them that I wasn’t upset about not getting the job, but rather that I was curious about what they were looking for in a professional game tester, I asked them flat out why I wasn’t hired. That’s when I learned the cold, hard truth. As it turns out, game companies don’t really take online Beta testers very seriously, primarily because they know that 90% of the people testing are just there to screw around and play the game. If you look at the number of people involved in an online Beta, and then check the number of bugs reported, the math does verify this. I actually saw this first-hand with Champions Online when I tested. The online tests are really just there to verify the testing work done by the in-house testers, and that the sheer mass of online testers is just there to find something that the in-house team might have missed. What most people don’t understand is that real game testers spend hours a day doing the same repetitive, mundane tasks to see if it affects the game. This could be anything from logging on and off rapidly to having their character jumping at a wall to see if they fall through or get stuck, and they do this for 8+ hours a day! Being a real game tester has almost nothing to do with actually playing the game!
Now I know some people are probably sitting there and wondering why I consider gamers playing in Beta to be such a big issue if the game companies don’t take online Beta testers seriously. The problem that I have is with the testers themselves. Sure there are people like me out there who are actually taking a vested interest in the game’s development, but the vast majority of testers are gamers who just want early access, and maybe even some free stuff for being a part of the Beta. The problem is that nothing is being done on either side to control this issue. Devs aren’t denying access to people who don’t contribute to the bug reports (believe me, there are ALWAYS bugs) and without a penalty to suffer, gamers aren’t going to change their attitude over night, especially when you have a company like Nexon who actually seems to be promoting this backwards way of thinking when it comes to Beta testing. I took part in the Dragon’s Nest Beta, and I found out that everyone’s character and their items would remain intact when the game left Beta and fully launched. Not only that, but Nexon actually rewarded the testers with special items at each level. I never heard a single person once mention any glitch or bug they discovered when they were in the Beta, and trust me: when people find a glitch, the server knows about it. I mean, after all, there’s no time to report bugs when you have level rewards to gain! I only have two weeks left to reach the maximum level; I can’t be bothered with such trifles as caring. It’s this sort of thing that produces horrible games like Final Fantasy XIV, an MMO that not even its own Devs liked! It’s been out for over a year now, and they’re STILL trying to fix it! They even removed their would-be monthly fee because they didn’t feel right charging gamers to play a game that they themselves felt was no good! Even Yoichi Wada, the CEO of Square Enix himself, released a statement after the games launch that said, and I quote: “the Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged". Maybe this could have been avoided if the Beta gamers actually spoke up about the poor quality of the game instead of just running to GameStop to cancel their pre-orders.
If we want to start seeing high quality games start to be developed again, then this gamer style attitude has to stop sometime, but it has to begin with us when we decide that Betas are for testers, not gamers!