Game Betas – A High Risk Demo in Disguise

Developers release two kinds of multiplayer betas for their games. The first kind, a real beta, releases for a limited time to stress test servers and check equipment balance. The second beta, a demo disguised as a beta, releases for a limited time to build hype. Both beta types invite the same risks and rewards for shifting public perception, regardless of the developer’s intent. This wasn’t always true.

With digital downloads, Twitch streaming and YouTube uploads, people use betas to judge a game months before release. It can swing any game’s success in either direction, making betas a risky gamble.

Unfinished games bring obvious bugs, poor performance and incomplete features. With the player’s freedom and unaccountable variables, a beta may sour players. When CD Projekt Red avoided showing Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay at E3, it stemmed from the risks of demoing an unfinished game. Many people struggle to reserve judgement until a developer completes their project.

Because of the risks, developers may avoid betas and squash bugs through their in-house testing teams. Internal quality assurance teams do great jobs, but launches produce unpredictable scenarios.

Monster Hunter: World’s worldwide console launch brought in millions of new fans, which overloaded Capcom’s servers. For weeks players could not play online. Matchmaking bugs and server instability meant players hunted alone in a game design for cooperative play.

Months later for the PC launch, the same server issues reappeared. PC players waited weeks for Capcom to redeploy matchmaking fixed solved earlier in the year. Without a beta, these issues ruined three platform launches. Despite the bugs, Monster Hunter: World became the most successful Monster Hunter game ever. People will overlook issues if the game satisfies. It sold over 10 million copies.

Beta – A Demo’s Best Disguise

Monster Hunter: World didn’t need a beta to sell, but Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 thrived with one. When Activision first announced Blackout, Call of Duty’s battle royale mode, it seemed like an obvious capitalization on trends. In many ways, Blackout does cash-in because of Fortnite and PUBG, but not without its own contributions.

Black Ops 4’s public beta released with smooth performance, fast gunplay and unique features. It spawned a new juggernaut into the battle royale arena with a limited time beta. Although labeled a beta, the sparkling game state gave players a near complete experience. Aside from some changes to armour, the game looked polished. Black Ops 4’s PC’s launch day sales more than doubled last year’s Call of Duty entry.

A Real Beta Backfires

Unlike Black Ops 4, many players left the Battlefield V beta underwhelmed and worried. Changes to ammunition and health slowed the pace of matches. DICE focused on bringing squads together through limited resources. In theory, DICE hoped teamwork and securing valuable resupply points ensured success. In the beta, players instead engaged in fewer fights as they scrambled for more resources.

Following the beta, DICE planned changes such as faster respawns, health packs and more ammo. Those changes highlight the major concerns, as they also looked at vehicle count and player visibility.

Battlefield V

The Battlefield V beta acted like an actual beta. With undecided features and fluid weapon balancing, the uneven experience soured players. It didn’t match the polish found in Black Ops 4. In today’s game climate, you can’t release a beta your players won’t enjoy. People will forgive bugs, but not boring gameplay.

After two lackluster betas, DICE then delayed Battlefield V for two months. Instead of the October launch, it launches in November, away from Call of Duty and after Red Dead Redemption 2. DICE said it needed additional time for development. What they won’t say is they needed more time to perfect the launch because they fear the competition.

Bethesda finds itself in a similar situation following early Fallout 76 gameplay. Press gameplay shows framerate instability and muddy graphics. A confusing message surrounding the game’s objectives coupled with poor performance soured many players. In a year with a Call of Duty BR, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, each mistake matters.

Separating Beta Flaws and Gameplay Flaws

I leave many betas disappointed or underwhelmed. The game doesn’t feel right. Slight tweaks make huge differences to the overall feel of modes or gameplay. The Battlefield 1 beta featured an awful map called Sinai Desert – an open desert with almost zero cover. With limited access to equipment and classes, matches felt lopsided. Upon release, the map improved and the balance fairer. I still dislike the map overall, but the experience changed at launch.

A beta can succeed despite its bugs if the gameplay excites the players. Dragon Ball FighterZ’s limited beta failed on Xbox One due to unfixable network issues. Bandai Namco required time beyond the beta’s schedule to investigate. When the game did work, players loved the mechanics of fighting with their favourite anime characters.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

The poor beta experience didn’t deter players interested in the game. Dragon Ball FighterZ sold over 2.5 million copies and sees the most, or second most, registrants at tournaments. The Battlefield V beta’s disappointing gameplay did not help public perception like it did for Dragon Ball. The different states of betas now trained players to expect near complete games, not unfinished ones.

The varying states of betas, even when excluding early access games, puts developers and their games in risky positions. Boring betas may deter players, yet betas exist to help squash bugs and collect data. Publishers and developers then use betas as a camouflage for limited time demos.

Developers like DICE and Bandai Namco see criticism when their unfinished games don’t work. As a result, developers then release games not tested in public environments. The whole situation invites risk when it should instead help improve the games fans love.