There are many opportunities at the moment for MMOG players to get involved in game development prior to official release, from the very earliest stage of a Kickstarter like Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen through providing game-shaping feedback in the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha to slightly more traditional beta testing of The Elder Scrolls Online. In fact the very idea of an official release seems to be becoming increasingly unfashionable, or at least difficult to pin down, as early access, soft launches, headstarts and seemingly perpetual betas blur the lines, particularly for online games that evolve throughout their lifespan.
Aerial combat in War Thunder, for example, is technically in “Open Beta”, but with a fully functioning cash shop and no prospect of a progress wipe. A widely held position, mentioned on the most recent episode of How To Murder Time during a splendid rummage through the difficulties of MMO funding, is that once a game is taking money it can’t rightfully be called a beta any more, which I certainly don’t think is unreasonable, but with “beta” covering such a multitude of sins we really need some better terminology or debates just get bogged down in semantics: “LOL this game is rubbish, the flight model of this plane is inaccurate!”; “LOLOL it’s a beta it’ll get fixed”; “LOLOLOL it’s not a beta they’re taking money”; “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL it is a beta because it says ‘beta’ right there on the screen and when they use a word it means just what they choose it to mean — neither more nor less”. This is A Bad Thing, because debates should of course be getting bogged down in wild tangents and personal insults instead.
Rather unimaginatively, nobody seems to have pushed on with the greek alphabet theme by following beta testing with gamma, delta and epsilon testing, possibly because that would encourage teams to skip through as fast as possible to get to Omicron Testing just because it sounds cool (imagine Matt Berry announcing “Engage Omicron Testing!”), or possibly because of potential difficulties with Scientology upon reaching Theta Testing. We have the solution, though: when clear, unambiguous terminology is needed, that’s clearly a job for SI units, so we present the SI scale of development centred around the base unit of The Beta (yes, yes, SI units don’t work like this, ssshhhh):
|SI Beta Unit
|A Vague Idea
|“Hey, chief, we should make a game or something…”
|A Vague Idea written down on the back of a fag packet
|“… and it would have adventures in it and stuff…”
|“… you’ll just have to imagine the sky. And grass. And other players. You control your movement with these two knobs on the side, and… oh, hang on, just need to reboot the system…”
|An idea sufficiently fleshed out to be a viable prospect on Kickstarter or similar; may feature a Microbeta
|A partially complete version of some elements of the game
|A feature complete version of the game released to a limited number of people for the purpose of testing
|A feature complete version of the game released to everyone and their dog for gathering metrics and enfrothening the hype-vortex
|A feature complete version of the game released to everyone and their dog, but only for a limited period of time depending on the temperature you want the login servers to reach (two hours should be sufficient to fry a few rashers of bacon and a couple of eggs, two days for a nice slow-cooked casserole)
|A game for sale, or with a cash shop, with no character/item wipe in prospect if it’s multiplayer, but still under development. Or “a game”, according to current terminology.
|Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you about a time, long, long ago, when you went into a place they called a “shop”, and you bought a “game” on a bunch of “disks”, and then you “installed” and “played” it, and if it needed updating the game company would have to send you the patch in what we called “the post”…
|Do dooo do do do
|A beta run by a bunch of muppets
|Finished Product (Italian)
|This-a beta, ees a no more-a, bereft of life it rests in Pisa. (Deprecated; slightly racist)