Are betas really better?
A few months ago I wrote a piece lamenting the decline of the video game demo. However, it has come to my attention that a new form of trial is potentially in the process of rising up and taking the place of the good old fashioned demo as the main means of providing a taster of a game. You’ve probably guessed it already; it is, of course, the beta.
Beta’s have no doubt been around for a while, particularly on the PC gaming scene, but have certainly never been as widely used in mainstream gaming as the demo was. In fact, despite the potential, betas were rarely used, if ever, for last-gen consoles. However it seems that the improved connectivity of the current-gen consoles, coupled with the gradual move by developers to provide more online experiences, has meant that betas have already become a thing for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Battlefield: Hardline and Final Fantasy XV both held open betas, whilst Destiny has gone out of its way to widely publicize both its alpha and beta stages on the consoles. But what does this mean for the humble gamer?
Well, as always, there are positives and negatives. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Publishers may exploit access to the beta by making it a requirement, as seen with the case of Destiny, to pre-order the game first. This could be annoying for several reasons. If I’m going to pre-order a game for extra bonuses, I’d rather those extra bonuses be in-game items on release day rather than an early trial of the game featuring a limited amount of content which I’ll be playing at a later date anyway. It’s like paying for a car without actually being able to drive it for 6 months but I’ll get access to the in-car stereo for a whole week. Pre-order bonuses have never been universally loved as it is, but using betas as such a bonus is ultimately crossing the line.
However, betas also bring with them a huge amount of positives. Of course, most notably, betas fulfill the purpose they were built for; to allow gamer’s to voice their feedback to developers, thus making the final result an improved and more consumer-orientated product. Visceral recently revealed 10 changes that were made to Battlefield: Hardline on issues which were brought to the developers attention through the beta. As anyone who read news about Battlefield 4’s launch last year will know, this beta response is no doubt a much needed and healthy thing for EA to have done with their franchise.
Secondly, it also allows gamers to assess whether they enjoy a game or not, allowing them to decide whether they will go ahead and buy the full product. This will fulfill the vital purpose that demos achieved of giving gamers a much needed hands-on assessment of whether a game is for them or not. Betas are often much more in-depth and larger than demos; containing more content and gameplay options. The Destiny beta contains several story missions, multiplayer matches and co-op modes. When comparing the beta to the demo in terms of pure quality then, the beta is hands-down the superior experience.
It’s still too early too tell whether the use of the beta will become the norm for current-gen consoles, whether it will become as widely used as the demo once was, or whether using it as a pre-order bonus will become an entrenched business practice or not. If the latter does become a reality, then betas might not be the perfect experience for gamers. However, they are certainly a good thing for the industry on the whole, and so I remain hopeful that we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.