I’ve had the good fortune to take part in a number of betas through the years– actual closed, early-stage, covered by the NDA betas and so-called “Open Beta” previews. My approach to participating in any beta is simple: try to make the game better by testing the game. A laudable goal to be sure, but despite our best efforts, sometime game companies get in their own way. Not meant to be a rant nor directed at any particular game, but here are a few things I’d like to see in every beta:
Easy, seamless, in-game bug reporting. No matter what phase of beta a game might be in, there are still things which might be broken. Make it easy easy easy for us testers to report them and move on. Don’t make me go to the beta forum site, send up smoke signals or mail in cuneiform tablets to report a bug.
A good bug reporting system, IMHO, doesn’t require a player to leave the game or to capture and re-enter information which should be available from the server, i.e., your server name, location, time, character name, class, race, etc. Let me /bug something and move on. I have the same beef with telephone customer support after you enter your account number, blood type, candidate largest prime number, etc., often the first thing they ask you for when you get to a human is all of the same information…
Sure, getting 50,000 bug reports for “[insert descriptive text here]” hanging over an NPCs head might be duplicative, but it should tell you at least two things: 1) its broken and 2) a lot of people notice it.
Tell me what you want me to test. Most beta forums give a diligent beta tester an idea of what the team is currently working on. Still the low signal to noise ratio of the forums makes it difficult to tell what we should be focusing on (e.g., “Nerf [class x]! Why was [class x] Nerfed? etc.). People will still just play the game and cover ground, but its particularly useful to focus on areas that the dev team already knows needs testing and additional work. I’ll still test what I want to test, but help me help you.
Let me test the whole game. One of the challenges in participating in an MMO beta is the breadth v. depth issue. Some beta folks simply view beta as reconnaissance for release so their group/guild/character/fan site will have an advantage when the game releases. Others however will actually be diligent and try to play all the classes through similar content (i.e., actually test the game). With each subsequent patch and wipe, the weary beta tester more often than not starts back at the beginning with a level 1 toon and starts replaying the early stage content again.
This can be good and bad. Good in that the early stage content gets work out. Bad in that only the early stage content gets a workout. Or, because you have to level through all the early stage content again, players who want to test later stage content are forced to focus on leveling their “main” to get into the mid levels of a game before the next wipe at the expense of other classes.
Many, many, many MMOs get lots of focus on the so-called early game because thats where you hook people. Fair enough, but as so many others have pointed out, most midgame experiences suck. I’m convinced that this is simply because not enough testers have the time or inclination to grind up to level 20 or 30 in the relatively short beta test period between wipes. Give me an auto level to mid and high level content so I can test it and make sure you took the suck out. The game shouldn’t suddenly become unfun in the mid game or end game (or unfun for someone who didn’t powerlevel up to it).
Yes, you don’t need a mid or end game if no one plays the beginning, but unless your goal is simply selling boxes and a month or two of subscriptions, you need it all and allowing it to be tested early and often is the way to get there.