Thursday, December 06, 2007

Testing <---> Fun

Moorgard commented today on the blurry border between beta and marketing. His post got me wondering:
  • Should beta testers expect to be entertained?
  • Can developers reasonably expect unpaid testers to endure boring content in order to make the game fun?

Enthusiasm
The more excited a tester is about a game, the more willing he or she will be to work, rather than just play, to help that game reach its potential. The less impressed a tester is with a beta, the more that tester will wonder if he or she made a mistake in signing up... and consider investing less work, less time, or quitting altogether.

Beta signups = blind contracts?
Certainly, disillusioned testers are still under a moral obligation to help test to one degree or another. But it can't be said that they knew full well what they were getting into, can it?

Trailers for box office films are often deceptive, despite the fact that a film trailer is the same basic type of experience as the full film (in both cases, the audience watches and listens). Interactive media, on the other hand, cannot be be comparably experienced through anything other than a demo (which is impossible for many MMOs and other games). Feature lists, FAQs, interviews, and trailers cannot ensure that the gamers who sign up for the beta test truly know that this is a game they're interested in.

Consequently, signups for beta testing are vague, largely blind, agreements. It's the equivalent of asking someone simply "Will you help me?" instead of "Will you help me to [a description of the task]?". Many testers who find that the beta doesn't match their expectations came into this position innocently (with no prior beta experience). Innocent or not, how critical can you be of someone for helping half-heartedly when that person had little knowledge of what he or she was getting into?

Timing
It seems the big question is: How far along should a game be before inviting outside testers?

I was fortunate enough to be involved in one of the early beta phases of EQ2's testing. The game was remarkably complete and functional at that time (at the early levels, at least). As a result, I was more enthusiastic in testing than usual. I reported more bugs, made more suggestions, and was basically a better tester than I was in other betas.

Are outside testers usually necessary to get the game to at least a marginally fun point in the game's evolution? I know there's much more involved than what I've covered here, but making beta fun as possible seems to be in the developer's interest.

3 comments:

  1. Keira Peney12/7/07, 6:01 AM

    I've never played a beta, for much that reason. I don't want to be trapped into spending a pretty large amount of time on a game I might actually not be enjoying at all :(

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  2. Talking entirely about MMO's and multiplayer titles...

    Making betas 'more fun' is all well and good but unless a game is utterly flawed, then pretty much the entire point of a beta (particularily open beta) is to get feedback specifically related to the entertainment value of the game.

    Of couse, the claim is that a beta helps iron out the last bugs, by testing on a broad range of hardware and software platforms. But the reality is that untill that point of releasing the game into the wild, a developer has little quality feedback on the games market potential. Particularily in regards to its shelf life and replayability.

    So while I (and i'm sure most developers) agree that in principle game betas should be excelent quality, the reality, at least in terms of entertainment value, is that there is very little they can do to refine a game's 'fun' until it's been in beta.

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  3. You get what you pay for. If you want free testing, the quality of that testing will suffer.

    The bigger problem is using open beta as a marketing event, and getting people to try the game before it's finished. Also, somewhat related is releasing a game before it's ready.

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