If you’re reading this, it stands to reason that you’re interested in becoming a beta tester for a highly anticipated, upcoming game. Now, that’s all well and good, but there’s more to beta testing than simply playing, and this primer is here to assist you in understanding certain nuances that arise when it comes to becoming a true beta tester.
Dispelling Your Fantasy
There are many ways to look at a beta test invitation. Companies sometimes use it to drum up interest in their game. You can see it as a personal opportunity to see if a game is something you’ll want to play. You can use the chance at a beta as a sort of social bragging right in your gaming circles. You can, and I don’t consider this very nice, break NDA and report on your adventures and new information from the game.
Truth be told, while all but one of the above reasons are valid things to really interest you in beta testing a game, none of these are the root reason for engaging in a beta test. The primary purpose of a beta test is to summarily improve a game, product, or service by providing valuable feedback that can be used for further enhancements. One does this by repeatedly attempting to force the game to do something that programmers did not intend, reporting it, and hoping for the best.
Let us dispel the fantasy here and now: true beta testing isn’t as glamorous or glorious as some people think. Metaphorically speaking, you’re essentially asked, very nicely I might add, to go into someone’s place of business, break stuff, and then report to the shopkeepers or managers as to what can be done to prevent stuff from breaking and to improve the overall experience for everyone else. Preferably without anyone dying from tetanus.
If the prospect of willingly doing things repeatedly in an attempt to test how a game responds to your actions is something you think you want to do, then by all means, dig right in and become a beta tester. If the prospect of improving a world and acting demigod-like by impacting a game world is your thing, then be a beta tester. If you want to snoop around and point out inconsistencies in lore, spelling, or mathematical data, be a beta tester.
If you want a free game, be a beta tester anyway. You’ll be part of the stress test, and we can teach you how to be a beta tester if you keep reading. 🙂
Everyone can be a Champion of Improvement Online
When it comes to understanding people, it can be said that everyone has a a different variety of skills that they use to get through life. That said, everyone can be an effective beta tester by playing to their strengths and using it to improve the game.
For instance, let us take my own abilities. I’m a writer by trade, and not very mathematically savvy or technically inclined. I can participate in beta testing through regular play and repeatedly attempting to break the game, writing down, with some detail and exactness, the process by which I managed to perform anomalous actions that programmers can look into and fix. I can also point out potential grammatical inconsistencies or errors for review.
Those who are mathematically inclined may potentially be better at parsing numbers and ensuring that in-game effects, spells, and attacks actually work as intended. Technically savvy people who encounter issues can also serve the community by outlining certain failures that may occur due to having certain hardware configurations or generally, by allowing people to learn from them how to better report technical errors.
The point is, so long as you want to help, and you’re given a spot, there’s something you can do to assist in bringing further progress to a game, impacting the lives of gamers you may never meet. That’s a pretty nice incentive to find and point out a problem, don’t you think?
The Prime Purpose: To Battle For Improvements Within Reason
Now, the prime purpose of a beta tester is to be devoted to improving a game through action and reporting. This means that you are important for the further development of a game.
This does not, however, mean that you or your ideas are indispensable, all-important pieces of information that must be followed and given action to.
If, between a game-breaking bug and a spelling error that destroys the entire meaning of a sentence on part of the primary plotline of the story, a development team had to choose something to fix, for example, they would most likely fix the game-breaking bug first and then attend to the spelling error at a later date.
Informing a development team of a bug is good. Zealously pointing out that the issue you found must be remedied with all due haste is, while admirable, not exactly going to endear you to the devteam.
An Assortment of Advice
That said, there are many tips that can be given to lessen frustration and make beta testing a fulfilling, happy activity for everyone. Let’s talk about that, shall we?
1. Break Stuff and Report It
This is the primary tenet of beta testing, and can be summed up as such. Do everything in your power to find anomalies programmer did not expect from their game, and then give the important details that will allow them to remedy the issue. This is a beta test, so it’s almost impossible to not find something to report, unless you’ve done extensive testing prior to the beta.
2. Be Mature
Everyone is different, and not everyone shares the same skills, knowledge, personality, or temperament you have. As a rule of thumb, being mature and helpful is the way to go.
For instance, not everyone will read this primer and know what to do when they encounter a bug, so be patient and help people to make their experience of beta testing become a positive one that allows them to be an agent for positive change.
3. Follow Instructions
Normally, this’d be the first thing people would be asked to do. I, however, find that having an understanding of the basic ideas behind beta testing and human decency to trump the ability to read directions. That said… if you are asked to test something, test it. If directions are given by the developers to do something to improve or test a game mechanic, try doing it. You could be saving the company developing the game a lot of money by the simple act of jumping across the game world looking for hidden holes to hell.
4. Consider your fellow man.
Related to the second point above, it’d be a good idea if you did a thought experiment once and a while to see what the developers might be thinking as well. Imagine there are only 1000 beta testers, with 1000 individual different accounts of 60 potentially important issues, 120 important issues, 10 confirmed game breakers, and 475 misspelled words. You might feel the issue you found is important, but the dev team is essentially choosing the most important things to remedy first depending on their manpower and allotment of resources. You need to be patient and understanding if you want to be a good beta tester, let alone a wonderful human being.
5. Respect the Non-Disclosure Agreement.
It goes without saying that non-disclosure agreements keep games from losing followers even before they come out. An unauthorized beta impression may be cool for you, but can cost a company revenue and potentially get people fired even before a game goes live. A beta is a beta, and thus isn’t the finished product, and giving an unauthorized impression, positive or negative, is highly inconsiderate towards the people who have worked towards building the game you just played, as well as to the hard working beta testers you’ve gotten to interact with during your beta testing stint.
Being a beta tester is a highly rewarding activity that can create a sense of community and enhance a service or product you want to enjoy. By giving the beta testing process the respect and care it deserves, you can make the beta test a happier, more productive experience for your fellow tester, as well as for the developers.
Thanks to the folks from the forums of Prime: Battle For Dominus for giving me new insights into the beta testing process. I appreciate the input, and I hope you don’t mind my including your thoughts into this piece.