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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Beta of Early Access Betas

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Sending free hard drives out to folks!

Way back in April 2007, right when Valve's Steam was just becoming popular, Konami had this idea for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Chōzetsu Hakkutsu ONLINE, translated to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Superior Excavation Online according to Wikipedia. They had a beta for users to join. It was some sort of online game based off of the popular anime, Gurren Lagann.


Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Chōzetsu Hakkutsu ONLINE logo, or Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Superior Excavation Online
Something about this logo has to do with excavating.
From what I can tell, they limited the closed registration to the first 3,000 people with "Konami IDs" and there was something about digging and cards and characters.


Gurren Lagann Online; Kiyal Bachika
I have no idea who this is or what they're saying. See why we need a Japanese Marketing Manager?
Unfortunately, they ended the Beta pretty quickly and never finished it because there was a critical error when you installed it for Windows users, which would probably be the only users. It basically ruined your computer forever and you had to re-install your operating system. Konami, as compensation, sent out 500GB external hard drives to everyone who participated. (If I got one of those, I'd be fine with digital distribution on Wii U!)

Let's do math here. 500GB disk drives back in 2007 apparently cost $100 each. Let's propose that Konami got all 3,000 people. That's $300,000 down the drain right there because of this critical error! And, of course, the game was never finished or released, so add the cost of the game's development up to that point and Konami lost a substantial amount of money.

It's a very concerning and ever-more increasing trend that some developers use "Early Access" or before-the-game-comes-out launches of the game for their beta testing. It's a pretty recent trend that developers made users pay for the privilege (instead of spending several tens of thousands a year for internal QA people) to do that, and I don't really get why anyone would want to pay for a buggy mess. Maybe you can explain it to me, but from what I can tell, it's not fun. And it's also risky.

...And why not just wait for the game to come out? If you're treating it like a demo (you shouldn't pay for demos, by the way) then that is only going to hamper your experience because you're going to either:
  1. Exhaust the game if it actually has had its beta-testing done internally.
  2. Going to develop a negative impression of it because it's a mess.
Companies sucker people into QA positions (quality-assurance, or bug-testing) because it's "You get to play games all day as your job!" In reality, it's very monotonous. You get to spend your day running into walls or something and taking copious notes for the programmers. You get to be frustrated as a bug impedes your path as you might have had legitimate fun at a new part of the game, and you're going to have to repeat that frustration all day. Polished games are nothing like an alpha or beta stage game. You can play some work-in-progress versions of Jessie Go Jr. Remedial Algebra here to see what I mean!

You're not even part of the "is it fun yet?" testing, because fun-testing prototypes are done as development happens, along with before it starts. ...Well, in some places, anyway. And they don't have dedicated QA people do it, because those people are hardcore gamers. They have to be really good! Fun-testing is with ordinary people around the office in non-development departments, or random people on the street. (Just try lurking outside of various game studio headquarters around that point in development and get your kicks out of that.)

By the time the "Early Access" happens, it's too late to really go back and change something if the game mechanics aren't fun or fundamentally flawed. You're still hard-committed to a date.

I know that 2014 was riddled with buggy releases for games that just don't work (and I haven't played a single one of them), but it's not like Early Access or public betas are your answer. ...And be glad that your operating system didn't completely die as a result of these buggy releases! (Free hard-drives are nice, though I wonder if they ever had to give them back to Konami.)

Oh, caveat: You'll definitely want a public beta if you're releasing a massive multiplayer game, because you'll need to test your servers. During that time, you can also use game analytics to see what people are doing and look for widespread trends. If they're not desirable, you could... do something!


Ludwig hopes that KoopaTV's reader base wasn't completely abolished by that whole blizzard thing. He blames Barack Obamasnow and his opposition to Global Warming. ...Also, if you know who that girl in the screenshot is, or you would like to apply for KoopaTV's Japanese Marketing Manager (or both), leave us a comment!

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