Beta Backers – The New and Dangerous Way to Support a Video Game

Over the past few years, Video game companies have started a new approach to delivering their final product to their consumers, giving them an option to offer feedback towards the final product and playing early at the cost of a few dollars. While it might be fun to play the game early and feel like a part of the development process, there are risks involved in being in the Early Access phase of a game.

video gameBefore the introduction of the internet, video games were sold as a final product as either a cartridge or CD. Now with most consoles and PCs having access to the internet, companies can make changes quickly depending on consumer feedback.

video game

What makes a product in beta any better than a fully finished product? Early Access / Betas for video games can be a win-win for both the developers as well as those purchasing the product: developers now have funds to further develop their game to their liking and those that purchased the game can play it earlier than others as well as giving their helpful advice or criticism early into the development cycle allowing the developers time to change some of the problems to make the community happy.

video gameAs small and large development teams alike might take advantage of this strategy and have those that the game give feedback as well as submitting bug reports and crash reports to make their game more stable for the final release. Ben Kurchera of Polygon says it the best:

“…the process often feels like listening to the demos of your favorite band as they’re in the studio recording”

Sure there are problems…While a successful beta can lead to quality word of mouth from reputable sources and peers alike, there are always a few bad apples in the bunch, and by a few, there are quite a few bad apples. According to Steam Early Access in 2014, there was an increase in Early Access games by 123% from the previous year. While that might seem like there is a good quality of games in the Steam store, only about 25% of these Early Access games actually see a full release. Games like Cube World blew up in 2013 generating millions of views on Youtube, but despite the overall well received game, Cube World creator Wollay has gone silent since July 2017.

Today, using Valve Steam’s Application Programming Interface, Steamspy.com [https://steamspy.com/genre/Early+Access], can track various data within the Steam Store. About 2,800 titles with the “Early Access” tag generate an average user score of 70.3% as well as maintaining an average playtime of five hours. Five hours to play a game and never pick it up again? While the company already has your cash, that is still an unfortunate side effect of an Early Access game.

What makes a good beta? With no clear formula to create a quality video game early access experience, there are a few ways that game companies can up their overall performance to help create a better game:

Communication between parties

  • Every update should be accommodated with a short explanation on what and why items are changing for the most recent patch.
  • All forms of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc) should be active, whether that be responding to comments, suggestions, or criticism.

Updates

  • Keep the user base interested in the product. Release small updates every week or so to keep your user base around and talking about the game.
  • FREE UPDATES. While yes, video game developers require cash to keep it coming, the game is in BETA. If your game company is looking to monetize, then push for a full release to sell at full price. Small micro transactions can be a tipping point for most people since they might have already paid for the beta/ early access of the game.

Marketing

  • Even though the game is not close to finishing, you still want new people to come and try out your product. Beta and Early Access is a crucial time for the game, for if the game is not successful while in the early stages, how well will it be two years from now?
  • Attempt to use the user base as a form of marketing. Offer unique rewards for referring a friend or liking certain pages on social media. Any word for a starting game can be beneficial.

-Nate Weber

5 thoughts on “Beta Backers – The New and Dangerous Way to Support a Video Game

  1. I think betas can be a great way to test games, receive feedback, and fixing bugs, while giving players early access to games. It’s a smart way to crowd-fund, in a way, and can get other people hyped about the game, which can lead to pre-orders or investments into the game or manufacturer.
    It’s unfortunate that in some cases, developers go black and take the consumers’ money and run without giving them the eventual game that was promised, but it is also the risk that people take in these sorts of situations. The developers that typically have betas available to the public are typically independent and may rely more heavily on revenue from betas or crowd-sourcing.
    Big-time developers don’t necessarily need to do these big public betas because they have larger teams working on their games, investors, and the built-in hype that comes with the name of their studio.
    A good beta, in my opinion, is one that follows through on concerns from their beta testers, perfects their game, and releases a full, finished version that is better than what they originally started with.

  2. I’m a little split on the topic of BETAs. On one hand, I do believe it connects fans to the developers of a game they like and also gives the developers notes on their product. At the same time though, part of me feels like some developers don’t polish their games to the levels they could/should and just hide these faults under the disguise of it “just being a BETA/early access”. In the old days games (for the most part) were complete when you bought them, and didn’t require update after update in order to play it.

  3. I believe BETAS and early access are the best thing for video games right now. It allows the game to get better, if you trust that’s what the developer is doing. Back in the day, games were on CD’s and that was it, there were no changes. I remember playing games that just needed a little tweak or something changed but the developer couldn’t because they had already released their finished product. I support the BETA and early access features but I know some people have got bad experiences with them.

  4. I think that Betas are a good idea in on paper but when they are actually released most game developers just take the beta and release it as the full game. Activision has done this with Call of Duty for multiple games. I think that some games have used betas very well and have actually used the feed back. I think that betas can be used well as a hype to show people how good a game will be but I think that betas will continue to not be as effective as people would hope.

  5. I have always enjoyed playing games that are still in beta. Almost all of them are from companies just starting to get into the swing of making video games. My friends and I will often play games like this because all of the problems that have yet to be addressed make for a unique play through. That being said I do see the problem of beta games suddenly halting production happening more often.

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