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Beta testing, quality control, and the overall quandary of games.

On July 19th, 2010 at 7:15 am
by Andy

So, I’ve been thinking about some things lately. “What” in particular you ask? Betas and Quality Assurance / Control. The reason for the quandary is this: I just recently filled out my own personal LinkedIn “Resume”, of sorts, and it dawned on me, I’ve played a boatload of MMOs. (In alphabetical order for ease of reading…):

  • Aion, Auto Assault, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, Anarchy Online, Asheron’s Call, Asheron’s Call 2, Champions Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, City of Heroes, City of Villains, Dark Age of Camelot, Dofus, Dragonica, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Dungeon Runners, Eve Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Final Fantasy XI, Free Realms, Guild Wars, LEGO: Universe, Lineage, Lineage II, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, Tabula Rasa, MapleStory, The Matrix Online, Priston Tale, RF Online, RuneScape, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, World of Warcraft and it’s two expansions (and soon to be third).

Of the games listed above, I have beta tested:

  • Aion, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, Champions Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, City of Heroes, City of Villains, Dungeon Runners, LEGO: Universe, The Matrix Online, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade.

Each of these games I have played to at least level 25, spending at least three weeks or more in game. Some of the aforementioned games (World of Warcraft in particular) I have been playing for a solid 6 years or more.

At this point, you may be question my motives for spending so much time inside of a fantasy realm, a digital world which doesn’t exist. Even more depressing to realize is that a fair number of these games I’ve spent so much time on never even make it past the beta stage. They’re stuck in an endless limbo of non-existence to the mass population. Why?

I’m going to ask some hard questions here and I want each of you out there to think about them:

  • What’s the point of doing a beta / Quality Control when most of the issues that go reported, don’t get solved?
  • What’s the point of having a beta or Quality Control session that is open to the public where you control how much your players can discuss / talk amongst themselves in the game?
  • At what point in a beta or Quality Control session does it become the actual playersresponsibility to report problems or errors in the game?
  • If you’re going to have an open beta or qc session, why ignore severe issues and let them slip through to the “final” product?

I’ve been playing games for so many years I can tell you that open betas / quality control sessions aren’t what they seem. In reality, they’re actually “finished” games with the minor bug finding being relegated to the gamers’ responsibilities.

If beta’s are nothing more than buggy finished games, what’s the point of quality control specialists? More mundane things such as jumping in corners for hours on end just to see if anything will happen (clipping, hall of mirrors, falling through world, etc.). It may sound kind of fun at first, testing glitches for video games, but after a few bug seeking sessions I’m sure that corner won’t be quite as fun to jump in.

When a company does an “open” beta for a game like an MMO, for example, Aion, or a bigger better example, World of Warcraft; it’s to stress test the entire world under the stress of having hundreds, if not thousands of players in the game at once. This will expose every single flaw that the world itself has. Some companies are smart, and follow a slightly different approach than the typical alpha, beta, RC, final release schedule. A few that come to mind rather quickly:

Valve and Cryptic — When they do a beta, AFTER the game releases, they actually keep a bug report tool in the game itself. It means they know their games are flawed and bug ridden, though they encourage people to report back on various bugs and glitches. The feedback is invaluable.

When things like this are in the beta, are reported numerous times, and still end up slipping through to final game (and to my knowledge, still exist in game.. I haven’t done the Mr. Zombie quest in a while, but I do know it wasn’t mentioned in any patch notes as “fixed”)… what’s the point?

Another game, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes:

While Brad McQuaid’s “Vanguard Saga of Heroes” may look “beautiful”, it was hailed by Gamespy as the “Biggest Disappointment” award for 2007. Vanguard also won the awards in the categories for “Least Fun”, “Most Desolate” and “Lamest Launch” in the MMOWTF Awards for the worst games of 2007. There also have been numerous criticisms of the game by the game press and the fan base.

  • Content was low for high-level players, and spotty even in some lower-level areas. Further disappointing was that if you even got to the “high level content”, there wasn’t very much planned high level content available at launch.
  • Large numbers of bugs and performance issues, which make gameplay difficult, and on some systems rendering the game virtually unplayable.
  • At release, performance was poor on many systems, including some high-end configurations. For example there was no anti-aliasing, and anisotropic filtering support was buggy.

I’m not kidding you when I tell you the game was released BEFORE it was ready.

So.. what happened to the “fan base”‘s precious V:SoH? Sony Online Entertainment (Hereafter known as SoE), decided to make it the test bed for everything they wanted in massively online multiplayer games. Reread that again. SoE decided to turn Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, if you’ll pardon the expression, into it’s bitch.

I remember playing the beta and having numerous issues where you’d fall through the world, only having to reconnect to find your place miles back from where you were. At one point in the beta, I leveled 5 times, and the server disconnected (ok.. that’s fine.. it’s a beta.. server disconnects are excusable..) only to log myself back on after the server came back up to find my character: sex changed and level one and gearless. (This is not so excusable…) Now mind you, my character was level 25 before. Grief and frustration abound. V:SoH was like the original EQ in terms of hardness. You could grind for a period of 4 days and not hit 15. I felt like I’d been robbed, and at that point I said “screw it”, and never came back.

These days, I chat with friends who still play the game and they say the game is still “plagued by issues”, yet, its “better.” But it got me thinking — At which point do you stop playing a game even if it’s bad..? The most obvious answer is “just stop”. But often it’s a combination of various elements that ultimately seal or kill a game. I gave up on Vanguard because it just wasn’t working. The bug reports weren’t being responded to, SoE simply refused to give into the players requests, and things just died. I’m actually quite surprised the game is still alive at this point.

**SoE, if you read this, you need to realize, your player base is what makes you what you are. The game may still have it’s loyal fanbase, but if you don’t listen and stop making the game a test bed, the game will die. Then you won’t have anyone to try anything IN the game because no one will care.

It’s a lot to digest. To some, it’s senseless rambling, while others will label it thought provoking. What do you think? Are private/public private betas still necessary. Which is more helpful? Are the games I mentioned still relevant to a “modern” gamer or are they nothing more than niche products, forever stuck in a state of average? So many questions. Good thing there’s no limit in the box below. Go on, leave a few characters…

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