Long gone are the days when we would buy fully released games straight out of the door; this is the age of the beta tester.
In a way, it’s not hard to understand why that is — having access to a large and mostly free pool of people to test your game is a great way to iron out bugs quickly and also to see what features need work — it also saves developers a ton of money on having to pay for contracted beta testers and bug testers.
It also means that you’re getting people who are genuinely interested in the overall theme and genre of the game which is great for honest feedback — these are the people who want to see it succeed the most.
However, there are some key reasons why games stay in beta so long that we wanted to highlight them to give you a better overview of the matter – let’s take a look.
Beta and Beyond: 5 Reasons Why Games Stay In Beta So Long
1. Expectations are higher these days
After quite a few notable failed games launches such as No Man’s Sky and Cyberpunk 2077, it’s rather obvious that expectations from players are growing much higher these days than what’s always realistically possible.
However, developers aren’t blameless either, mainly because they utilize their PR and marketing teams to whip up a frenzy to maximize their profit as much as possible, though, these can often be deceiving clips or publications whereby only segments of the game are shown to highlight them in the best possible way.
So on one side, you have higher expectations, and on the other, you have developers using increasingly shady methods to maximize profitability right out the door.
Part of the problem is that games have been around for a relatively long time so people expect them to get better and better, and include more complex systems of entertainment.
In a way, we’ve hit a point of diminishing returns between player expectations and what’s possible from a technological point of view.
Without spending hundreds of millions of dollars per game, it’s unlikely you’ll see anything dramatically different until technology catches up whereby it allows faster game production and the ability to even play these types of games on our gaming systems without a poor experience.
2. Beta status doesn’t affect profitability much
Most games released in beta still include monetization features such as in-game stores and paid add-on updates, which in most cases, is still where developers make the bulk of their profit from.
Why call a game released when you can simply keep it in a perpetual state of development where criticism is easier to mitigate and where you can still make massive amounts of profit?
Basically, there isn’t much incentive for developers to release a game fully (or give it that status) until it’s absolutely gleaming from a gameplay standpoint, and even from a reputational standpoint with the player base.
If the players believe in a game then they’ll buy things for it regardless of where it is in the development cycle, plus, sometimes rewards are given off the back of early investment which is another incentive for players to pump money into early projects in the hope they acquire rare or unique rewards for loyalty.
3. Players like to feel like they’re part of an evolving project
A psychological benefit of maintaining a beta status for a game is that it gives players a greater sense of being part of the creation of the game rather than just another cog in a huge machine.
To paint the picture here, when was the last time your feedback was actively listened to or updated off the back of some constructive criticism in a fully released game? Probably never — certainly not without an overwhelming majority consensus.
Beta is where players have more interaction with the developers and thus, is a great time to leave a permanent mark on something that could be huge in the future.
It’s also a time when players are still figuring things out which is usually the most fun time to start playing a game — no one wants to get annihilated in their first five minutes of trying something out or feel like they’ve got a mountain to climb to get to a competitive level.
4. Less pressure on the developers
Another quite obvious reason for keeping a game in a beta state is that there’s typically less pressure from investors and players to make sure things are working perfectly.
It’s a time when if things go wrong you can simply blame it on being in a beta state, even if that state has been maintained for a year or more.
In fact, some backlash has been so brutal on game developers in the past for poor launches that it’s not hard to understand why they’re cautious about releasing too early.
Once sentiment for a game dies it’s basically impossible to recover from that which if several millions of dollars are on the line, is quite a scary prospect.
5. Greater flexibility for testing novel ideas
If you had to compare an indie games developer to a corporate mega-giant like Blizzard, the main difference you’d probably see from a developmental point of view is that there is far greater scope for indie dev teams to go wild with ideas and testing, whereas being in the spotlight does not allow for such nonchalant attitudes.
Part of the reason for this is investor pressure in which they expect to see quick returns on ideas, typically preferring safer bets than exotic or novel solutions.
However, this pressure also arises from the player base too in which they’ll eventually come to expect updates on a regular and cyclical basis, or on a timeframe that has been established previously through other regular updates.
Basically, once you’re out of the testing phase, the development process loses the fun aspect of creation and often goes on to become a more methodological and clinical process.
In conclusion, most games stay in beta for longer time frames mainly because there are very few drawbacks to doing so, both from a developer standpoint and from the player base perspective too.
The main advantages include having more freedom to test novel ideas, less pressure from investors, and allowing players to feel like they’re part of the creative process or that they’re early in the game’s lifecycle for much longer.
What happens when a game is in beta?
Many things happen during the beta phase of a game such as the testing of ideas, development of in-game processes, bug finding, bug fixing, and establishing the main foundation that the game will ultimately release into.
Beta is the pre-phase right before launch meaning most of the game is fundamentally built, however, still needs a little bit more polishing before it can go out to the markets.
In most cases, beta is also where the majority of players can first start playing the game mainly because alpha is reserved for internal testers or people working for the company.
To underscore this, beta is where the final testing and polishing of systems are finalized, and is also where players can have the most input from a feedback point of view.
How long do games stay in beta?
The time span of a game maintaining beta status typically lasts for around 6 months to 2 years, however, it can last for longer and sometimes may never leave the phase at all either due to failure or because it doesn’t have any benefit to doing so.
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