“First comes Alpha then comes Beta, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” This sing-song holds somewhat true if you consider the baby in the baby carriage to be a finished game being “born” on release day. On September 29th (Septemberr 27th for those of you who preordered through Origins) the Battlefield 3 beta will be released for testing and I am just as excited for the beta as I am for the game… until the game actually releases on 10/25/2011.
As the name implies, as does the sweet song above, beta game versions come out after extensive alpha testing. Alpha testing of a game entails running a version of the final product (usually not the complete game with all of its features enabled) through the ringer and the testing is usually done extensively by the developer of the games employees. Betas of games are a more finalized and polished form of the alpha that usually include more features that will end up in the final version.
An even bigger and more important aspect of beta testing is the increased number of testers. Betas are usually made available to all those who have preordered the game, do beta testing for a living or, through a “friends and family” connection to the developer. The sheer number factor involved in beta testing is what makes it such an important step in the development cycle. It is important to have more eyes on the product and more importantly, eyes that are not that of the developers. Beta play (also another way to say frapping I guess) gives the developer the chance to have thousands of players test their product, usually at little direct cost to the developer, that are looking at the game for the first time. Fresh eyes spot fresh mistakes.
By the time the beta is being tested the game is almost complete. It gives the players a chance to try to find and make use of exploits and it gives the developer the chance to fix them before final release. Balance questions like “Is this weapon/class overpowered?” or “Do we need to limit the range of this spell/tanks cannon?” can be answered during beta testing because if something in the game provides an unfair advantage, then you can be sure players will take advantage of it.
For the master of all betas that is Battlefield 3, one of the biggest issues that will be certified will be EA’s [Electronic Arts] server ability. With 64 player maps (that include simultaneous action via jets, helicopters, tanks, Humvees, ATVs, ground troops etc.) being a major bullet point to the game, server quality will definitely need to be verified and stress tested extensively. With beta testing you enable the developer to test their servers under game day release conditions and cleanup any hiccups that present themselves prior to final launch.
Starting the beta provides that wee bit of relief for a gamer who is pent up with tension and needs some release before the final version comes. It also provides the developer and publisher some extra, late in the game, marketing vibe. Here’s to the master beta and to its success at providing us with a happy ending and a smooth release.