Not much has changed in respect to most console and PC titles, however in the MMORPG genre, beta testing has been completely redefined in the last few years. It used to be that only a few lucky people, maybe a few hundred, would be selected to participate in a games closed beta testing phase.
I myself have applied for many closed betas over the years and remember having to fill out some pretty lengthy applications. Then wait around and see if I was selected to participate. Today however things are very different, just take a glance over to our Beta & Item Key Giveaway area on the right site. Today joining a closed beta does not necessary mean the developer wants you to test anything. In fact if you start seeing beta keys becoming available for closed beta, it more than likely means the publisher is switching gears to start marketing their game.
Now, I have no problem with publishers or developers using their closed beta testing phase as a marketing tool to gain more exposure for their title. However I do take issue when a game goes into “open beta” and accepts payment from players for anything. By the very fact developers are labeling their games as beta, means they acknowledge the fact that it is not yet ready for release and contains bugs and possibly major problems.
With that acknowledgement, this should also mean publishers should not accept payment from players during their open beta phase. The game is not complete, so they should not ask players for money. However times have changed and there are more than a few publishers doing this as common practice.
Today Allods Online announced that their game will be “official launching very soon”, after more than 13+ months of open beta testing and having an open item shop. To be honest, I thought Allods Online launched months ago, so I was a bit thrown back when I saw the announcement today and is actually the reason for this editorial.
Over the last few years we have seen many MMO games launch that were just not ready for release, only to see a player backlash and subscription numbers plummeting a few months later. Age of Conan is the last major release I can remember where this happened, although I’m sure there were others. Now publishers are using open beta testing not only for marketing, but to fund their incomplete and buggy games.
From a players point of view, I find it unethical for publisher or developer to open up items shops for real money while the game is in open beta. However I can understand why they do it. MMO games take years to develop and are extremely expensive to create, so if publishers can start earning income while still in beta, it’s a big help.
So the decision really comes down to the individual player. Those that want to spend money for a game in beta can, and for those, like myself, who don’t wish to, don’t have to.