At This Point, Should We Start Issuing Reviews for Betas?

Beta tests are a common practice now, but are they actually worthy of a review?

Beta tests are a common practice now, but are they actually worthy of a review?

The video game beta was once a luxury and a novelty. It was only available to industry insiders and journalists. And for a long time, betas never really found their way to consoles, so a large portion of gamers never even participated in a pre-launch test prior to the PS3/360 generation.

Now, however, betas are common practice for just about any major release that will feature a big multiplayer option. And as seemingly every new release does indeed have multiplayer, more and more beta tests are becoming available with each passing year. On top of that, in order to get a bigger sampling, developers have opened up betas to a huge number of people; last year’s open beta for Star Wars: Battlefront welcomed over 9 million testers, for example. And when you combine closed and open tests, development teams can get an excellent lay of the land prior to launch.

Tom Clancy’s The Division just exited a very successful five-day closed beta and we’re hearing another beta – which will run for another five days between February 16 and 21 – is on the way. Again, this is not uncommon and betas will only become bigger, more frequent, and more in-depth. So, does it make sense for journalists to offer consumers reviews on these betas? Or, does it not make sense because betas are, after all, unfinished products? There are two ways to think about this:

Firstly, as an unfinished product, you can’t really make final judgments. Hence, applying a score to a beta probably wouldn’t be fair, nor would it be fair to say the game is “great” or “garbage” based on an early build. Obviously, the entire purpose of a test is to test the product and give the developers a chance to fix a myriad of issues before the game officially releases. On the flip side, though, an analysis of the beta from an industry professional could prove extremely valuable to the designers and the consumers.

Not only would the studio get a summary of the test – and corresponding subjective opinion – but consumers would get a glimpse of what to expect. Hands-on previews were big news before betas, because gamers actually got a chance to hear about an industry insider or journalist playing a game before it was on store shelves. It was exciting and it gave the would-be consumer some actual feedback as opposed to simply screenshots and trailers. Moving along, things get even a little more confusing when you start talking about MMOs or games that essentially only exist online. Such titles stay in a “beta” state for a long time and in fact, the “actual” launch doesn’t feel much different.

So, there are reasons for reviewers offering their thoughts on betas to the gaming public. Whether or not they apply scores to them, with the caveat that the score for the game could change after it’s officially released, would be up to the publication. And the usefulness of this review would depend a lot on the state of the beta (how big it is, how long it ran, how many people participated, etc.). Still, it’s definitely worth considering at this stage of the game…pun intended.

5 thoughts on “At This Point, Should We Start Issuing Reviews for Betas?”

Nah, we don’t need separate reviews. I think that would just complicate things. I think most gamers are like my anyway, because they wait for the final product and review scores. Besides, if they get into the beta themselves, they can form their own opinions.

Well for me, I’d like a beta review because those betas can take a LONG time to download and sometimes you have to do things to get in. Even if it’s just pre-ordering, I don’t want to do them if the beta ends up sucking.

Yeah, but how often does that happen really? Most betas have issues – that’s why they’re betas – and gamers accept that, anyway. I think it’d have to suck REALLY bad to make it not worth playing a game early for a lot of people.

Yes and no. I think it would depend entirely on the game and beta.

I’m not sure I’d read a review of a beta. Well…maybe I would if it was a game I really wanted and I didn’t get a chance to play it. But with so many videos out there and stuff, it seems superfluous to me.

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