The Monthly Question: September 2016

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This month is all about demos and betas. Do you think more games should have betas? Has a demo ever convinced you to buy a game?

For in-depth analysis from the staff, I asked the PS Nation writers:

How do you you feel about demos and betas?
Chazz Harrington (PSN ID: ChazzH69)
A beta is generally a good thing for a game, as they are used for balancing, finding bugs and glitches, and general player testing. Because so many more people can play it, they usually find things the standard playtesters cannot. However, some publishers and developers use them as glorified demos; they release them too late in the production cycle to make any changes before the game is released. I am not sure why, but that really annoys me.

A demo is an excellent way to try before you buy and it’s a shame that we do not see more of them. I understand that it all costs time and money at the end of the day, so some developers can only do it after the game has been released, if at all. I liked some old demos that unlocked things in the main game or allowed you to carry over your progress.

There have been many demos and a few betas that convinced me to take the plunge. I clearly remember an early beta of Bad Company 2 on the PlayStation 3. I had zero inclination to buy or even rent the game, but after playing it for days, I had to own the game, and got the Platinum for it too.

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Raj Mahil (PSN ID: Jatt_RM8)
The impact and usefulness of demos has definitely diminished.

During the PS1 and PS2 lifecycles, I used the demo discs included with Official PlayStation Magazine to make my purchasing decisions.

Usually playing the first level and getting a feel for the gameplay in one of those demos would sell the game for me – in that regard, The Simpsons Hit & Run instantly comes to mind for me.

Now, I play fewer demos. This is partly because I’m more focused on collecting, so only buy brand new games if I’m super hyped, such as a Batman or Rockstar title. Another reason is that videos and a wide range of opinions are available online, without needing to download a hefty demo (in terms of file size).

Judging by the volume of big games which release with a ton of problems, which are then patched after launch, I definitely think more developers should make use of open betas to test their $60 product in advance.

Ben Palmer (PSN ID: CNPalmer)
I think there is a distinct difference between a demo and a beta. So let me qualify what I think each is and how it might or might not influence me.

I’ll use Destiny as an example for the beta discussion. Destiny had both an alpha & beta release before the full game was launched. Looking back, you can clearly see that these releases were definitely more in line with what someone such as myself would consider to be “prerelease technology”, where the player would more than likely experience bugs, issues and might not have all of the features implemented. Anyone who played the A & B releases of Destiny can certainly see how changes & improvements were made before the full game was released.

I find today that many publishers will use the term “beta” as a means of drumming up excitement for their upcoming release. I feel as if very little might change in terms of what that “beta” experience is and what the full release will be. I also feel as though these may be more of a stress test for backend server infrastructure and geared more towards that side of support than what the consumer will see up front.

As for a demo I feel as if that should be a direct excerpt or pull from the game that provides the player/consumer the full game experience they would get from the full release purchase. That could maybe be just the first level or two of the game, or maybe a timed game play session. In either circumstance, the player gets somewhat of a complete picture of what they’re getting into.

In both scenarios, I’ve been swayed to purchase the entire game. I had heard of Destiny but wasn’t sure that was a game for me even though it was an FPS style game. The alpha & beta convinced me enough to give it a go though. For demos, I’ve been happy with some of those offered on PSN where I played it and liked it enough that I wanted more so I made the full purchase. I think either way, betas, demo or technical releases, whatever you prefer, helps give the consumer a better idea of the overall experience and might just turn into a sale for the publisher.

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Andy Richardon (PSN ID: andyscout)
Whatever, I don’t really care. I mean, most games do seem to have betas already anyway. At least the ones with online multiplayer. Single player games don’t really need a beta.

I’m pretty sure I bought several games because of those demo discs you used to be able to get in magazines. Actually, I know I convinced my parents to get me Spyro after playing the demo that was on the Crash Bandicoot disc. And for betas, the Destiny beta pushed me over into getting the game, though obviously I was interested enough to download the beta in the first place.

I think companies are misrepresenting the word “beta” these days, particularly when the game gets a beta only a week or two before launch. There’s not enough time to actually change much based on that “beta”, and it’s probably based on final or nearly-final code. But other than semantics over the word choice, they’re fine. I’m usually pretty sure of what games I will and won’t buy these days, so I don’t think many demos/betas change my mind either way, but sometimes it’s nice to get to try the game a little early.

Damon Bullis (PSN ID: Zia74)
I think that betas are generally good for the industry if properly used. I was an original beta tester for Xbox Live and, based on feedback given, you could see the changes that were implemented for the better of the service. They were really looking at using the beta test to improve their product.

I was part of another beta test for a game that I was really looking forward to playing. While beta testing it, everybody was complaining about balancing issues with the game. When the game was released, every problem that was in the beta was in the retail product. The game suffered for it and wasn’t well received. That company just wanted to put out a product and it showed. So the beta was a waste of everybody’s time and energy.

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Matt Engelbart (PSN ID: WithSwordAndGun)
I think the reason so many companies use the term “beta” instead of “demo” is to try and keep people from criticizing their game. Many developers have said journalists should not criticize their beta because it is a beta and not a final product. But that is not really true if their beta is only three weeks before the launch of the game.

For me, quick looks and other videos have largely replaced demos. A twenty minute video generally tells me all I need to know about a game. That said, sometimes you just need to get your hands on a game. For example, I generally hate combo based combat in games that gives the player a ranking after each battle, yet the story in Odin Sphere Leifthrasir interested me. I only played the demo for fifteen minutes before buying the game. If there had not been a demo for the game I would have missed out on one of my favorite games of the year.

Michael Cwick (PSN ID: The1stMJC)
I think more games should have betas, especially when more and more games launch broken or not feature complete. And I mean real betas, not these marketing demos that are called “betas”. I think the industry has tarnished the word “beta” and we are seeing companies back away from the term and have now introduced alphas as a thing. Regardless of the name, a beta/alpha is important to a game’s success and a big help to the developers.

When it comes to demos, that has become a more complex issue as games expand in size and in concepts. A lot of indie games, especially the shorter ones, might not lend themselves to a good representation in demo form. While larger games have way too many things going on with features, a demo will only show a sliver of what the game has to offer which could negatively affect player’s perception of the final product.

PS Plus had a good idea when they introduced timed trials, but many people could not afford to download a full game on a lark with bandwidth limitations and data caps. So maybe as internet becomes more affordable and reasonable, we can return to timed trials and demos again.

Your Turn
These are our thoughts on demos and betas. What are yours? Tell us in the The Monthly Question thread in the PS Nation Forums.

Thanks as always to John Payant for editing.

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