Sony has constantly been pushing to improve every aspect of the Playstation 3 since launch and to any owner this is quite obvious. The platform has grown by enormous amounts over the past 2 years. The Playstation 3 is a fantastic addition to any household whether you game or not. But one thing that seemingly pushes Sony above, and cost them far less than advertising, is the Beta program they run.
Having owned the PS3 since launch, I’ve seen alot. I’ve seen Sony’s platform with tomatoes thrown at it, I’ve watched it be called a failure, and I’ve watched it emerge unscathed. And through it all Sony has continuously rewarded me. I played Resistance: Fall of Man religiously online for months. It was my first console based online play addiction. Soon after that, Sony sent me a beta invite for Warhawk. While I won’t lie and say it was the greatest experience, it was unique. The ability to get your hands on a game months prior to the official release and test out a game is a fun and rewarding experience. Sure it took me long over a year after the release of Warhawk to buy it due to my beta experience, I did end up getting it, and all of my beta issues were resolved. But I was an outcast with my opinions of the beta.
One purpose of betas is to build hype. Giving true gamers a first glimpse is like free marketing and advertisement. Gamers like to talk about games, obviously. And while Sony has a well written Non-Disclosure agreement, the fact of the matter is, people tell their friends. So of the hundreds of beta testers of Warhawk there were a small percentage like myself who had some distaste about it, but most loved it, then they told their friends who told their friends, who in the end bought the game. Sony obviously is aware of this, because the game sold well despite a handful of issues still prevalent on launch.
Betas don’t only give an developers and publishers an easy way to hype up a game, but they also give them the chance to fix major issues. This is the number one purpose of a beta, and the biggest thing beta testers don’t understand. For anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to test a game, a beta is unpolished buggy version of the game that is playable. It’s near completion but still has issues that need resolved, many which may not be visible to developers who have been deep in to the game for months. Well when you’re in the game, the last thing you need to hear is “Man, this games all screwed up”, or “I ain’t buying this crap”. As a tester you should never say that. That defeats the purpose. You can believe that if you are in a beta, developers are playing with you, even if their name doesn’t instantly point that out. They are in there trying to find out what’s wrong. The best way to identify and help a problem during testing is having a positive attitude, and a possible way of making it better. Along with that every beta I have been in has had some sort of forums to identify issues. Most games go in to beta pretty close to being done, while others go in looking as if they should still be in Alpha.
No matter your view on betas, the fact is, Sony knows what they are doing. Having had the privilege to be in Warhawk, Socom: Confrontation, Killzone 2, Home, LittleBigPlanet, Resistance 2 and Girl With a Stick, I can tell you Sony knows what they are doing. Of all the betas, I have been on the boards monitoring to see if my issues are being identified. And they are. Sony ensures dev’s are in there making sure beta testers are heard. While most of the time what I find wrong is already identified, I watch to see what dev’s say in response. I watched a game that I was very VERY vocal about go from a bad beta to a rave release. But then I’ve watched 2 come out looking the same as the beta.
In whatever condition the game is released, the developers have fixed the issues. Socom is still being heavily supported by the team at Slant 6. While some Socom fans felt betrayed, most see the hard work they are doing and greatly appreciate it. Resistance 2 proved that the Sony servers can handle 60 people playing in a massive battle at the same time, greatly due to the mass testing during private and public betas. And Killzone 2′s beta is proving to the masses that betas help the publicity of a game. Killzone 2 is set to dominate the First Person Shooter genre much like Call of Duty 4 did last year.
Betas serve many purposes. They help fix, hype up, and prepare fans for great experiences. Being a beta tester for any game is a great experience, but being a beta tester under Sony is ultimately the most rewarding. Sony has proven time and time again the being a beta tester is a great duty, and one that is taken seriously. So to all those testers out there, when you identify a problem, be constructive and not demeaning. To those of you awaiting a beta experience, have faith, Sony’s always looking. If you’re wondering what you can do to help your chances of being a beta tester, be active- on the PSN, on the Playstation Forums, on game related forums. Some game developers pick who they want in the beta, Sony picks them other times, so just be seen in a positive light and you’ll get your chance. When Sony is in charge of picking people they are obviously looking for people who are online playing alot, people who they watch visit to forums, people they know they will be able to watch and follow through the beta. To my fellow testers out there, keep up the good work of helping developers, our voice helps make good games great.