Promises and RespectAnonymous
I entered the beta test world at a point where a lot of it was starting to be done by people found online. At this point, beta testers were still expected to submit bug reports on a daily basis. After all, we were there to improve the game, not just demo it so we could tell our friends.
Two experiences stand out.
The first: I became a beta tester for a small company’s third title - an RTS. Early on in the testing cycle, I posted a suggestion on the beta forum that one of the units in the game ran counter to the stated purpose of the game. In short, it was too powerful for a game promoting mobility over traditional RTS turtle tactics. A number of other testers weighed in on the subject, everyone made their arguments in a respectful manner, and we moved on. After the next patch came through, the devs had in fact lessened the strength of that unit, and over the course of several patches raised and lowered the strength until they got it just right and it matched the intended flow of the game. This was the standard way in which bugs and features were dealt with. Our opinions mattered and we knew it.
It was a small company, and they could not provide us with copies of the game. I happily paid the money for the game and every expansion they released for it.
The second: A major game company sought beta testers for the sequel to a very popular PC racing title. Like the first example, the devs were insistent on beta testers submitting regular bug reports. Instead of setting up a forum, we were provided with an email address. On the very first day of the beta I discovered three crippling bugs which either led to game crashes, or graphics so utterly corrupted that I had to ALT-F4 just to regain control of my computer. I reproduced the bugs several times each, took screenshots, and documented everything. I then submitted all of this to the proper email address.
The email bounced back at me as “address unknown”. and continued to do so all week, to which point I was submitting a week’s worth of bug reports. At the end of the week a mass email was sent out to all of the beta testers, thanking us for our efforts.
Ten days later the game ships, and we all got free copies of the game couriered to our doors… bugs and all. Most of the subsequent fixes came from players modding the game. It was never patched.
The first company gave me nothing, but listened to my input. The second company didn’t even bother to pretend to listen, and gave me a $50 game. Guess which game I am happier having tested?