Beta testing is something you will hear about if you pay close enough attention to the latest app news. Our list of upcoming apps usually has at least a couple of games listed as being in beta testing phase at any given time. What is a beta test? How do you get involved? Let’s take a closer look and attempt to answer these questions, and more.
What is Beta Testing?
In the strictest terms, beta testing is when an app developer releases a version of the game to select users for testing. Sometimes, this means giving their friends a copy. In the world of digital board games, beta testing usually means opening the game up to a select group of users outside of the development team. Apple and Google have both made this much easier to do as invited users can follow a link to download the app like they do a normal app from either store.
The game which users are playing is almost certainly not the final version of the game. It is usually a mostly complete version, but often times advanced features such as online play will be disabled in beta versions. Some companies will deliberately release the beta version while they still have significant work left to do on the game. Others will only enter beta testing if they think the app is nearly done.
Not all games go through beta testing phases, at least not larger, public tests. A well made app is a well made app, regardless of how it got there, but a thorough beta test usually results in a more polished app come release time.
Check out our favorite games of 2017 list!
What's in it for Developers?
Feedback. Developers get unfiltered feedback directly from their audience without fear of low app store ratings, which can kill an app’s download numbers. Not all beta testers will provide significant feedback, but if a developer adds enough people, they are bound to get a hefty amount of comments on their app. The developers will be looking for users to uncover bugs that they weren’t able to produce in their own testing. This is especially important in the fractured world of Android deployment where there are far too many devices and operating systems (OS) versions for developers to fully test on their own. Hand out 100 Android beta previews and the stats say it will likely hit 8-10 different OS versions, and well over 20 different devices. This is less of a problem on iOS, but having a larger number of people playing is still a good way to find new bugs.
Outside of bugs, developers will want to know if anything in their game is confusing, visually unappealing, or could use some tweaking. Is a feature the developers considered to be secondary actually really important to many testers? Maybe that will warrant a more prominent placement other than being buried in the options menu. Is the tutorial super confusing for players who haven’t tried the physical game? Is the AI way too easy or difficult? These are just a sample of some of the types of feedback a developer might receive from a beta test. The main goal will be to ensure the app performs as expected, but good developers will also be attentive to suggestions that users present them.
Developers also gain some valuable pre-release publicity for their apps. If a strong beta is released to enough people, they will talk about it. Some developers will require that beta testers don’t discuss the app details until it is fully released, while others have no such restrictions. Often times content creators will join beta testing when they can, and they will definitely talk about the games they are testing when they are allowed. A steady stream of positive impressions on social media can go a long way to building a solid amount of hype before an app releases.
What's in it for Users?
A chance to play the game early. The length of a beta test and how long between it and the full app release varies widely depending on the game/developer, but regardless, if you get to join a beta test, you will be one of the first people outside of the developers to experience the app. That’s pretty cool.
Beta testing is almost always free (we’ll get into that more later), so users also get a free look into an app they may or may not have considered purchasing otherwise. Depending on the developer, users also may get a chance to shape the app in some small way. If a developer is open to the feedback then user suggestions might make their way into the released product.
How Does it Work?
In most cases, a developer will be working on an app for a while and announce its existence somewhere along the way. This is followed by a waiting period and then a beta test will be announced. Once users are selected for the test, they are notified via email and receive a link to their favorite app store to download the game.
Many beta apps will have a “send feedback” button right on the main menu to make things easier. Others will rely on forums or surveys for feedback. Developers will be working on the game while users test. Developers have the ability to release new versions frequently, so users will get the latest updates and fixes, these turnaround times are usually very quick, especially compared to the update cycle for a fully released game.
This cycle continues for some period of time: users play, send feedback, developers address feedback and other items on their TODO list, new version released. The length of a beta test is entirely dependent on the developer. If the developer thinks the game is nearly complete and simply wants to make sure no major bugs exist, the beta could potentially be quite short. Other times, games are less complete and the developer is still adding features and wanting feedback as they add, in this case a beta might last significantly longer. From our experience, beta tests average roughly a month or two in length, but we’ve also been involved in betas which lasted significantly longer than that.
The beta test is ended by the developer as they make the final preparations for full release.
Check out our most anticipated games of 2018, many of these will be entering beta soon!
How Do I Join a Beta Test?
Most companies will announce their beta tests via social media. In a shameless plug, if you follow us on Twitter we will always RT all beta announcements we see. We follow all of the developers, so we can be a one-stop follow for you and all of your beta announcement news. Otherwise, following the developers/publishers individually is probably the best way to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Some developers will have a short survey to complete explaining why you would be a good beta tester, others will just ask for an email address. Asmodee is the big fish in the digital board game world, they will link to a section of their forums when announcing a beta. We don’t know the magical answers to get you into a beta test, sorry, but suggesting you play a lot of games and would love to give feedback is usually a decent start.
On the other end, some recent games have given beta access to those who back their projects on crowdfunding sites. Evolution is one example, all backers were given beta access to their game. This is a great perk for backers and helps developers populate their beta with players who were interested enough to back the project, it is a win-win in our book and love seeing this perk when developers choose to go the crowdfunding route.
Is Beta Testing for You?
If you’re reading this, it probably is. It’s a fun, usually free way to get a look into an upcoming app. That experience is pretty cool. The game won’t be the final, polished version that will hit app stores, but it will certainly be enough to inform you on whether or not you want to purchase the full game, at the very least. It might expose you to a game you otherwise would have ignored, or it might confirm your excitement for a game you have been eagerly anticipating.
If you don’t want to play an unfinished product, then beta testing isn’t for you. The app will likely have bugs, some of them game-killing, while the developer irons out the implementation. Features will be grayed out, and you might not even be allowed to discuss the game on social media. There is also the inherent responsibility of providing feedback to the developer. They are allowing you early access, so you really should be providing feedback about your experience. That won’t be appealing for everybody, as many would prefer to wait until they can get their hands on a finished product.
All in all, beta testing is a great experience from the user’s point of view. Get an early peek at an app, get to provide feedback, and get to play a (hopefully) fun game. We highly recommend the experience if you have the time. Again, follow us on Twitter <LINK TO TWITTER> to keep up to date on what games are seeking beta testers.