Broken Out-of-the-Box: Is it Okay for AAA Videogame Developers to Use Their Customers as Beta Testers?

By Bradygoat Feb10,2024

The old gamer in me remembers a time when I purchased a new highly anticipated videogame and put it into my console, and wala!! It worked! Back then a game, no matter the quality of its content, was a complete product and played how it was meant to be played on day-one. There were no launch day patches or server crashes to worry about. You spent your hard-earned dollars
to buy a video game and the video game developers provided you with a game to play. Period.

These days games are shipped to consumers with multiple bugs, glitches, and even sometimes completely unplayable games. Who can forget the dreadful 2020 release of Cyber Punk 2077?

Cyberpunk 2077 – CD Projekt Red

This game was so riddled with bugs that a gross number of gamers where demanding refunds at launch. Now we all know the story of CD Projekt Red’s turn-around of the Cyber Punk game. If you weren’t an early adopter of the game and bought it later at say, a semi-annual Steam sale, you may not have even known there was an issue to begin with. But does that excuse the disastrous initial launch?

How about the most recent game launch of note, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. During the early access period of the games initial launch (full lunch is set a few hours from the writing of this article February 2, 2024) the developer needed to shut down the servers for more than 10 hours to rectify a glitch which told players they had completed the story after simply starting the game.

Keep in mind players with early access to the game forked over an additional $30 for the privilege of playing the game 3-days earlier than most. Rocksteady tried to rectify this faux pas by crediting players with 2000 LuthorCoins, which equates to nearly $20 of in-game currency.

What this gesture of good faith fails to do is give playtime back time to the gamer. Or, better yet how about a refund of the early access fee? Now there is a concept. So is the in-game currency enough to pacify the players, I would guess this is up to the individual gamer. Based on the early reviews of the actual game quality and unimaginative game play, in game loot may not be enough to save face.

As we venture into a digitally dominated videogame marketplace, developers are afforded more time to complete their games. This is due in some instances to the reduction in lead times required to produce a physical product. Even with physical products, gamers are subject to large day-one patches. Many times, new physical game releases are mere boot discs. Whereas a 60-70 gig game comes packaged as a 5-6 gig disc which requires a 60-gig download upon inserting the game into one’s console. Wow, now we potentially need to wait hours to play the new game?

AAA Games typically take two to seven years to be developed…”

Juego Studios

Why then with this much development lead time don’t we have a complete game on day-one? My PS1 games worked right out-of-the-box. So why not now? I don’t mean to diminish the increased complexities of game development in the 2020’s vs that of the early 2000’s. However, should our expectations as a customer be tempered do to these increased complexities? It appears the development cycles have increased (game development lead time in the 2000’s was between 1-3 years). Shouldn’t these longer lead times take into account delivering a finished product at launch?

Game development is a complex beast. There are a multitude of processes which must be combined to make a great video game. Everything from story, level design, art direction, music, licensing, et al.  So, it is no wonder a new game will have glitches along the way. However, a lot of the same processes go into the making of a blockbuster movie as well.

Would we be okay with seeing green screens behind our beloved superheroes during an action sequence on the silver screen? I would think not.

Then why is it okay to use paying customers as the guinea pigs in the development process of new games?  We have all become accustomed to open and closed Beta sessions for upcoming video games. With internet sleuths always on the prowl to feed us with a healthy dose of gaming related leaks, years before the final product arrives. It is no wonder then, early Beta access to games can often be a welcomed and accepted way of experiencing these new games early in the process. 

So, how is this different from beta testing a game on day-one?  The simple answer is cost. When you charge someone for something, they expect to receive a fully completed product, not something still in development or overlooked glitches (often due to lack of testing).

In an open/closed beta process the consumer inevitably assumes two things 1) the game isn’t complete, and 2) there will be issues with the game. They understand the role of a beta tester, which in essence is to “break the game”. This in turn provides invaluable feedback/data which the developer can use in the creation of a fully functioning final product.

Beta testers take on their role willingly and in some cases with great enthusiasm. They have been granted the keys to the castle (in a manner of speaking) and can freely venture around this new world. Hopefully enjoying the experience and anticipating the official release, all the while playing the role of the developer’s assistant. Another reality to point out, is beta testers represent a small minority of a game’s total consumer base. Not everyone who purchases these titles will be willing (or are even aware of the ability) to participate in a beta test.

This brings us back to the original question: is it ok for AAA developers to deliver an incomplete product, with the expectation their paying customers will help sort out the bugs?  I’d love to hear your feedback. Are you okay with being an unassuming tester of games you just purchased? Or should developers be held more accountable, and produce finished works with little to no glitches and crashes at launch? If you have any thoughts on this topic, feel free to drop a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Broken Out-of-the-Box: Is it Okay for AAA Videogame Developers to Use Their Customers as Beta Testers?”
  1. Gamers keep buying games day 1 and accepting incomplete games. Yeah, they may submit a bad review but the game has already been purchased. Sadly, the developers may and probably have no control over releasing with bugs. Decision is made above them but then they get ripped and tasked with fixing. Having games “work” like ps1 and cartridge days was nice, but we all know there are games with bugs that could not be patched after the fact. With that said, it does seem more games have day 1 patches more than not. Like anything, until people vote with their wallets, not going to change.

  2. Bradygoat – thank you for writing and submitting this article 🙂 Thought I’d left a comment on it already, and correcting that now. Also, should have cross-linked to this on this related article published a month or so later here:

    As we talked about this on our Saturday Score Chasing Recap show, it’s worth re-mentioning here: I don’t like this trend of treating customers as unwilling beta testers. It’s fine to get interested customers to engage in beta testing a game, but when you release it, that’s no longer a “beta” access period. I know there’s early access through Steam, and think that this has ruined some developers with the concept that they can beta test their games for way, wayyyyy too long.

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