What’s one thing that has become an issue during the eighth console generation and can cause serious hurt feelings? It’s the way companies handle betas. To be specific, the way in which some companies give certain systems priority when it comes to having tests that allow them to work on the game and give people a chance to see how they work. Staggered betas are a thing, and they’re not a good one. Games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 do things like give PlayStation 4 owners advanced access to things like the Blackout beta, forcing Xbox One and PC owners to wait. Which is a shame and doesn’t feel right.
I could see some appeal, if staggered betas were being done to actually give the developers time to focus on specific platforms and see how the versions of the game and servers react under stress. Then, having them occur at different times would be fine! People would understand that companies would want to review specific data and make sure every platform is getting an appropriate amount of attention. But that’s not what’s happening with the staggered betas we are seeing so often.
Instead, these staggered betas are being used as golden apples. They are incentives for picking particular platforms for games. Exclusivity arrangements are in place to really benefit the companies involved. It gets attention on certain platforms, with presumably some sort of monetary benefit heading to the developers and publishers for taking the time to favor one console over the others. It can feel like attention and glory are the main focus, as though stress testing and ensuring things actually work take a backseat to “only on PlayStation” or “first on Xbox” offers.
It can also offer an unintentional bad look for certain developers or publishers. Given that consoles like the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch are embracing cross-play, we are hopefully seeing some abatement on the console war front. But when companies show favoritism to one system, over the other, it could make people who can only afford one system feel bad. While this probably won’t have a big impact on the Call of Duty and Battlefield games of the world, it could have an impact on other titles from a publisher or developer. People may be less likely to show support at launch, if they know they won’t have a chance to test a game out until after everyone else.
As for actual improvements, we never really see enough tangible evidence to know if any games where betas were staggered play better than ones that are not. All titles have issues that plague them at and after launch, which might make people wonder why kind of impact their input had.
Perhaps some sort of transparency would be nice. If betas are going to be staggered, give good reasons for it. Instead of it just being, “You bought X system, so you get to play Y first,” companies could show how releasing betas in waves to different audiences can have an impact. It can be more like those old Nioh betas, were we saw feedback forms and major updates between each ones that showed how things improved, rather than the Call of Duty betas that dole things out to different people at different times. It would be great if everyone could always enjoy everything together.