Is the Beta Phase the new full release? And does it ultimately matter?
Opinion: Is it Time to Embrace the “Beta Phase” as the New “Full Release”?
When covering the wonderful world of MMO games, we often find ourselves caught off guard with the sheer amount of quality games that seem reluctant to leave the beta phase of development. Heck, a lot of the time, in-development games are heads and shoulders above full releases in their so-called "unfinished" state.
Valheim, for instance, which was recently announced to be joining the Xbox Game Pass, and which is en route to its second expansion, is still in its beta phase. And Iron Gate certainly isn't coy about letting us all know that "Valheim 1.0" is a while off yet. Despite this, it is already an indie darling, earning award nominations, universal acclaim, and many a mention in our Crafty Creations series. All despite being ostensibly unfinished.
Battlefield 2042, Cyberpunk 2077, and Fallout 76, meanwhile, were highly anticipated AAA games that suffered widespread condemnation for being distinctly underdeveloped on release. This led to a plethora of post-launch bug fixes, patches, and full-blown content updates that are synonymous with an in-development game. Not to mention questions over whether we should ever trust a title with random numbers at the end of its name again.
For many gamers, a game being in its alpha or beta phase has kind of lost all meaning. The standard software release life cycle tells us that pre-alpha and alpha stages are typically in-house tests of a game's innermost structures, often rife with game-breaking errors and bugs. Yet games like Ashes of Creation have opened this stage of testing to the regular Joes of the gaming community.
The Beta phase, meanwhile, is typically a chance for intrepid gamers to jump into an unfinished game, embrace the bugs, and report on the little things that the devs may have missed. But, particularly with MMO games, regular patches are par for the course - and nobody considers World of Warcraft to be in a perpetual beta phase.
So what gives? It seems that on one hand, AAA studios aren't picky about unleashing a game that is obviously still in its beta phase (or in some cases even alpha) as long as they doggedly stick to the release schedule. And on the other you have more conscientious, mostly indie, devs that would rather keep calling their game "unfinished" until it meets a nigh-on perfect standard.
While we know which tact we prefer, it seems that we're in a new era of gaming where beta doesn't necessarily mean you should steer clear until a full release, lest you be at risk of missing the longboat to enjoy a game like Valheim during its in-development heyday.
So in this modern era of gaming we say embrace the beta, because there's every chance that your new favorite game hasn't even been released yet.