Editor’s note: As a former tester for a large publisher and now an editor at Bitmob, I can tell you that playing games for a living isn’t always fun or easy. It is a job, after all. Christopher learns this fact first-hand after being invited to join the beta for Sony’s upcoming multiplayer game MAG. To any journalists, testers, or developers reading: How has your job changed the way you play games? -Brett
Like all things in life, the first impression can make or break a relationship.
I’ve always wanted to be a beta tester. I feel like I’ve got a knack for details, and I like the idea of helping developers make a better game. Plus — and this is by far the biggest reason — I’d get to play a game for free before anyone else.
On September 24, I got my wish. Sony invited me to take part in a closed beta for Zipper Interactive’s massive 256-player action game called MAG. Even though the email I received said the beta would only last two weeks, I didn’t care — I was beta testing an actual game! I knew I had to make the most of the experience.
But where to start?
Immediately I hit the PlayStation Network forums, which I made my home away from home for the next few weeks. Via the boards, I joined a clan, found out that you had to press all of the shoulder buttons to submit a glitch report, and read comments that ran the gamut from helpful advice to snarky statements.
I started several of my own threads as well. I have no idea if Sony or the developers ever actually read our messages, or if my particular pieces stood out amongst the many hundred that were posted, but it felt nice to be able to give feedback on the game.
Once I jumped into the game itself, I discovered a surprising fact about beta testing: It’s not easy. You need a particular kind of mind to ferret out any problems. Finding glitches isn’t about “playing” the game, it’s about being methodical and consistent.
I found it hard to adjust my thinking. During the entire beta, I never discovered any areas where I would fall through the map or walk through walls because my brain was wired to play the game rather than search for glitches. In fact, I only found one glitch at all.
Relentlessly trying to break the game took its toll on me. Playing MAG turned from being an enjoyable choice to a depressing requirement. Since I had only two weeks to play and could only access the server weekdays between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. GMT, I found myself rushing home from work, logging on, and playing nothing but MAG.
Meanwhile, my “unlucky” friends who didn’t get invited to the beta were getting together and having fun with other games.
As I tested the same map over and over each night, I started to realize how video game reviewers can become desensitized to the joy of gaming. With all the reviews they write, gaming for the simple fun of it must get squashed between the deadlines and monotony of providing hands-on impressions, in-depth previews, and reviews for game after game.
GameTrailers Editor-in-Chief Shane Satterfield recently said that it’s been ages since he last wanted to replay a game. Comments like that make a lot more sense now. During my time with the MAG beta, I felt the opportunity to play what I wanted disappeared. (Yes, I know I didn’t need to make the beta experience so intense for myself, but I wanted to do my job well.)
I’d like to ask the game journalists and fellow beta testers out there: Has your work impacted your general feelings toward gaming? Has it changed your view of new games because you’ve been there and done that? Is it tough to find a new game that excites you?
This piece is the first installment of three on my MAG beta experiences: beta testing impressions, game impressions, and game design.
Next up: MAG Game Impressions