<< Portico: Beta testing blues


Beta testing blues

I've been chosen to help Beta test the new historic grand strategy game Great Invasions, from the people who brought you Pax Romana. The lead developer, Philippe Thibault, is one of the original designers of the Europa Universalis board game and helped in the translation of that game to the computer.

Since it is a beta, and there is a non-disclosure agreement, I certainly won't post any reflections on it here. The game seems to be at a pretty advanced stage, though.

I will say that beta testing strategy games has to be one of the more thankless types of beta testing. A friend is a beta of another strategy game and will probably back me up on this.

First, the grander the grand strategy the less control beta testers have in how things work. The designer has chosen the rule set for a reason, but if a game mechanic simply doesn't work it can't just be changed like in a shooter or RPG. If you change one rule, you often have to change everything connected to it so that the causal connection you like isn't turfed altogether. Display and interface issues are often also so entiwned with the stuff going on underneath that UI changes - often necessary - are often too difficult to implement at the point that most betas get involved. In a RPG, there is often a genre consensus about the goals, the terms and the style. In a grand strategy game, players may come to the beta stage with different goals in play style (conquest? simulation? alternate world creation?) or with some idea that they can import ideas from their favorite games on to a game set that's already in place.

Of course, betas don't try to change too much because it's usually pretty clear what can and cannot be changed when a game arrives. The big problem with testing the grand strategy genre is finding the time to actually give them the play time that they deserve. These types of games require serious testing time in order to find out what exactly is wrong with them. Sometimes it requires making new AI files, sometimes it means sitting through lots of crashes, often it means looking at tons of menus. Of course, you learn the game in and out while you are beta testing but it makes you a poor choice to review the game (a fact I had to face when I was offered a chance to review Pax Romana for a couple of websites - an opportunity I turned down because of my involvement in the beta process.) If you know a complicated really well because of the time spent working on it, it is hard to distance yourself from the learning curve that new players frequently encounter.

Please comment on your own experiences beta testing strategy games. What worked? What didn't? And is strategy gaming that much different?


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