Closed Beta? Open Beta? Early Access? What It All Means
With free to play MMORPGs launching constantly, many people have asked “What’s closed beta mean?” or “What’s open beta mean?”. In recent years, a new term has also been used: Early Access. This quick guide is here to explain the meaning of these terms as they apply to online games like MMOs, MOBAs, and Battle Royales.
Every MMO (and many other types of video games) typically goes through three testing stages: alpha, closed beta, and open beta.
Alpha testing is usually the first testing stage of a game that becomes available outside the developer’s studio. Alpha usually begins just after the game’s major development is done, and the game becomes playable enough to release for further testing. The purpose of this stage is to find and fix the most obvious and worst bugs and issues in the game.
Because it is very unstable, and often represents an unfinished game, alpha testing is usually only done internally or with “friends and family.” When the public is invited to Alpha testing, it is almost always done in very small amounts with a selected group of people that the developers feel will provide useful feedback during this stage.
The “Closed Beta” stage comes after any Alpha testing, and may be split into multiple short focus sessions (sometimes called “stress tests”) or held in one longer session. The length of this testing phase really can vary upon the developer’s needs.
Generally speaking, closed beta is meant to be “closed” from the general public, meaning that you must sign up and be approved before you can download the game to test it. The amount of testers is still limited, as it is in Alpha, but the limit is raised to hundreds or thousands of players in order to expand testing for gameplay and server stability. Some developers, however, will hold closed betas that are open to the public. Usually these are very short tests meant to examine the game’s server structure, stability, and general public reception.
As closed beta is still not considered a public test, developers frequently “wipe” servers after closed beta is over. This means that any character data and progression is completely removed and reset. However, closed beta testers are usually compensated with special rewards in appreciation of their efforts for testing the game.
Black Desert Online, although it had launched on PC already, held an open beta on Xbox for several months.
The “Open Beta” stage means that the game has gone through the majority of its critical testing and development, and is now considered in a playable state for the general public. This means anyone can register for, download, and play the game. Although some open betas will have a server wipe when they are done, this is very rare.
Open betas are meant for developers to spend more time focusing on community feedback and final polish for the game, as well as to encourage players to try their game and spread the word to their friends. This stage of testing may last a short time or for a very long time, depending on the confidence of the developer in their game being relatively complete. Once it is over, the game is considered officially released. Progress usually carries over at this point, meaning that playing a game in open beta gives you a head start.
The term “early access” is relatively new, and has gained popularity with its official inclusion on the Steam platform. Like alpha, closed beta, and open beta, early access grants players the chance to play a game before the general public, while focusing on technical and gameplay testing. However, early access is almost always a paid model.
To participate in Early Access, players must purchase an early access pass or otherwise donate or contribute to the funding of the game. This allows developers two benefits to the testing phase: they receive a dedicated group of testers who are passionate about the game and want to help with its development, and they receive additional funding to support the game’s creation and growth before its release. Testers benefit by being able to play the game early, getting more direct communication with developers, and receiving additional benefits as testers for the final release of the game.
Breach is an example of a F2P MMO that began in Early Access. Unfortunately it shut down in April 2019.
Early Access may last only a few days (typical in pay to play titles with a set launch date, such as Call of Duty or Final Fantasy XIV expansions) or may continue for months or years. Many Early Access games intend to release as buy to play games in the future, but some are free to play titles. Naturally there is some controversy and concern about paying for access to a game before its release, and players should always consider their purchases carefully before committing to purchase Early Access.
Official Release: It’s Not Over
It used to be that when a game was officially released, it was complete and would receive no further updates or patches. However as the Internet has become common, fast, and cheap, developers are now able to continue supporting a game after its official release. This is especially true for MMOs and other online games, which are designed to last for years as a playable service to their communities. This means that even when a game is officially released, developers will continue to update, change, and fix issues with the game. Developers may also release expansions, which are substantial additions of content to the game that add significant amounts of new gameplay. In many ways, the official release of a game is just a brand new beginning!
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