Closed Betas and NDA’s are annoying but encouraging

Gigantic BetaRecently I’ve gone through the perpetual frustration of being offered invites and codes into betas of big titles that are on the horizon only to find out they are closed betas with pesky NDA’s (non-disclosure agreement). As someone who streams fulltime, combined with fulltime hours for my graphic design business, I simply don’t have time for gaming outside of my stream schedule. It also doesn’t fit into my identity as a content creator and streamer to play something behind closed doors if I’m going to have to be hush-hush about it, unable to make YouTube videos with game footage or play the game live for my Twitch followers. As an up-and-coming streamer who hopes to continually grow and eventually get partnership I’m slightly annoyed with the “rich get richer” environment, even though I understand it makes good business sense to target bigger and more established streamers for relationships and streaming of un-released games. But the more I thought about this, the more positives I saw in something that still has me a little miffed.

Betas are a sign of health

Even though I still think requiring pre-orders for the Black Ops 3 beta was totally bogus, especially after opening the beta to the public, I still find the abundance of betas, opened or closed, a sign of health in the industry. The first year and half in the next-gen universe has been tumultuous at best and incredibly disappointing at worst. Some of the biggest and most established franchises and companies in the industry completely fumbled and bumbled games there were supposed to usher us into the future of gaming. Publishers could have easily dug in and simply ponied up more cash for marketing and hype to drive sales in what, for many of us, feels like a mulligan for next-gen gaming. It would have been fairly easy to convince most gamers to tip their toes back in once again because surely it couldn’t be as bad as last time. And like pets that trust an abusive owner many would have kept taking the bait and buying the new over hyped games.

I truly think the gaming community’s propensity for brutal criticism and harshness has finally started paying off. It is simply too expensive to keep shoveling out unfinished and broken games given the overwhelming amount of empowerment video game consumers now have. Forums, review sites, Twitch streaming, and YouTube have put far more power in the hands of gamers than ever before. The abundance of betas is almost assuredly connected to both the long list of poor launches last year and the new avenues for gamers to get more accurate pictures of games on their launch date without paying a dime. But why are so many betas closed with NDA’s attached to them?

With great power comes great risk

One obvious risk in exposing your product to the public when it is unfinished is bad PR. With Twitch streaming and Youtube channels there is the added risk of vocal gamers turning off would-be buyers with criticism. Some of these vocal gamers are considered an authority by thousands and sometimes even millions of gamers, giving them the power to do irreparable harm to the potential sales of your product. This of course leads to many YouTubers and Twitch streamers acting as unpaid mouthpieces and fanboys, hoping to get access to closed betas, early content, or unreleased info. There is an understandable hesitancy to be honest and unforgiving because it may get you blacklisted and ousted from early access to content that can be very advantageous in the digital content creation realm. I for one would rather be on the outside, giving honest feedback about games, because even with a few sellouts in the mix, the power is still obviously in the hands of the masses if betas are closed and NDA’s are firmly in place. We have the power, not the sellouts, not the mouthpieces, and certainly not the fanboys who don’t realize their relevancy has an expiration date they created with their own monetary allegiance. But I do think that in this vein, innovation, freedom, and creativity is needed if publishers and game companies want betas to be more effective.

Help us help you

There are some of us who aren’t the enemy. I know some YouTubers and streamers seem to have an unwavering angst to complain and criticize games, but not all of us are in that camp. Publishers need to establish as many streamer relationships as they can conceivably manage because honestly we won’t bite the hand that feeds us. And publishers and game companies need to realize we are a growing hand that feeds them. Don’t you think a streamer who interacts with thousands of different gamers a week has a wealth of feedback and information that could be invaluable for future game development?

I think a good method for beta testing and streamer relationships would be one with phases. Understandably the first phases would be closed as it would be the most unpolished version of the game. But an incentive for streamers like me to get involved would be the assurance that later phases of the beta would be stream-able and sharable. The relationship could be one where the streamer is allowed to actively discuss the game in the early phases and get feedback and ideas from the rotating door of viewers in their stream. This would create a large funnel of feedback and information for the game through a significantly smaller filter of closed beta testers. This benefits developers as the finished product gets far more input and fine tuning without the risk of early exposure. As later phases of the beta open to the public through streaming and YouTube channels there would be a significant amount of interest from the millions of viewers who were part of discussions and feedback via their favorite streamer. And as numerous suggestions and changes are realized and seen in the more polished version of the beta, consumer trust would be well established, making the beta double as an effective marketing machine while simultaneously improving the quality of the delivered product.

At the end of the day innovation is needed in this area as a means to help smaller streamers, but also to help continually improve the games we all love. This can be turned into a win-win situation if publishers, developers, and streamers keep an open mind and are willing to try some new things. We live and breathe the future every time we play video games. So let’s not just experience the future, let’s be the future.

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