Out With the Old, In With the New
I always feel like my comments about gaming will age me. I doubt that’ll really happen; I’m only in my early twenties. If anything, it shows how much gaming has evolved in the fifteen or so years that I’ve been playing things. But I remember when demos were on discs for the PlayStation 1. It’s how I got into Tekken 3, one of my favorite games of its generation, sparking my love for the series. There were two characters in that demo, Eddy and Xiayou, and two game modes, versus and arcade, both of which only allowed a limited number of rounds.
That’s how demos existed for me, and for everyone, for a long time. A small taste of a game, but one that you could keep coming back to. As gaming moved on and things like the Xbox Marketplace became prominent, that was how you got demos: by downloading them. Some games still release downloadable demos. The last one I remember playing was One Piece: Burning Blood on Xbox One. But that’s rare now. As time has gone on, and gaming has been more focused on online play and online transactions, demos have been replaced by betas.
The first beta I remember vividly was for Overwatch. I don’t remember how long it lasted though; either it was longer than a weekend, or it was a weekend and I just played it a lot. Most betas run over weekends now. Over the past few months, two highly anticipated games released betas: Dragon Ball FighterZ and Star Wars Battlefront II. Between them, the beta releases for the two games managed to showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly of the transition from demos to betas.
On one side of the spectrum, the good side, there’s the Battlefront demo. Advertised on the Xbox home page, all I had to do was download it and I was up and running for the weekend. Like the demos I remember, there was only a small fraction of the content available: one galactic map and one starfighter map. The former is a long, objective-based variant; in the beta, you go through the streets of Naboo and into the throne room, trying to either capture or defend it depending on the side that you’re on. Meanwhile, the latter is similar, albeit slightly smaller scale, and, well, it takes place in space. There were two heroes per side, per variant, from Rey on Naboo, to being able to fly through space in the Slave I.
The beta ran smoothly, as there were no server issues or problems with connectivity, and I didn’t experience any major lag or drops from games. The Battlefront 2 beta did exactly what a good demo should do: it showed you a taste of the game and made you want more. Even while the beta was going on, I was talking to my brother about wanting to play the game more and play with more content. Whether or not I’d pre-order it, I didn’t know at the time, but the beta made me think about doing it, and that means that it did what it needed to and did it very well.
And then, there’s the Dragon Ball FighterZ beta for Xbox One. The first thing I noticed about the beta was something that it was lacking: local multiplayer. It’s a fighting game. You should be able to play with the person sitting next to you on your sofa, and this omission became even more pronounced as the beta rumbled on.
There wasn’t a lack of content by any means: a large portion of the roster was available, and there was a variety of maps and soundtrack options to choose from. At least that’s the impression that I got watching the game streamed on Twitch for PlayStation 4. Because the Xbox One beta didn’t work.
The beta ran during a few scheduled timeblocks across the weekend. The first timeblock was plagued with connectivity and server issues; I managed to play one-and-a-half games in total. And the next block was dedicated to fixing the problems of the first block, so playing online wasn’t possible. And the third and final block took place in the early hours of the morning, so I slept through it. And that’s where the problem with this beta, and the potential problem for other betas comes from: they’re incomplete.
Demos are incomplete too, of course. I didn’t get all of Tekken 3 in that demo over a decade ago. But with betas, it’s different, especially when so many betas focus entirely on online content—even a fighting game like Dragon Ball. It isn’t that the game was incomplete and was therefore put forward to beta, but rather that the game wasn’t even ready for beta. If your servers fail across an entire platform, and you need to dedicate a third of your beta time to fixing that problem, then your game isn’t ready for beta. While loading up the FighterZ beta, which I did a lot because it kept crashing, there was a disclaimer that there would be no technical support for the duration of the beta. Again, with betas becoming more and more online focused, some degree of tech support would surely be almost necessary at this point, especially when a beta is as plagued with problems as the FighterZ one was.
A Sign of Good Betas to Come?
Recently, a new fighting game beta launched. Fighting EX Layer, the previously untitled Arika game that was shrouded in mystery, was released back in December. I didn’t know it until I learned more about the game, but in fact, I already knew a lot of the characters from it. I’m sure most people will already know that Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha was a crossover—there’s even a “plus” in the title—but I didn’t when I played it. (In my defense, I was younger than ten at the time, and it took me longer than I care to remember to learn how to do a fireball.)
But looking at characters I knew and loved from way back when—Skullomania was my main when I played SFEX+A with my brother—reminded me of playing Tekken 3, even longer ago than when I first found Street Fighter at a car-boot sale (a term that probably places me geographically with precision and ages me horribly).
I haven’t really had much of a chance to play this beta yet; I don’t have the PlayStation Plus you need to take it online, but I’ll probably get a trial of it for this. Mostly, I’m looking forward to playing it locally with my brother, playing around with Garuda and Skullo and Kairi. This beta has a decent amount of content for a game that was only announced recently; it has half a dozen characters, multiplayer, and a practice mode. Like DB FighterZ, it doesn’t have any kind of bot matches, which is a shame, but the fact it has any kind of practice already raises it in my estimations; it gave me a chance to look at some of the characters I haven’t used in over a decade. And this time I knew how to use fireballs.
Relics of the Past
Betas are the new demos now, and that means that a company releasing a game for beta needs to have its games be prepared for it. The servers need to be ready, the content needs to be there, and, if there isn’t tech support, some sort of offline content needs to be available. When a beta is only available for a weekend, instead of on a disc I can keep coming back to, there needs to be enough to keep someone there for all of that weekend. Its also an absolute necessity for it run smoothly throughout. After all, if it doesn’t work, then the players and the company both lose out, especially once the beta goes offline.
But I can still go back to that Tekken 3 demo.