Learn more about a game’s journey of development.
Written by: Nivhawk
If you are considering, preparing, or participating in a pre-alpha or alpha test for a game, please review this information. This information will better prepare you for the alpha testing experience, expectations, and methods to increase your effectiveness which all eventually result in a robust, engaging, and successful title. Please understand this information was collectively obtained through my personal experiences with alpha testing environments, experienced alpha tester feedback, and developer feedback & comments.  

First, let’s define and describe “Pre-alpha”, “alpha”, and “beta” testing. These stages of development make up the first three stages of the software release life cycle.

Pre-Alpha - This stage is the first stage of the release cycle. Pre-Alpha is usually defined by the following characteristics:
  • Not feature complete; missing major systems
  • Not usually available to the public
  • Frequent build updates
  • Content is largely subject to change before more final builds
  • Buggy
  • Vulnerable to weaknesses and exploitation

Alpha - Second stage of the release cycle. At the end of this stage, the project is closer to being complete and will result in a mostly stable state (again, by the end of the process). The objective of this stage is to continue to develop and improve the quality of the game (systems, performance, stability, etc.)
  • Major focus on bugs
  • Some missing features
  • Lengthy process
  • Targets specific systems with the general consumer’s experience in mind
  • Buggy
  • Frequent patching
  • Frequent downtime

Beta - Occurs after the Alpha stage. At this stage, the project is usually considered “feature complete” and the focus turns instead to identifying any lingering bugs or ineffective engineering.
  • Focuses on improving user experience by reducing negative impacts
  • Used frequently in demonstration of the title
  • Integrates tester input on what at this stage considered the final product
  • Only critical changes are made to the product

Still with me? Awesome- In this next section we’ll discuss how you can apply that information to whatever Pre-Alpha project or title you’re getting involved with.

Gather background information on the systems, developers, and current test build objectives
Jump into the test with no background information
Approach the test with an objective and critical eye- at this stage it’s your role to find bugs, broken tech, and provide feedback on sub-optimal systems.
Ignore possible bugs, issues, imbalance, or negative aspects of the build. You are not betraying the developers by providing quality feedback.
Realize, at this stage, you are testing, not playing. This is NOT a complete game.
Expect or demand the all the “promised” content or smooth testing experience.
Make a plan to communicate your feedback/observations to the developers via forums, emails, etc. and use/conform to any reporting formats provided by developers.
Keep your feedback to yourself- contribute so the issues can be addressed!
Hold the developers accountable through mature communication of feedback and exploratory questioning.
Harass, flame, or otherwise disrespect the developers.
Expect and be prepared for frustrating, possibly “game-breaking”, bugs.
React explosively to an unintended bug which negatively impacts your experience.
Identify and communicate the existence of bugs and methods to exploit these bugs. Attempt and document steps taken to recreate the bug; reboot the game as an additional method to replicate the bug. (Include probabilities: recreated it with success 25% of the time, for example).
Identify a bug and actively exploit it to gain an advantage or reduce the quality of testing for others.
Understand that systems, content, and technology may likely change between this stage and beta/release.
Expect the game upon release to mimic the current test build.
Encourage, educate, and assist others participating in the Pre-Alpha process.
Bully, harass, or demean other testers based on their feedback.
Take frequent breaks- both from specific tests and testing in general
Test exhaustively to the point of frustration and aggravation. This will result in burnout!

I hope this helps prepare you for the expectations and realities of pre-alpha and alpha testing. Remember, you will see a more polished product after this process is over- you just have to get through it first!

Original Source: Nivhawk Google Docs
Other Resources: Alpha vs. Beta Testing


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