Sunday, August 2, 2015

Alpha, Beta, Gamma?

I can think a variety of criticisms aimed at early access, some more valid than others.  For me though the big one has to be exacerbating the erosion of already counter-intuitive game development terminology.  Take, for example, the terms "alpha" and "beta" in reference to build status.

Alpha traditionally means a game has reached a playable state, although still missing a number of features.  The term "pre-alpha" footage was often advertised as an indicator that the final product would look as good (if not better) upon coming to market.  Since debacles like Aliens: Colonial Marines and Watch Dogs though pre-alpha can actual end up meaning the opposite.

Beta supposedly indicates when a game is more-or-less feature complete, but still requires work on code optimization, balance tweaking, graphical polish and most important of all bug squashing.  I'm not a programmer by trade.  That said, I understand that it's practically impossible to get the complex games of this day-and-age completely free of bugs and glitches.  Still, companies really need to do a better job of distinguishing between "KS" (Known Shippable) and "YDTGDBMR" (Yo Dawg This Game Done Busted Mah Rig!).  Simply put, if there's an issue that falls in the latter category the game really should not leave beta.  Further adding to the obfuscation of the term is the fact that some early access titles will claim to have entered beta purely as a marketing ploy designed to increase hype for their product regardless of its actual state of development.

Another annoyance is version designations, which often have no apparent rhyme-or-reason to the numbering system.  You'd think that a game would follow a linear progression, but in the case of Kerbal Space Program the first release build was version 0.08 after which came a steady progression of 0.01 increments (or less) up until version 0.25 when it suddenly leaped to version 0.9 and called itself a beta build even though certain important features, like resource extraction and conversion, hadn't been implemented yet.  As of July 13th, World of Warships is at version while Dwarf Fortress is labeled as version 0.40.24 (rewind about fourteen years and it was at version  Minecraft is at version 1.8.7 which begs the question, what do you call a game that is still in active development even though it is considered a complete product?  I wonder if there are any developers in this kind of situation that would consider using the term "gamma" as a shorthand reference to the development status of their product?  It is the next letter in the Greek alphabet after all...

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