Playtesting vs. Beta testing
Now that we’re about to embark on the perilous journey of looking for Beta testers for our RPG game Unknown RealmTM, we thought an article on the difference between playtesting and beta testing would be in order. It’s a common misconception even amongst some developers, especially indie devs, that beta testing is when playtesting tasks take place. When in reality, play testing is an entirely different and something that should be completed long before beta testing.
Playtesting and beta testing are both important stages in the development of a video game, but they serve different purposes and involve different types of testing. Understanding the differences between these two types of testing can help game developers create a more polished and enjoyable final product.
Playtesting is an early stage of testing that takes place during the development of a game. It is typically conducted by the game’s developers and a small group of testers who are familiar with the game’s mechanics and design. The main purpose of playtesting is to identify balance issues in the game before it is released to the public. Playtesters provide valuable feedback on gameplay, controls, and overall enjoyment, and developers use this feedback to make necessary changes and improvements. Playtesting is about finding and enhancing the fun of the game.
Beta testing, on the other hand, is a later stage of testing that involves a larger group of testers who are representative of the game’s target audience. Beta testing usually takes place just before the game is released to the public, and it is used to identify any remaining issues or bugs that may have been missed during earlier stages of testing. Beta testers are often recruited from the game’s community or through online sign-ups, and they are typically given access to a near-final version of the game in exchange for their feedback. Beta testing is not the time to make changes to a games look and feel, but to find and fix things that may have been missed by the development team such as bugs, misspelled words, art/audio errors, etc. Beta testing is going on a bug hunt.
One key difference between playtesting and beta testing is the expertise of the testing groups. Playtesting is usually conducted by a small, specialized group of testers who have in-depth knowledge of the game’s mechanics and design, while beta testing involves a larger, more diverse group of testers who may not have the same level of expertise. Most companies do their playtesting in-house or even with specially selected focus groups. However, depending on the type of game, some developers may decide to release earlier versions of their game for playtesting feedback, which is commonly done with “early access” releases.
In summary, playtesting and beta testing are both crucial stages in the development of a video game. Playtesting is focused on identifying and fixing issues during the early stages of development, while beta testing is used to identify any remaining issues just before the game is released to the public. Both types of testing are important for creating a high-quality and enjoyable final product.
Don’t Be Afraid of Haters
If you’re making an indie game, haters are a good sign! If you don’t have them, you should be concerned.
Indie developers often face significant challenges in the highly competitive world of video game development. One thing that can be especially troubling for indie devs is the lack of haters, or negative feedback, for their projects during development.
I know you just read that sentence and thought “This guy is on drugs! Did he just say LACK of haters is a problem??”
While it may seem counterintuitive, haters are usually a good thing for indie developers. This is because haters are often very good at spotting projects with success potential. In other words, if an indie game is attracting a lot of hate during development from complete strangers, it could be a sign that the game has the potential to be a hit.
On the other hand, if an indie game is receiving little or no negative feedback, it could be a sign that the game is mediocre or uninteresting. In this case, the game may struggle to find an audience and achieve financial success.
So, if you’re an indie developer and you’re not receiving any hate for your game, depending on your goals, you may want to be concerned. It could be a sign that your game lacks the potential to be a hit, fire up its audience, or even worse…looks boring to them. Remember haters/trolls have seemingly unlimited time on their hands, ample opinions, and love to hear themselves talk. If you aren’t attracting even a minute of their attention I’d be concerned.
I know many indie devs are fearful of haters. They haven’t learned the valuable truth that hate is often just a misdirected form of love. People don’t waste time or money on something that they don’t secretly love. I call it “love-hate” because love always has to come first for hate to follow.
Just like a rich man who avoids the company of those less fortunate than him, we have seen devs that we once inspired quickly distance themselves from us the second they saw even a little bit of hate come our way. Many even took it a step further and jumped on the hater bandwagon.
I find it weird how people forget about, or worse, turn on the those who once inspired them. By denying their own inspirations, they are left pretending to be something they are not. They become unhappy and unfulfilled trying to keep up this pretense, and end up attracting unhappy and unfulfilled people into their lives.
I try to remember the people who have inspired me at various points in my life – to hold onto and celebrate that inspiration because it is a part of me and my creative journey. When you have an inspiration-connection with someone, it’s because you are similar to that person. You should go towards that and explore it, not move away and deny it. Most of us will only meet a few people that can really inspire us in our lives. Explore those connections as much as you can.
With our game Unknown Realm, we have been “blessed” with a robust community passionate haters that became obsessed with our game from the day of our Kickstarter launch. Oddly 99% of these haters are not even backers of our project, but they continue to spread their love-hate to this day, and I suspect some of them will keep it up until the day they die.
I’m still trying to understand why our little game has been attacked and censored from discussion so widely during its development. We really can’t mention it anywhere without one of our love-haters popping up and encouraging people not to support or talk about it, or even attack those that do. There are forums where our game threads had more views and comments than any other in the history of the entire forum, and yet, moderators locked the threads instead of enforcing their own rules to curb the obvious haters. It was literally the only thing people wanted to talk about on those forums and our game threads was literally on top for years until the mods locked them from discussion. There’s no doubt the amount of traffic to those forums plummeted after the mods decided to lock the threads that were keeping people in the seats.
In 2021, we were invited to present our game at a retro con (a con we have supported since it’s very first event), and then only a few weeks before the presentation we were “uninvited” because the administrators were scared away by “hate mail” from a few that got wind we would be presenting our game at the con. This type of censorship hurts our community, many of whom backed our project and would love for us to do presentations for them at these cons.
These are just a few examples of what we have personally experienced during development. Needles to say, we have a huge story to share and we look forward to sharing all of it after the roller coaster ride stops and the game is finally out!
Now, none of this means you should go out of your way to provoke hate or negative feedback. Nobody wants that, but it’s important to remember that haters will always exist, and it’s up to you to decide how to respond to them. Sometimes their behavior deserves to be called out, either seriously or with mockery. You will have to find balance for yourself between reasonable self-defense against unjust attacks and keeping the peace by ignoring people who don’t deserve a response from you. Above all you must protect yourself and your loved ones. There are a lot of mentally unstable out there, please do not assume the rest of the world is rational and stable just because you are. Take threats seriously. Contact the authorities if you feel threatened and keep records of incidents of harassment.
We tend to fear hate and resistance because we’re taught to believe that if we’re hated, we must deserve it, but nothing could be further from the truth. I would urge you to re-frame the way you think about hate, and instead of being discouraged, take it as a sign that you are making something that resonates with people enough that they will take time out of their day to say something about it. Learn to protect your mental health, but don’t let the hate scare you away from fulfilling your destiny as a creative soul.
To sum up, having haters can be a signal of resonance with your audience and it can be a good sign for an indie developer. If you’re not receiving any hate for your game in this day and age, it might be a warning sign that your game doesn’t have the potential to be a commercial success. While it’s important to handle negative feedback with care, it can also be a valuable source of insight to gauge the potential of your game.
I hope that however you approach your games development and wherever the journey may lead you, that you do it with honor and that you never forget the most important part… why you began in the first place.
The Bug Before Christmas (Programmer Humor)
-= The Bug Before Christmas =-
(inspired by The Night Before Christmas)
Twas the bug before Christmas, when all through the office,
not a coder was sleeping, not even the bosses;
The breakpoints were set in the debugger with care,
in hopes that the culprit would soon pop up there;
The investors were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of dollar signs danc’d in their heads.
One coder heard crying, and I with my mug,
Had just finished compiling and began to debug.
When there on my screen a breakpoint did hit,
I sprang from my chair and declared “This could be it!”
Away to my co-worker I flew like a flash,
leaned over his cubicle and yelled at his back.
The look on his face I knew all to well,
Staring blankly at his screen is all he would tell.
When, what to my bloodshot eyes would appear,
An intermittent bug–the coders worst fear!
With only hours to go ‘fore we needed to ship,
I knew in that moment we were in the deepest of sh*t.
More rapid than clock cycles the cold sweats did come,
With cursing and shouting and blaming and glum!
With no plan in sight we knew this was it,
We needed a kluge, some miraculous fix.
So into the bag of programming tricks we did go
Digging deeper than ever for something to show.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard in my mind
A faint whisper which said “all you need is more time.”
I laughed when it came, in spite of myself;
Something surely not taught in the books on my shelf.
“We’ll make it DLC, and have them pay more!”
That will buy us some time while we hunt down this boar.
So we walled off the feature where the crash bug appeared,
Told our boss, “Extra revenue!” to ease all her fears.
And laying a finger aside of her nose,
And giving a nod, back to her office she rose;
We sprang to our desks, with the clock running out
Fingers flashing, keyboards clicking and sounding about
With laser-like focus, and brows drenched in sweat,
One final compile, and testing, and release we did get.
But we heard our boss exclaim, from outside her office door–
“Happy Christmas to all, and to coders, see you back in the morn!”
– Merry Christmas to all! B.G.
The Ones That Really Matter
The other day we received an email that caused me reflect on who really matters when it comes to making games. This is something I have long suspected about game dev, and I decided to take a moment to collect those thoughts in one place.
We first decided to “invest” our life savings in starting our indie game studio about seven years ago. As much as I’d like to go back to 2012 and give my overly optimistic self a good smack on the head, I can’t say I regret the decision.
But some days it does feel foolish to still be fighting to finish Unknown Realm…it’s far too easy to only hear the negative voices, or to focus on the things we’ve sacrificed or the mistakes we’ve made along the way. I won’t lie, sometimes it feels like giving up would be the wiser path. But then emails like this come in to remind us: THIS is what we’re fighting for.
We’ve made mistakes on this journey…A LOT of mistakes. We’ve miscalculated and mis-stepped and made rookie moves that hurt us. We’ve had days where felt like our life was completely ruined – we still feel that way some days. Sometimes we’ve wondered how we could ever come back from such huge risks. As a husband and wife team, this journey has brought up issues that have frayed our relationship and bled well past the tidy boundaries of “work” into the rest of our life. This little “adventure” has taxed us emotionally, physically and financially far beyond what we ever imagined.
And yet…Seven years ago, we sat across from each other at the table in our one bedroom apartment, and we said we were going to take the risks and make games for the overlooked game players. The players who are now pulling out their old cloth maps and feelies, and revisiting memories of childhood wonder and the simple pleasures of exploring new digital worlds. We know these people are out there, many of them found us on Kickstarter and and we get emails from more on a regular basis. They are the ones who keep us focused. They are why we started this journey and they are why we’ll see it through to the end.
For the naysayers and doubters: people want what we’re making because it is different and they know it’s made for them. It is different because WE are different. The product (our game) is a direct result of the creative process (the way we work), and we can make something different because we don’t do things the way everyone else does. If you want what we’re creating, you have to recognize that it is inextricably linked to who we are and the way we do things. If you like the product, you should respect the process.
So here’s my little piece of unsolicited advice to any creative person reading this. If you’re trying to do anything in life, please remember: in the end, the people who don’t like what you’re doing or how you’re doing it don’t matter. The people who don’t believe you can do it don’t matter. The only people who matter are the ones who say “Yes!” They are the people who see your stuff and know it’s for them. They probably won’t be as loud as the ones who say “you can’t do that!” or the ones who say “I don’t like it” but if you’re making something good and meaningful to bring joy to others, the people who say YES will be there for you, waiting at the finish line.
They are the ones who matter. Think of them and just keep going!
PS: If you’re reading this and you are trying to figure out if you can still get a copy of Unknown Realm in the box with the cloth map – send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), we have a wait list and we’re going to try to find a way to make sure you get one. 🙂
Indie Game Marketing – Stirring Dragon Style
Since the early days of Stirring Dragon Games, we’ve opted to take a different and sometimes unconventional approach with how we run our company and in particular, how we market our projects. In the age of screenshot Saturdays, hyped up trailers and early access, people might be understandably confused by our more quiet approach, especially when we’ve all grown accustomed to consuming content 24/7. Here’s a little synopsis of some of the underlying principles that drive why we do things the way we do them.
We’ve found that it’s all too easy to lose momentum when you spend time telling people about what you’re making instead of actually making it. In our experience, frequent project updates, dev blogs, etc. can be de-motivating for a variety of reasons. They require time to prepare and usually get very little feedback, or (worse) create a false sense of “accomplishment” that leads to lower productivity. Take Kickstarter updates for example, on any given videogame Kickstarter, post-campaign updates usually generate less than 5% engagement. Comments and likes are the only way creators can tell if their updates on KS are even being read, and based off that, it’s pretty clear that most backers don’t read updates. 5% of backers is a small number of people to reach considering the amount of time it takes to create an update worth reading. It’s a more effective use of our time to focus on finishing the game that we know 100% of our backers are waiting for.
During the early development stages of Unknown Realm, we did not publicize our work at all. We didn’t have a dev blog or a website or even a Twitter account. Aside from a public demo of an early engine build at the Commodore Vegas Expo in 2012, and a handful of trusted friends who knew about it, we created this project outside the public eye. This was hard to do because we were very excited about what we were doing and wanted to share it, however we felt it was the best way to stay true to our vision for the game.
To that end, we decided not to do any marketing of the game at all until the very day we launched our Kickstarter. We obviously had to deviate from our approach during crowdfunding, however, we find that our best work still happens in seclusion, without a lot of noise from the various “peanut galleries” on the Internet.
We’re not big believers in showing work-in-progress screenshots or game previews before our game is finished. Crowdfunding our game required showing practically every element of Unknown Realm during our Kickstarter campaign – probably more than most teams would show up front during development. And let’s be honest, folks, when you’re talking about an 8-bit RPG, most people have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting, and if they don’t, they probably backed this project by accident. We feel like we already had to give away so much of our game already during the campaign. We want to preserve some surprises for when people play the game for the first time.
What we are attempting to do is bring back the best parts of that 80’s game experience, which is hard to do in the age of instant gratification. While the standard advice for indie game devs these days is to publish screenshots, trailers and playable demos early and often, we feel this approach puts developers at a disadvantage, and ruins a lot of the enjoyment for the players.
There’s another reason we prefer to keep our sneak peeks to a minimum…pre-release hype is not a friend of developers OR gamers. We were lucky to enjoy a huge amount of enthusiasm for our Kickstarter project, but unfortunately, there is a downside to pre-release hype: it fades quickly if you don’t constantly “feed the beast.” When that happens, things easily turn negative when there is a lull in activity or at the first hint of disappointment or delay. We’ve had a front row seat to some difficult launches and some major disappointments in crowdfunded games. In many of these cases, it’s clear that early hype almost leads to unreasonably high expectations from the community surrounding the game and disappointment in the end.
Put Out Finished Products
We prefer to forego early access or public beta releases. We would rather take the time to finish things internally as much as possible and minimize the external chatter until our product is done and ready for you to enjoy. It may not be as fun for spectators and backers during the development phase, but in the interest of capturing the old school computer game experience we love, we’re trying something different and hope that it will yield a more exciting and memorable experience when everyone finally gets to play the game for the first time.
Our mission is to create new adventures that set you free to follow your imagination wherever it may lead, and to us, that starts with these principles. It starts with allowing you to experience the game without a lot of spoilers or hype. We want to make games that take you back to your youth and remind you of the wonder and joy of discovering new worlds unburdened by expectations or other people’s opinions. We view the decision to develop and market our games as quietly as possible until they’re finished as a feature, not a bug – it’s all part of the Stirring Dragon Way to bring back the golden age of RPGs. It may not be consistent with conventional wisdom, and yes, there’s a chance it may backfire on us business-wise, but if it brings you back to the good old days when you finally play our games, we’ll be happy and we hope you will be too.
An 80’s Holiday Greeting!
This is a little computer Christmas card we created as a gift to our backers and fans in the spirit of some of the festive holiday greetings created by 80’s companies like Sierra Online and Commodore.
If you would like to experience this on your very own C64 you can purchase the physical or digital version of the JollyDisk here (Includes a bonus second side interactive PETSCII Yule Log Jukebox with additional holiday songs!)