Open Beta... when will it be ready?


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DOCI thought I'd let you guys into a quick view behind the scenes about the what and how of the beta process, since it's probably not exactly as many imagine. Having witnessed a rather long open beta phase with the upcoming release of v1.30 some of you might be wondering about this kind of thing.

There are really two beta phases; the more normal (traditionally speaking) closed beta, and the open beta that regular players get to witness. The process is actually broken down into 3 phases because there is a preliminary phase where what a development cycle will actually develop is planned and to some extent scheduled, and priorities are determined. Priorities can change during the closed beta phase as a result of the success or failure of planned implementations; as they are explored and developed. Sometimes features or code are dropped (pulled) as a result of discoveries during their development, or modified ... and sometimes new ones slide in as a result of other things that might happen during the closed beta phase. Closed beta is the place where what the eventual patch at the end of a development cycle contains, is largely determined; and sometimes by the actual subsequent events and discoveries made during that closed beta period. Closed of course meaning that a select group of testers are a part of the process, and it takes place internally and under close guidance and oversight by the development team here at the company.

When we stage an open beta test (and this doesn't always happen) the intention is to expose what we have developed and intend to release in a patch, to a much wider group or audience ... for two general reasons. One is for feedback from a wider audience, due perhaps to extensive or sweeping changes or new features and code; the other is so that those things can be tested on a much wider variety of hardware and software than are available in house, being as any patch with extensive or sweeping changes and new code also brings with it far greater capacity to break what was previously (in the pre-patch earlier version of the game) a functional and working software program. If a development cycle is not extensively sweeping in terms of it's content, an open beta phase will usually not be employed at all.

Open beta's are not about the process of continuing to develop new features or code AFTER the open beta starts. That happens during closed beta. Open beta's are about debugging the new features and code in a more extensive user environment. This is what makes open beta's difficult to predict in terms of completion, since they are debugging phases and associated normally with EXTENSIVE features and code changes, thus creating a more extensive debugging requirement of which time is the least predictable element. Debugging involves evaluating unknown considerations and then altering or fixing those unknowns after debugging has made them known issues. So once you witness or participate in an open beta test, you aren't waiting for the patch development to be "finished" with respect to new features or code, that has already (in the vast majority of cases) happened ... now you are witnessing the debugging phase where all the new stuff is made as 100% ready for release as possible. Sometimes a feature or code might get pulled from the patch because it is predicted after some extent of debugging that it isn't going to fit in a reasonable timeframe for release, but new stuff is rarely ever added during the open beta phase.

Many have asked us "when is it going to be ready?" and "how close are we to release?" and so on, and generally we can't answer those types of questions during an open beta until we are virtually right on top of release, when everything is fully debugged (or pulled from the patch because it refused to behave) and we're sure we can build a release candidate to patch your live game with. Due to the rather enormous list of backend and core game engine changes, upgrades and alterations we made during this v1.30 development, it has by necessity been a very very long development cycle. We couldn't really avoid that and make all those important (for the future) changes. We can do a lot of cool stuff now that would have been in impossible previously.

Anyway, as we rapidly close out this v1.30 open beta phase in anticipation of release (very few issues left to attend to now) ... I hope this proved at least a little bit interesting for some of you, to help you better understand what goes on here in producing the on going further development of this game.