Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski once said that no one in the game development industry really knows what they’re doing: “You pan for gold, you chip away at the marble, and hopefully make a sculpture if you don’t knock the nose off.”
That’s true, — in the course of creating your statue, there are also points at which you can step back and evaluate your progress. The beta test lets you gather friends, family, and thoughtful fans for an early look at a game in production.
In mobile game development, the beta test is rapidly becoming a formalized step with its own specific guidelines. For years, most of the attention has gone to the soft launch, a large test in which the game is released in several countries simultaneously to test key performance indicators like monetization and retention. The beta test, on the other hand, ensures that your game is fun and compelling.
➊ Create an eye-catching signup page
To capture anywhere between a dozen to several hundred users for beta testing, many mobile devs create a signup page that piques interest. A signup page is important because testers, like all humans, want to know what they stand to gain in exchange for hours of play and feedback — anything from fun features to a monetary reward.
Don’t bore your potential players with a poorly-crafted signup page. Incentives should be clearly visible instead of buried beneath descriptions or instructions. For instance, EA offered their testers Amazon gift cards or an Origin code for a game of their choice. If you’re an indie or don’t want to offer real money rewards, offer exclusive in-game items.
Finally, signups should be as painless as possible. Try to limit questions only to those that help you narrow down your target market, such as age, gender, and contact details.
➋ Don’t make your testers wait too long (they won’t)
Remember that testers, even if they’re friends, are probably busy and fickle with their time. Indie developer Dominick Gentile discovered the hard way that a signup doesn’t always translate to a guaranteed tester. Gentile allotted two months for sourcing players and hit the target 100 sign ups within two weeks. However, the beta still didn’t start until the end of the two months, by which time his signups had lost interest. Less than a hundred showed up for the beta launch.
➌ Perfect isn’t the point
The FDA approves one rodent hair per 100 grams of peanut butter. Similarly, most mobile apps launch with a few serious bugs. Developers shouldn’t obsess over eliminating all possible bugs but rather focus on finding an efficient method for catching game-breaking issues.
A good way of handling bugs during beta testing is through a dedicated reporting system which triages bugs testers find, keeps track of who’s responsible for them, and logs progress on the fix. Beta testing apps like TestFairy integrate with bug-tracking platforms like Bugzilla, which helps developers stay organized.
➍ Define playability and put it first
Some features, like monetization, are better tested with the bigger sample sizes of soft launches instead of beta tests. However tempting as it may be to test with a willing audience, the primary purpose of beta testing is to see if a game meets the basic bar for playability and fun.
There are many ways to define what makes a game “playable.” According to Cheetah Mobile’s Rhine Wu, developers who want to test a specific game mechanic will need 20 to 200 testers, while developers looking to test a game’s performance across devices and target audiences will need around 1,000 to 20,000 beta testers. Once you’ve decided, use that knowledge to guide how you collect testers.
➎ Make it easy for your testers to criticize you
Feedback should be simple. Free services like SurveyMonkey are staples for bootstrapped developers. Typeform’s tools also allow developers to design a survey, keeping it on brand. Developers with a more substantial budget can use platforms like Ubertesters, which collects feedback directly from inside the app.