Gamasutra has a short but informative interview with Richard “
Lord General British” Garriot (pictured), creative force behind Tabula Rasa. In it, he regrets opening the Tabula Rasa beta so early, stating that:
We burned out some quantity of our beta-testers when the game wasn’t yet fun. As we’ve begun to sell the game, the people who hadn’t participated in the beta became our fast early-adopters.
And the people who did participate in the beta, we’ve had to go back to and say “look, look, we promise: we know it wasn’t fun two months ago, but we fixed all that. Really, come try it again.” We’ve had to go out and develop free programs to invite those people back for free before they go buy it. So the beta process, which we used to think of as a QA process, is really a marketing process.
As MMOs become more and more popular, publishers are increasingly using their beta tests as marketing tools rather than for, you know, actual testing. The problem with opening beta tests to so many people so early, obviously, is that you leave many potential customers unimpressed with your game, long before it was really worth showing to the public in the first place. In that sense, all these early public betas that are so easy to get invitations to are doing more longterm harm than good.