After Hours

My secret life as a gaming Beta Tester

One of the things that a lot of people ask me is how I was lucky enough to get chosen to be a beta tester for various games or on certain developmental teams. Mostly, it was being in the right place at the right time or being seen by the right people at the right time.

The same sort of goes for inclusionary material in games. Many years ago, before my youngest child was born, I spent a lot of time playing Diablo, the original. So did my husband. We were both frequent posters in the newsgroup as well. We struck up a friendship with a guy from Sweden (Hi Pedro) who also posted a lot in the group. A lot of newbies to the newsgroup would ask about the "Cow Level", and I admit that we sort of pulled their legs sometimes. The three of us, and a few other frequent posters, sort of fleshed out what we imagined the Cow Level to be. It included references to the "key" to get in, which was Wirt's Leg, as well as some other random stuff. Apparently, little to our knowledge, the newsgroup was being scanned by developers at Bioware. When the expansion came out, some of our ideas and visions of the cow level began to show up. When Diablo 2 came out, I was approached to be a beta tester. I agreed and had a ton of fun playing it before others got their grubby, Cheeto-laden hands on it.

The same type of thing happened with MechCommander . As one of the moderators of rec.games.mecha, I was frequently posting in the group. I still moderate, but rarely post anymore other than for administrative purposes. I wasn't actually a beta tester for MechCommander, but I was one of the first purchasers (Bill's mousepad is still the one given free to folks who preordered MechCommander), and I had some very unusual bugs crop up while playing. I notified the tech address, and was very surprised when I got a personalized note back (not a form letter) asking if I would be willing to help them work out some of those bugs. Chris mentioned that he recognized my name from rec.games.mecha and he knew (from posts I had listed there) that I was a programmer in my own right. I knew about assertions and exception throwing, and he felt confident that I would be able to give him the feedback he would need to duplicate the troubles and therefore fix them. I spent about 3 months helping him with the patch.

The third example I will offer is D&D related. My husband and I were very active in our local Living City campaign as well as on the newsgroup for Wizards of the Coast. I was active on the DM Tools list as well (though they dropped that product, actually Code Monkey Publishing got the licence to complete it). Robert Wiese posted one day that he was looking for several writers to help him with a special secret project. I responded and he said he recognized me from my posts in those two groups, and would be pleased to have me on the team. I asked to include Bill as well, because we work well together, bouncing ideas against each other. We were both accepted into Project Reno.

Project Reno ended up being an idea for a live-action/pen & paper combination convention in Reno, Nevada, which ended up with the official name RenoCon (I was unable to find any archival links for RenoCon.  I guess it is too far in the past.) The idea was to have 4 game slots over the two-day con, but to offer several story arcs for each slot (I think the team ended up with 5 story arcs.) There would be live action time before and between normal 4 hour playing sessions. There would be convention employees dressed up like the characters in the modules who would provide the hooks to each story. Once a party had been hooked, they would be directed to a playing room. It was to be written so that for the most part, it didn't matter which arc was chosen for Slot 1, the offerings for Slot 2 would still make sense, but the one that followed the same arc would tie in even better. We were also restricted to 4 hours of game time as well (i.e. if Slot one occurred from 8am-noon, it was 8-noon in the module as well.) One story arc did end up being a water arc (water battles, pirates, etc) and was an exclusive arc (if you played in Slot 1, you pretty much had to stay with that arc for the weekend.) Bill and I wrote for Slots 3 & 4 in one of the arcs. We got together via email with the guy writing Slot 2 in our arc. We asked to carry over some of his items in our modules, and he consented to put in some hooks for ours in his. It was a great collaborative effort. He acted as our first draft editor, and we acted as his. While we were unable to attend the con ourselves (I was very pregnant and my doctor refused to let me fly across the country), we did a beta test in our home with our normal playing group (even though we had a Non-Disclosure Agreement, it did allow for one beta test two weeks before Reno). After the con, the modules were released via RPGA. We were even paid.

The same thing happened when I was asked to join the SmoothWall development team. I had been an active member on the mailing list, offering help to the other users. After a while, I sent an email to the team lead asking if they needed help moderating the mailing list. He accepted. Soon thereafter, I was promoted to WorldWide Online Support Manager and was made a member of the core team. I was in the right place at the right time.

I guess what it comes down to is that if you want to increase your chances to beta test or to make a substantial input to a game or product that is in the pipeline, here are the guidelines:

  1. it helps to be active in the groups that are involved in that product or are heavily involved with the fan base.
  2. be more than just "active" (because anyone can post a thousand messages that are of little value): show that you are involved on more than a casual level and are involved in a positive way.
  3. show through your posts that you are articulate, coherent, intelligent and easy to work with. No one wants to add someone to their team that has a reputation of picking fights or refusing to see more than one side to issues.
  4. Remember that you never know who is reading your posts. If you would be embarrased if your boss, your favorite game company, or your friends read your posts, then think twice about posting.

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