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The Down Side Of Beta Releases

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PN co-founder
I’m probably going to get ran through the shredder for my comments here, but this needs to be said, and no one else is saying anything, so here goes. And this is simply my opinion, and in no way does it have to be written in stone for anyone else. I think the growing tendency of releasing Beta originals is an extremely bad trend, and for several reasons.

It’s always been the standard practice of most every author to release their tables after testing them, either with or without the help of a handful of testers, either fellow authors or experienced play testers. Original tables, for the most part, took from weeks or even months to dream up, build, test, and finally release. With all my originals, at least before I left for health reasons, I used quite a few testers, mainly because I was new, and being new, not sure of myself.

A lot of the testers I used were, or at least now, would be considered Heavy Hitters in VP/VPM. Maybe I was too much a rookie to know that you didn’t ask Heavy Hitters for help in testing original tables. The funny thing is that not even one of those Heavy Hitters said NO. A few average folks weren’t much help, but the Big Shots, who never did think of themselves as Big Shots, offered advice and even gave me some pointers. Visual Pinball has been as steep a learning curve for me as anything has ever been, but now I feel comfortable enough I can offer help occasionally, rather than simply offering encouragement.

Now the reason I’m against public Beta testing is that you get a lot of people who either don’t feel qualified or are too good a friend with the author to be critical. And yes, if you do a good job as a tester, you most probably will be a bit critical about something. Maybe it’s as minor as the position of a kicker, or it’s strength. Or possibly you’ll notice that the ball flow isn’t balanced, or that a target bank needs to be moved half-an-inch to the left. Private testing will allow an author and his or her testers to get down to basics, and discuss in detail back and forth just what needs to be done. This seldom happens with a public Beta test release. And since it seldom happens, we have begun to see more originals that never reach their Final Release. And more new authors who never really learn the ins and outs of VP, and simply give up. What a waste of a lot of potentially talented, crative authors. It’s simply not possible to do a quality release in 35 minutes.

Now, for some reason, Beta test releases have replaced the Work In Progress post. Don’t take my word for it, check out how many WIP threads there are, and how many useful replies are made in each of those WIP threads. Although I’m talking about Originals, include VP Recreations and things don’t improve much. VPM tables really can’t be factored into this issue, since much of the scripting and especially design or layout work of Originals and even scripting for VP Recreations is not a major part of recreating a VPM table.

Part of the problem seems to be new authors who don’t/won’t take the time and effort to learn scripting, and all those tasks needed to make VP tables, recreations or originals. It isn’t as easy as a lot of experienced authors with previous programming knowledge will tell you. I’m still not a whiz in coding a table, but since I’ve teamed up with Patrick I have learned more than I ever expected I would. So if you are a new author, and you really don’t know what end is up, don’t do a Beta test release. Instead, ask three or four members of your favorite forum to help test your table. I will bet that anyone you ask will be willing to help, if they have time. And if one of your testers seems to know more than you do about scripting, or game play, or layouts, just maybe you have found a partner.

Few of us know how to do everything, and some of us don’t know anything, meaning me at one point, but in time we’ve learned. You keep hearing “If I can do it, anyone can”. In this case it’s true. So slow down and learn a little about VP before you rush out and make your first table. That way you won’t get burned out because it’s too confusing. And don’t be afraid to ask if you need help. If you don’t get the help you need at one forum, try another forum. But I’m asking you to finish your tables before you release them. I get asked to test tables all the time, and I seldom say know. But if you simple release a Beta and expect me to do testing for you, that’s where I draw the line.

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