How to Play Video Games Before They Come Out

Tracer from 'Overwatch' stands with two pistols raised.

Tracer from Overwatch | Source: Activision Blizzard

There’s never been a better time to be a gamer if you want to play games before they come out. That’s because the developers behind many of the biggest games offer beta tests that let nearly anyone play the game weeks or even months before it comes out.

Why betas exist

Video game betas occur for a number of reasons. One is so game makers can test their servers to see how they hold up under the stress of lots of people playing at once.

Another reason is so the developer can get a large amount of data about how people will play the game. In online shooters, for instance, a developer might look for points on a map where an unusually high percentage of the kills occur. With that information, they can create new routes or areas to minimize the choke points.

Betas are also useful for making sure everything is well balanced. Oftentimes developers will use information from betas to tweak weapons and character classes to make them more or less powerful.

Whatever the reason for beta, gamers are the ones who win out by getting access to games before they come out.

Potential downsides

That’s not to say betas always turn out to be glorious, pristine demos. Because betas are often used to stress a game’s servers, they can be unreliable. Servers go down, leaving developers scrambling to implement fixes while players are left hanging on menu screens, unable to connect.

Also, whatever experience or abilities you earn in a beta is always wiped away when the beta ends. So don’t expect to go into the full game at launch with a souped-up character. Sometimes they’ll even wipe the servers mid-beta, resetting everyone’s progress to zero.

Finding betas

The big question, of course, is how you even know a beta is happening in the first place. The best way to find out about betas for your most anticipated games is to follow the developer on Twitter, Facebook, or your social media platform of choice. They’ll always announce when betas are happening and offer instructions for how to sign up. Aside from that, the information can usually be found on the game’s website.

Note that not all games have betas. And since they’re usually used to test out servers, betas are often limited to a game’s online modes.

Two soldiers prepare to fight a locust horde in Gears of War 4.

From Gears of War 4 | Source: Microsoft

Closed betas

Betas come in two types, closed and open. Closed betas are more exclusive, so getting in requires you to jump through hoops. Often, access to a closed beta hinges on preordering the game. And in a time when even some of the biggest games come out riddled with bugs, preordering is generally a bad idea. Still, if you’re sure you want to buy a game, and access to the closed beta is dependent on preordering, that’s your prerogative.

Not all closed betas require preorders. To get into the Gears of War 4 closed beta, all you had to do was play Gears of War: Ultimate Edition by a certain date. Other closed betas, like the recent one for Doom, work on a lottery system. They’ll simply require you to sign up on the game’s website and hope you’re one of the lucky people whose name is drawn.

Open betas

Open betas, on the other hand, are open to anyone. You often don’t even have to sign up to participate in an open beta. All you have to do is go to your console’s online store and download the beta for free. Then when the beta goes live, you can play it just like any other game.

The one thing that’s true of all betas is that the servers go offline when they end, which means you won’t be able to play the game again until it hits retail. But by then you’ll have gotten a taste of the game and you can use that information to decide if you want to buy it when it comes out. It’s a win-win.

Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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