The Beta Test Hangover

No amount of Greasy food or yakking in the toilet can help this flavor of sickness.

Alex Keenby Alex Keen


I started having an uncomfortable feeling this past Monday and it has stuck around ever since.  I’ve come to refer to it as a Beta Test Hangover.  Have you ever invested hours into a beta and then felt left on the doorstep when it ended?  That’s what I am currently wallowing in.

Despite a pile of AAA titles sitting on a bookshelf awaiting completion, I have this desperate desire to play more Gears of War 3.  I’m talking about fantastic games like Mass Effect 2, Borderlands, and, sadly, Super Mario Galaxy 2.  Hell, I even have Gears of War 2 sitting on a shelf begging me to complete the co-op campaign.  Plus, new games like L.A. Noire are here and I’m stuck begging for more beta. Grrrrrrrr!

With this in mind, I had to look inward to figure out what might be going here.  You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve been sucked into a beta.  If memory serves me, I can count Halo 3, Halo: Reach, Auto Assault, 1 vs. 100, and Gears of War 3 as betas that ate up large portions of my gaming.  For the most part this experience has been console-based beta testing, but, the PC experience I had with Auto Assault may have resonated the longest.

What happens as a result of these beta tests is three-fold: joy, sadness, and exaggerated recollection.  First, the joy of playing a game well before it’s to be released – typically for free – is almost unrivaled.  Sure, the games have issues; however, everyone playing along in the multiplayer betas wants to be there.  There’s a much more collegial atmosphere because everyone is learning the new game and, typically, wants to play the game right.

The second phase is the sadness that follows the completion of the beta test.  After hours of mastering the new levels of Gears of War 3’s beta, there is a hollowness left behind that even the best games can’t fill.  I can’t just slip on my Xbox and play more Gears 3.  I have to wait, wait, and wait some more. The end of a beta test can be crushing as the new reality of emptiness becomes apparent.

The third and final phase can occur either after the full game has been released or even years after that.  Once the game comes out the reality is pretty simple: this game is nowhere near as special as the beta.  Even if the full game has a 17-hour epic single player with 80 maps of multiplayer goodness, something about the full game can never match the beta.  Perhaps it’s the knuckleheads trying to glitch or talk trash in multiplayer.  Or, the most likely culprit, is the lack of exclusivity has sucked my personal joy out of the experience. I am no longer special. I am no longer a beautiful and unique snowflake.

This Beta Test Hangover truly sucks and there’s nothing that will soothe the pain.  To this day, I pine for the chance to go back to a time when there were people actually playing Auto Assault (a less-than-stellar, now-dead MMO).  Instead, I’m stuck looking at screenshots of a game long gone and an experience that will dissipate with my memories.  Such is life with a Beta Test Hangover.