A large video game project usually lasts for several years before it gets officially released as a “Complete Product”.
To keep track of the progress and the “Maturity” of the project, game development studios divide the project into different “phases or stages”. Alpha and beta are some of the stages that a game development project goes through.
While a game goes through many stages before an official full release, the alpha and beta stages are more popular among gamers since these are the final stages that the game goes through before it gets marked as “complete”, and it’s during these stages that gamers start to get a glimpse of the full potential of the complete game.
What are the alpha and beta stages of game development?
There isn’t a single and universal definition of when the alpha or beta stage of the game development cycle starts/ends. Each studio has their own twists and definitions to these terms depending on how the studios work internally.
However, generally speaking, most studios roughly agree on certain things when it comes to the alpha and beta definitions.
You can think of it this way:
A game is in its alpha stage when it has most of its features complete, but might still be missing a few more features and is not heavily tested yet. The beta stage comes after the alpha stage, and it’s when all features are complete, but the game still has a lot of bugs to be fixed.
There’s much more to alpha and beta phases than just these simple definitions, however, these definitions can give you a general idea about the terms and their usage in the game development world.
The rest of this article will be going into more details about the pre-alpha, the alpha and the beta stages of game development.
Before we dive into that, it is worth noting that the terms “Alpha and Beta” stages are not exclusive to game development. Instead, these terms are used to also describe the life cycle of software development in general.
In other words, an app or a website that has nothing to do with video games also goes through these stages of development.
With that said, here are more details about each of the mentioned game development stages:
What is the pre-alpha stage of game development?
The pre-alpha stage actually refers to several stages of game development instead of one. It is basically everything that happens before the game reaches a state that includes most of the major planned features (it not all of them).
First is the game idea. You can’t just start building a video game without having a solid idea of what the game is going to look like.
After the game idea, comes the pre-production phase where all of the game features are decided and planned.
Game designers start suggesting ideas about what the game will look like, how the game should work, and what mechanics and features are going to be included in the game.
This part of the game development journey is extremely important. When you have everything planned from the very beginning, the development team will be able to follow a more structured approach throughout their development journey.
Concept artists are usually heavily involved in the pre-production phase. The artists help in “visualizing” the game ideas and features that are being suggested/tossed around.
They use sketches and illustrations to demonstrate how certain mechanics work, or how the character will look like, and so on.
After all of the features are planned, the production of the game begins. Engineers, artists, managers, and others start working tirelessly to bring the ideas and the features planned to life.
Once most (or all) of the planned features are complete, the pre-alpha stage comes to an end.
What is the alpha stage of game development?
A video game moves to the “Alpha” stage when almost all of its features are complete. At this stage, the game most probably has a lot of major bugs that need to be dealt with, and maybe a few more features that need to be added to the game.
During the alpha stage, the game starts to get tested by a larger number of people. These testers’ sole job is to try to break the game and then report the bugs that they find back to the development team.
The reports can be related to technical issues, or they can be reports about how the game mechanics feel, the balance inside the game, and so on.
This phase is all about the back and forth between the development team and the quality assurance team.
The loop looks something like this: The development team sends the latest version of the game to the testers. The developers receive back the feedback and the reports of the testers, and they build a new version of the game that addresses the reports, and then they send the new version back to testing.
Once all of the features of the game gets implemented, and once all of the disastrous known bugs get fixed, the game moves to the Beta stage.
What is the beta stage of game development?
During the beta stage, the game features “get locked”. The main rule when it comes to the beta phase is: No new features please.
Content and bug fixing are the main tasks during the beta stage of game development. Art gets polished, placeholders get replaced with the actual planned art, dialogs get expanded, game balance gets fine tuned, and so on.
During this stage, the developers won’t be adding new features, however they will be fixing and fine tuning the features that they already have.
The game during the beta stage is usually still very buggy. During this phase, the access to the game is widened, and the development team dedicates their time to fix the bugs that the testers/players face.
Once the game reaches a stable version where no known major bugs are happening, the game is marked as complete and it gets ready for a full release.
The alpha and beta stages are the final stages of game development before the game can be marked as complete. These stages involve finalizing the game features and content, and fixing the bugs that are reported by the quality assurance team, and all the other regular gamers and testers that have early access to the game.
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