Yesterday, EA and DICE announced the open beta dates for their upcoming first-person shooter, Battlefield 3. The problem is the game comes out a month after this “beta”. I thought having a game in beta meant it was still being worked on, but according to this announcement, this will be more of multiplayer demo; a marketing gimmick. What’s the difference between a beta and a demo?

Back in the summer of 2008, I was contacted by Volition, Inc. to participate in a beta for their upcoming title Red Faction: Guerrilla. After a month of rigorous testing through Xbox Live, the beta ended and not much was heard on the game until spring of the next year when the title received an official release date. DICE has done something completely different from this traditional beta-testing process.

With only a month before the game is released, these beta tests are more of a stress test to the EA servers than actual tests for game mechanics or animation, in which the title of the process is supposed to reiterate. The question again comes up: what’s the difference?

A demo is a representation of what is to be the final product released to gamers, without any patches. A beta is the second process of testing a game’s completed design through, and in the case of public betas, exposing multiplayer in the hopes of fixing bugs or glitches throughout the core mechanics, or addressing graphical issues. A demo is supposed to reveal what the game will be like once done, whereas a beta is only a hint of what the title could be in the future.

Why do so many developers use the term “beta” in the wrong context then? To hide from the true facts of game problems, a company’s PR firm may suggest a title which deceives gamers from believing this is the final product, to convince them to purchase the game even if there are major flaws within. These are also often nothing more than an additional arm of a marketing campaign.

What do you think the difference of beta and demo is? Should game publishers or developers stop using the term beta, when demo should be used in its place? Give your thoughts in the comments below.

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