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Perpetual Beta
"It's not a proper patch unless it breaks something." -Anonymous

When computer programs, equipment, or other projects take too long to complete, sometimes they get rushed out early. This often results in an Obvious Beta of which we'll never see the finished version, but when the program is good enough to stand on its own two feet despite all the bugs and unfinished features, the programmers may be able to fix it the way it should have been with a patch or upgrade.

But sometimes it doesn't stick, and the result has the users feeling like they're participating in (and paying for) one big beta test that never seems to end. Often by the time it feels finished, they'll have a sequel out, and it starts all over again...

While this usually applies to Real Life software and Video Games, it can just as easily apply to complex machines and other devices in works of fiction. See Beta Baddie and Psycho Prototype for this taken to a more dangerous level, and Super Prototype for a subversion of sorts, though they sometimes have problems.

Real Life examples:

  • Microsoft is often accused of this with varying levels of truth. With its monopoly weakened by users outright refusing to adopt Windows Vista when XP still works just fine (repeated with Windows 7 users refusing to upgrade to 8), and the increasing popularity and variety of alternatives, the company might be starting to clean up its act. They have been through more than one Dork Age before, though. (see: Windows ME)
    • Windows XP wasn't widely adopted until after SP 1,and the diehard Windows 2000 faithful didn't come over until SP 2.
    • Although, Service Pack 1 fixed a bunch of problems with Vista (which is why most businesses wait for the first Service Pack before adopting a new Microsoft OS). Microsoft tried to get the word out that SP1 was actually pretty good with the Mojave ad campaign, but it didn't manage to fully vindicate Windows Vista's reputation.
    • Windows Vista Service Pack 2 is pretty much rock solid. All of those nagging bugs are gone and it just never crashes. The only problem is that it was released on the verge of Windows 7, which is essentially Vista with said service pack and a new taskbar. In fact the whole reason for Windows 7 was to get rid of the Vista name and start with a clean review slate after they fixed all the errors.
      • In a testament to how "perfected" Windows 7 is, it only has one Service Pack, and it was just all the major security updates until that point, rather than fixing major bugs or adding features.
    • Windows 8 went from its touch screen paradigm and minimalism, to slowly adding features back that were missing. Each update (which there were two) got better and better reviews.
  • This is pretty much the case with any operating systems keeping up to the evolution of hardware. Sometimes developers can't simply make new drivers for new hardware (i.e. due to change of paradigm in hardware design), which means the developers must alter the core (the "kernel") of the OS itself. This is especially noticeable with open source operating systems such as Linux and the BSDs, that requires you to update what is basically the soul of the system (not as painful nor as dangerous as it sounds).
    • Debian, a Linux distribution, has an unstable branch that is meant to be this. Almost all packages are first uploaded to unstable, which contains the latest bleeding-edge versions of all software, before they enter the testing distribution, which, in time, becomes the next stable release.
    • Most Linux distributions have the option to use "bleeding edge" repositories, ensuring the latest untested software is used for updates as soon as it's available.
    • The BSDs tend to favor stability.
  • A Tropes Are Not Bad example: many players cannot ever foresee Notch, the creator of Minecraft, ever letting his creation be truly "finished", even after the game went gold, and far, far after the game had become a stable experience.
    • Notch he has stated that he wants to include a variety of base features, then release a finished game and essentially turn it over to the modding community. With Mojang announcing their next game, Scrolls, and Minecraft quickly reaching beta 2.0 status, some fans have speculated that this will happen sooner rather than later.
    • Minecraft left Beta and went into its first "finished" version on November 18th, 2011, and it is still getting updates. Since the full release we have gotten Jungles, ocelots and cats, a new AI system with loads of new behaviors, creepers being afraid of cats, a new type of golem, new blocks and items, upside down stairs and slabs and even a doubled build height and the ability to have thousands of different block and item types from mods. Mojang is gearing up to make life easier for modders and players who use mods.
  • Not only do nearly all MMORPG titles release patches, but also new areas and quests.
    • For example, powerhouse World of Warcraft still receives periodic patches that can, in some cases, dramatically alter the entire game. Every single class has been renovated multiple times, entire concepts have been introduced, tinkered with and in some cases finally abandoned if they didn't work right. World of Warcraft right now, post-Cataclysm (which renovated the entire "vanilla" game world) is practically unrecognizable from its original launch, even ignoring two expansion packs' worth of new content.
    • And MUDs before them; since they're free to play, they could openly admit they're a perpetual work in progress. In reality, the vast majority of MUD projects die out without ever reaching anything like an even baseline feature-ful, balanced and fun-to-play status; only the real dinosaurs or clones thereof tend to reach the modern polished MMO level of "all systems go, now let's start dreaming up new content." By contrast, MUS Hes, their roleplay-intensive counterparts, tend to have established mechanics from the outset that resist change, partly because many directly yank their rule systems from tabletop Role Playing Games.
    • EVE Online features an interesting variation on this. Aside from taking game-changing patches and enormous content additions Up to Eleven the developer runs a test server available to all subscribers and actively encourages players to help them beta-test the next patch, making the test server a literal Perpetual Beta. This comes partly due to their development strategy, which treats the game as a constantly-evolving entity rather than a 'box' that will eventually be replaced by another box.
      • Many MMOs are following this model, with public test servers to increase the likelihood of game-breaking bugs being squashed prior to release. Examples include Final Fantasy XI and City of Heroes.
      • With Final Fantasy XIV screwing the pooch terribly on worldwide release, the game has been in perpetual beta ever since, with no monthly fee while the developers rectify the (many) obvious problems with the game. However, the game was finally re-released as A Realm Reborn AKA patch 2.0 and the results of the bug squashing showed. Of course, with the game properly fixed, subscription fees came back.
    • Most localized Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese Free To Play MMOs tend to stagnate at the Open Beta phase long after the parent version has officially gone gold. This could be due to publisher policy, however.
      • They tend to lag behind the parent game by several months in general simply because of translation needs.
  • After 7 years, Dwarf Fortress is still in alpha, and the bugs are considered all part of the game, which includes Quantum Stockpiling and the Dwarven Atom-Smasher, and other bugs can be used to engineer unique traps, such as the combination of magma and the (now fixed) low boiling point of water to create a Dwarven Microwave. The typical DF release cycle is a major update with lots of new features and usually an equal number of bugs, followed by a flurry of bugfixes and minor additions and a long and more or less stable period while its creator works on the next bunch of new stuff.
    • Unlike most of the examples on this page, there's a clearly-defined list of development goals on the game's website. It's just that Word of God estimates that achieving all of them, in addition to anything the userbase think up that Toady One deems sufficiently cool (in the highly unlikely event he hadn't already thought of it), is probably going to take anything up to twenty years.
  • This Very Wiki (and others) for that matter. Pages are never really 'finished' and there are always new features and changes being made.
    • The scope and the implications of perpetual WIP is discussed in this article. This is mindboggling: for as long as new humans are born, there will always be something to add to the body of collective knowledge, assuming There Is no Such Thing as Notability.
  • Pretty much every Facebook game has a big, shiny "Beta" on their logo.
    • Facebook itself is being continually renovated over time. Every time they substantially overhaul one of their core features there will be thousands of people complaining about it - all of whom have forgotten about the whole thing a week or two later. This has happened so many times as to be a Running Gag.
  • Google's mail service, GMail, was in "beta" for so many years that, when it finally got to an official version, an experimental tool was eventually introduced for the sole purpose of restoring the "Beta" to the logo.
    • Google inverted this for many years, calling many of their products "beta" when they were fairly solid, just in case.
    • As does their Translator, although this is mainly because new languages (whose translation algorithms often are in need of testing, at least initially) are added at frequent intervals.
  • Neverwinter Nights. Neverwinter Nights 1 has lots of patches, but by the time they released Neverwinter Nights 2 there was still a bit left unfinished. Community modules and patches provided lots of content and scripting the original developers didn't. There were engine problems as well (such as characters meant to be flying being treated as if they were walking as normal, thus setting of things like pressure plates connected to traps).
  • Furcadia is in perpetual Alpha, according to its designers. It's still good enough to work.
    • There is a joke amongst the fanbase and devs that it will leave beta right after the heat death of the universe.
  • Artix Entertainment updates all of their games regularly (once a week for most, monthly for some), so the games are never truly finished, and there's always new bugs discovered and fixed. Also, because it's impossible to test the games with thousands of simultaneous players otherwise, all of their games are made available to play before they're officially "complete"; in particular, MechQuest was opened to all players in a "Gamma" testing phase because they didn't have time to do a beta before wanting to release it. It worked fine, though, as the team is prompt about bug fixes. In a sense, then, all of their games are perpetually in beta, although their older ones like AdventureQuest and Dragon Fable have been around so long there no longer are Game Breaking Bugs introduced with every update.
  • Playstation Home has been in open beta for over two years. Penny Arcade once spent a podcast talking about how the program will never, ever leave beta so that it will be impossible to criticize; "I mean, come on guys, it's just a beta."
  • Every sports game, but particularly wrestling is one of these because they often are titled for the year after they are released, but by that year, many people who were present in the company during the development stage are no longer there, yet are still in the game, and people who've joined since aren't in the game. As a result they usually represent a brief period of time where anything could have changed. WCW Thunder and WWF/E Smackdown: Just Bring It are particularly notable examples of this.
  • The Sims 3 is very guilty of this. Bugs are endemic to the game, and they range from "amusing" to "game breaking" — some of the most notable ones are "hotspot" nightclubs that are deserted, the mutilation of the Photography skill and an inventory bug that eventually froze the game. Players have to constantly check the site for patches and pray that the patch will fix their particular batch of problems. Unfortunately, each patch tends to cause almost as many problems as it fixes, and that's before the newest expansion pack arrives to wreak havoc on your game. The developers seem to be playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole with every new installment. By the way, if you think you can dodge the problems by avoiding the patches, you can't - each new expansion pack requires you to update to the latest version of the game. And heaven help you if you have custom content installed.
  • Dragon Age II had to be patched almost immediately after its release, and issues are still ongoing. Several quests have only recently been made accessible, and combat is still being tweaked. One major fan bugbear is the cameo of the Warden's love interest in the previous game - Leliana and Zevran either act as if the Warden is dead (even if they survived), or fail to acknowledge their relationship with the Warden (for example, Zevran will accept Isabela's offer of sex, which he is not supposed to do if he's involved or in mourning). Developers claim that this issue is too deeply embedded to be resolved any time soon, and DLC tends to cause its own set of problems, so players remain braced for more bugs.
  • Fallout: New Vegas was first released with great fanfare, with the game scoring very well with most reviewers. However, the developer Obsidian, as they are known to do, did not run proper dfebug routines. The game on release was so crash-prone as to be unplayable at times, a problem that still persists in some parts (the final battle sequence come to mind) after four major patches. That's not even getting into the faction paths cut off by bugs or scorpions that get stuck in the ground due to clipping errors.
    • With Ultimate Edition announced and all DLC released, support for New Vegas is essentially over, leaving multitudes of unfixed glitched, ranging from crash-to-desktop game breakers to bookkeeping annoyances (Why are the three helmets from Lonesome Road the only "Heavy" headgear in the game? When Power Helmets are "Light?").
    • This was a case of Screwed by the Lawyers - Bethesda basically forced them to make the game in 14 months with virtually zero time to get any beta testing in. Then when Skyrim was about to debut, Bethesda again demanded they cease all official patches as to not overshadow Skyrim. Lead Content Designer JE Sawyer went the extra mile and has over the few years kept an additional Unofficial Patch mod with features intended for New Vegas (again, screwed by the time limit) added in and increased difficulty. Combined with the most up to date patch and the latest J Sawyer mod, New Vegas has nearly four years of patches from Obsidian.
  • Arcen Games actually build their business model about this, but their site makes sure buyers know what they're in for. Games at release was feature-complete, fully playable and almost bugless. However, the company knows they could do a lot more and continues development for as long as community interest persists, constantly adding beta updates and periodically pulling back to clean out bugs and release a stable update. This has actually worked very well for them, AI War Fleet Command has been operating like this for years (all the way to and past official 6.0 release, with patch notes approaching novel length in total), with occasional larger chunks of new content released as paid expansion packs to keep the company going.
  • Arma II mod DayZ has been in beta since launch and has been met with constant updates and patches to smooth out the gameplay. The developers of the mod plan to release the mod as a stand alone with revamped features instead of copying over Arma II's gameplay.
  • Wolfire's Overgrowth has been in alpha since November 25, 2008.
  • Archive of Our Own, a Fanfic site which launched in 2008, is still in beta as of 2013. Creating an account requires an invitation by an existing member or adding your email address to the invite queue (which could range anywhere from a couple of hours to a few weeks depending on how busy the site is).
  • PAYDAY 2 seems to be stuck in a state between beta and fleshed out final release. While the game had an actual beta for a short period of time, nearly every major update caused some Game-Breaking Bug to occur and the game's mechanics change almost frequently to the point where players don't bother getting too comfortable with their play style, knowing that the developers will change the rules again.
  • Nexus Clash has technically been in beta for years, although at this point it's mostly an excuse to correct bugs and balance issues as needed. The series explains the occasional rebooting of the game world with a plot driven by the occasional rebooting of the universe.

Fictional examples:

  • Pretty much all of Tony Stark's Iron Man suits seem to be constantly modified, repaired, rebuilt and replaced, which is handy for writers who have trouble keeping his powers straight.
    • Also true in the movies. He went through three versions in Iron Man, three more in 2, by the end of The Avengers he was on number seven and in Iron Man 3, he was up to number forty-two!
      • On the other hand, many of those other thirty-five seemed to be specialized units, which is odd considering his each of his suits was typically a Swiss-Army Weapon. Given that his beta testing seems to destroy half the suit in the process, it's strange that he has any of the previous versions.
      • That's addressed in the movie itself, though. Stark actually didn't beta-test the suits following the Mark 7.

Obvious BetaError IndexPlayer Exclusive Mechanic
Obvious BetaIdiot Programming IndexSequence Breaking
Overused Running GagApathy IndexPlanet of Hats
Obvious BetaVideo Game GenresRomance Game
Obvious BetaVideo Game CultureOddball in the Series

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