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Perpetual Beta

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"It's not a proper patch unless it breaks something."

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 or a Version 4.10 out, and it starts all over again...

In more recent times, where thanks to the Internet, a software can receive updates faster and more frequently than ever, this concept can also be applied to video games that constantly receive updates to add or rework content in the game. Companies will create games with the intent of creating new updates for years as long as they can afford to maintain it instead of following a more rigid development cycle. This type of development structure is referred in business jargon as "Games-as-a-Service" or "live service games". While this method has upsides where it keeps a single product constantly "fresh" and gives the company a stable flow of income, it is also a ripe target for abuse, as often these games are released prematurely with missing content being drip-fed to the players over time and often contain predatory microtransactions of various kinds.

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, Psycho Prototype and Flawed Prototype for this taken to a more dangerous level, and Super Prototype for a subversion of sorts, though they sometimes have problems.

Video Game examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • 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, MUSHes, 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 game-changing patches and enormous content additions, 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.
  • Furcadia is in perpetual Alpha, according to its designers, and has been in the alpha stage since it launched in 1996. There is a joke amongst the fanbase and devs that it will leave beta right after the heat death of the universe. The game still works just fine, and receives regular updates.
  • Star Citizen was scheduled for full release in 2014, was delayed to 2015, saw a "pre-alpha" release in that year, and has remained there ever since. The singleplayer portion, Squadron 42, has seen no form of release as of this writing.
  • Nexus Clash has technically been in beta for years, although at this point it's a deliberate strategic move on the part of the development team to deploy drastic bug and balance fixes as needed and keep the series from ever becoming Perpetually Static. The series explains the occasional rebooting of the game world with a plot driven by the occasional rebooting of the universe.
  • Star Trek Online's Level Editor, the Foundry, has been basically stalled at v0.8 for years on end. Cryptic Studios still adds new NPCs to it (eventually) and fixes bugs, but no new features have been added since late 2013 and the Foundry Spotlight program stopped after BranFlakes quit the job of community manager.
  • Star Wars: Galaxies was plagued by this. A victim of being Christmas Rushed long before it was ready to go live, the game spent most of its first few years trying to play catch-up with issues that should have been fixed before launch while simultaneously patching in new content (and new bugs that needed fixing). Just when the game was starting to reach a stable state the developers tore the entire game apart and redesigned it almost from the ground up. Then they did it again six months later! The players were not amused.
  • Warframe entered open beta early 2013... and hasn't officially released yet, despite at least tripling in amount of content, and having had various large story events which are inaccessible to new players. It continues to have large updates every few months, and there do not seem to be any plans to either stop developing new content, stop revamping existing systems or to actually officially release. It's gone so far that Wikipedia simply lists the open beta release day as its actual release day.

  • 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 debug 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 glitches, 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 Network - 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.
  • 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).
  • Pokémon GO is in a perpetual state where long outstanding bugs are hardly or never addressed and fixing one bug causes several more to appear. One event caused the game to crash because it tried to load an asset that wasn't even in the game.

    Sandbox Games 
  • A Tropes Are Not Bad example: many players could not ever foresee Notch, the creator of Minecraft, or really anyone at Mojang, ever letting his creation be truly "finished", even after the game went gold, and far, far after the game had become a stable experience. The game left Beta and went into its first "finished" version on November 18, 2011, and tons of new content has been added since then thanks to continuous updates more than a decade later.
  • The official stable "release" version of Open Simulator is currently, and OpenSim has been in development since 2007.
  • 7 Days to Die has been in alpha since October 2013. As of late April 2020, it's going on the 18th alpha release, with content being constantly added and polished. There's little to no expectation of it entering the beta stage anytime soon.

    Other Video Games 
  • After 14 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.
  • Tetris Friends and its Facebook counterpart Tetris Battle both had Arena modes that spent their entire lives in beta, from launch in 2008 (2011 for Battle) to the games' shutdown in 2019.
  • 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 DragonFable have been around so long there no longer are Game Breaking Bugs introduced with every update.
  • 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 was 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.
  • 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.
  • Dead Cells has received so many sweeping balance changes and mechanic reworks after its official release in 2018 that you have to wonder if your old victories even counted. These changes were not just in the form of new items, enemies, and stages, but also economy changes, scaling, progression, etc. that all affect how to approach the game's challenges. For example, Malaise was reworked into a completely different mechanic and it dramatically changed the strategy for higher difficulty runs.
  • 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. Then suddenly it got released in October 2017. While the unique game mechanics did live up to expectations and the gameplay was quite solid, there were multiple complains about the the main campaign being too short, bugs (especially in the installer) and missing promised features. The latter two were rectified by multiple updates until July 2018.
  • 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.
  • Pokemon Showdown has been in beta since its release, and it's expected that it constantly will be due to the Pokémon franchise constantly evolving. For one April Fools' Day joke, the site staff "launched" Showdown.
  • Parodied with Skullgirls: ∞Endless Beta∞. In practice, it's simply a public beta test version of the game used for upcoming content.
  • The Super Mario Maker inspired fangame Super Mario Multiverse will probably never leave closed beta. This is enforced because of fear of being given a C&D from Nintendo if it were ever to leave closed beta. Because of this, getting access to the fangame is extremely limited, and probably will stay that way for a long time, given Nintendo's attitude towards high quality fangames.
  • Yandere Simulator originally began work in April 2014 and shows no sign going anywhere close to a full release as far into the end of 2020. It was originally planned to be released in April 2019, meaning the game should have at least been in beta for a while. The game released its first official demo with the first rival (out of 8+ proposed rivals) on September 2020. The reasons for this are the dev's glacial work pace (his updates, when they happen, tend to be very minimal), massive feature creep, and his love of meme updates that ultimately contribute nothing to development. It's even a meme that the game is never going to leave alpha, and the significant amount of donations he gets from fans each month gives little incentive to work harder.
  • The creators of Power Bomberman have stated that the game will probably never be truly "complete", so it's unlikely it'll ever reach version 1.0.0.
  • Escape from Tarkov has been in closed beta since 2017, with lots of content still planned, filled with bugs and the like to be expected with games in beta. However, the "closed" beta can be bought into at prices up to $150, has its own miniseries and its viewer numbers on Twitch rival fully-released games. The game is effectively treated as a full release without the expectations of it being actually finished.
  • Magic: The Gathering Arena has seen ongoing criticism for falling into a worse state than its beta. As the game has grown more complex, adding hundreds of cards and several additional play modes, it's also grown buggier and less stable, compared to its basic-but-stable state during Beta and early release.
  • ClayFighter: Sculptor's Cut has this but in a character: High Five, the only character of the 4 newcomers (being this game an Updated Re-release of ClayFighter 63⅓) that has limited moves, lack of basic punches and kicks, only one super and no Claytalities, being relegated to Unlockable Content.

Non Video Game examples:

    Operating Systems 
  • 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 10), 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 Audience-Alienating Era before, though (see: Windows ME).
    • Windows XP wasn't widely adopted until after SP 1, and diehard Windows 2000 faithfuls 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. Windows 10 seems to run with this by combining the best of both worlds; putting in an actual start menu and using features from Windows 8 that worked.
    • And then Windows 10 itself is this. Seemingly taking inspiration from the idea of how specific Linux distros can be updated frequently in an "rolling release" basis, how people nowadays relied more to online services, adoption of software as a service like many other tech giants, the ever increasing number of online users and threats, Windows 10 by default makes automatic updates mandatory, where aside from security updates, new features are patched in and out. There's also the Windows Insider program, a volunteer program where one can use an unstable branch similar to the Debian example below with newly added features forward from scheduled major update release branch, report issues and bugs, and test variety of features, if not perfect as release branch may have issues too.
  • Wine for *nix has pretty much been in perpetual beta since its inception in the early 90s, owing to having to play catch-up whenever Microsoft makes changes to the API or releases a new Windows version.
  • 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.
    • "Rolling-release" distros like Arch are this by design, having no fixed releases and using the latest software as soon as it's released.
    • The BSDs tend to favor stability.

  • PlayStation Home was in open beta for just about its entire lifetime. 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."
  • Steam's Early Access program has caught some flak because of the number of titles that seem comfortable never dropping the title. While there are plenty of examples on both sides of the field, it has drawn a good deal of criticism from some high-profile gaming reviewers such as Totalbiscuit.

  • Archive of Our Own, a Fanfic site which launched in 2008, is still in beta as of 2023. 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).
  • 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:
    • The 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.
  • 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.

  • This is a recurring issue with Stern's pinball machines. Batman (Stern), for instance, had few modes, instead opting for simply giving the player points. This included the Wizard Mode, which was intended to be the climactic duel against the Joker but instead gave the player 100 million points, then reset everything back to the beginning. Metallica, Mustang, and The Walking Dead were all released with lights indicating modes and statuses that never activated during gameplay. Star Trek (Stern), once the player completes Kobayashi Maru Multiball, became Unwinnable by Design as the programming never got further than that. In all of these cases, Stern DID release patches that made the games feel more complete. On the other hand, AC/DC's normal edition never made use of any of the lights on Angus Young's face despite the face being huge and in the middle of the playfield. The issues regarding incomplete rules gave rise to the #WheresTheCode protest, which Stern took to heart, and Game of Thrones released with complete code, albeit in need of balance-patching. That being said, WWE Wrestlemania will likely forever remain incomplete due to low sales and a critical thrashing from pinball fans and wrestling fans alike (even more so than usual).
  • Before Stern, however, were the Midway machines from The '90s. Particular victims were The Champion Pub, Cactus Canyon, and Star Wars Episode I, as Midway canceled pinball development shortly after their releases and laid off the pinball teams before the programmers could finish putting in the rules.
  • Any machine with creative input from Lyman Sheats, Jr. may receive code updates at any time. The CSI pinball machine, made in 2008, went un-updated and forgotten until Sheats generated a seemingly out-of-nowhere code update in 2015. Even more so is Star Wars Trilogy, which was released in 1997 by Sega (despite Sheats currently working at Stern), which Sheats gave a code update for right after CSI, 18 years after Star Wars Trilogy was released (and before game patches were common).

    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! 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, but the movie strongly hints the only reason he's so obsessively making these pointlessly specialized suits is to challenge himself and to cope with his PTSD.
  • Batman is just fixed on this as he keeps updating and tweaking his gear, coming up with new bat-suits and vehicles over the years he's been active, whether by himself or with help from Alfred, Harold Allnut, or Lucius Fox. His hat in the Justice League is basically Crazy-Prepared, something that comes in handy with the level of the threats he can face.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Poppi Alpha tells Rex in a post-battle conversation she is feature complete, but is kept in alpha because her creator wants to keep tweaking.