10 Tips to Crowdsource Beta Testers for Your Online Games

Flickr: beta testing game softwareOne of the most important elements for the success of a social game is for it to be fun, and to achieve that, developers need ratings and feedback from real players, not just development staff. So how does a startup game development studio that’s bootstrapping on a tiny budget find and afford beta testers? One answer: crowdsourcing. Here’s a guide to some of the ways to get testers, as well as where to get them if you go the “online crowdsourcing” route. The crowdsourcing suggestions here can be abstracted to apply to any kind of online software, not just games.

4 Ways to Get Game Testers

Whether you’re developing for a social network such as Facebook, a game portal or some other form of online gaming environment, games have to fulfill a number of requirements to become a success — beyond starting with good game producers and talented developers. Games have to to evoke emotions to keep players engaged, and be scalable upon widespread success. Real players can provide the feedback and clues you need to get the kind of “fun” rating that your games will need to succeed. So why not give real players the chance to help out in your game development process? There are a few main ways you can acquire a “beta army” to help you test features, graphics, storyline, web browsers, computers, devices and more. Some of the ways are free or low cost, others require a variable budget.

  1. Advertise – Target in-game ad networks, game-related blogs, magazines, forums, Craigslist and other relevant sites. There’s a cost involved with this option, but since testers are not being compensated monetarily, there’s a greater chance that they’re doing it because they want to and will thus give more useful feedback.
  2. Crowdsource by proxy: Lease testers – A number of companies have popped up who lease out beta testers for online software, including uTest and TopCoder. Flash Game License actually leases access to game beta testers, reputedly at $1/user. Mob4Hire offers crowd testing of mobile applications, including games. Lease sites crowdsource their testers and do pay them, so the drawback of leasing, besides the cost, is that there’s no guarantee that users will give any value despite the expenditure. Users might be testing for mercenary purposes and will not necessarily provide the passion you need from true players of your game. Read articles by ZDNet UK, Wireless Week (by CEO of uTest), and Campus Technology to get a more rounded view of the pluses and minuses of crowdsourcing.
  3. Crowdsource offline via word of mouth
    • Friends who play online games.
    • Local tech meetups of game developers.
    • Go talk to people at conventions, game development conferences, game stores and wherever else you can find players.
    • University and college computer science, math and/or engineering departments.

    Cost: relatively free, aside from convention costs, transportation, etc. You’re getting closer to finding the type of people

  4. Crowdsource online using social media – Social media use is in essence the same as word of mouth, but done online. You’re in control of the channels you choose, and being online means you’re more likely to find exactly the kind of players you want for beta testing.

If you have the budget, you might chose a combination of the above ways to build your beta tester list. If you decide to go just the ‘crowdsource online’ way, read on for some tips.

10 Tips to Crowdsource Beta Testers Online

Thanks to the Internet, crowdsourcing can play a pivotal part for a bootstrapping game studio leveraging a small development budget. Many publishers of online software have beta testing programs, and game studios don’t have to be any different. Social media makes it relatively easier to crowdsource for game testers. Here are several tips for building your beta tester list.

  1. Email – Send email messages to registered users of your previous game. If you have none, build your own e-newsletter list, or lease access to another game studio’s email newsletter. Just make sure to pick games that are not too similar to yours. Don’t forget to first create a “Game Testers Wanted” landing page, and then link to it in emails and newsletters. Don’t forget to set up your business’ staff email signatures to link to the landing page as well.
  2. Company or Industry blogs – Write about your quest for beta testers in your game studio’s blog. Have any willing staff members do the same on their personal blogs. Also, offer to write guest posts on other game-related blogs, in return for a byline and hyperlink to your “Testers Wanted” landing page.
  3. Forums – Members who are active in online forums are allowed to post links in their user signature (similar to an email signature). Choose game-playing or game development forums, as appropriate
  4. Social voting sites – This is longer-term approach. Check article voting sites like Digg, Mixx, Propeller, Reddit, Neatorama, and so on. Find articles related to games and make a note of who is submitting, who is voting. ‘Friend’ suitable people, vote up any good content submitted, build a relationship. Make sure to add your site’s URL in your socal bookmarking account’s profile, so that new friends can visit and find your beta testing program. Just keep in mind that the users of some voting sites can get pretty ornery if they feel they’re being spammed or marketed to. You have to act and be like any regular user, not a spammer or marketer.
  5. Social bookmarking sites – This is similar to the social voting sites approach, but you friend users of bookmarking sites such as Stumbleupon or Delicious. Select only those people who submit or vote up game-related web pages.
  6. Social networks – Any social network — e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Ning, possibly LinkedIn — that allows for the creation of Groups, Fan Pages or other niche interest areas are possible candidates. Join and/or create an interest area and be active. If you’re allowed to post links, take advantage of that fact, but don’t overdo it to the point of spam. Especially look for gaming-related pages and groups.
  7. Microblogging sites – Twitter has enormous value for drawing leads, if you know how to approach it and who you are targeting. Don’t forget to take advantage of Twitter list, simply in hopes of drawing in other gamers or developers.
  8. Presentation/ document sharing sites – Leverage “web slideshow” sites such as Slideshare.net and Scribd. If you have a relevant presentation that you think might draw in likely game tester candidates, post that. (E.g., “10 Ways to Get Free Games,” “5 Tips for a Career in Game Testing,” etc.) Make sure that the document and your author profile has links back to your “Testers Wanted” landing page.
  9. Video sharing sites – Leverage YouTube and similar sites:
    • Show a trailer of your game, then put up a screen of text asking for beta testers.
    • Make a funny video related to online gaming in general, share it on your website, tweet about it, post on Facebook, and encourage resharing.

    Make sure that videos end showing your game/ brand URL, and are watermarked into an unobtrusive corner of the screen. Also put in your URL the YouTube (or whatever) author profile text. Finally, ensure that when you categorize a video that you use relevant game-related tags.

  10. Classified sites – Craigslists and other classified sites can be a source of beta testers, and often a listing is free, if you follow site-specific guidelines. If you find a “social classifieds” site that suits your needs, you have the added benefit that someone who finds your listing can easily share it with friends.

Have you used outside help in testing your online game or other software? How effective was a crowdsourced approach? What did you find was the greatest benefit.

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