Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beta Testing

I was lucky enough to receive a key for the Closed Simcity Beta on Saturday. Whilst this beta only allows you to play 1 hour at a time and it ends tomorrow, it did make me think about how we as writers can test our ideas.

All betas need beta testers. In games they are gamers, in writing they are readers and reviewers.

So what are the purposes of the Simcity beta test and how do they relate to writing?

Simcity Closed Beta Cover
Image from

Server Stress Testing

For a game like the new Simcity making sure the servers can handle all the users (as it is an online only game). Server stress testing essentially checks how many users a server can handle before it buckles. The Maxis team would then know how to configure the real game servers when it is officially released.

For writers we can liken stress testing to character limit testing. How many characters can a single scene, or indeed the whole story, handle before the reader buckles and says 'I can't handle this many characters!'

If a reader says they are confused, it may be that you have too many characters. Look at each of your characters and work out if they are strictly necessary. If not then you might want to consider cutting them.


In Simcity the performance is based off how well the game runs on most peoples computers. The game might lag in certain places if too much is going on.

In writing, I would liken this to pacing. If your pacing is too slow it may hold the story back. If it is too fast then it may be hard to keep up and seem like it is jerking all over the place.

Get your beta readers to comment on pacing. If it is too slow consider removing a retrospective scene or adding a fast paced action sequence. If it is too fast consider the reverse. Whilst readers enjoy fight sequences, they also want to see a bit of emotion in your character and know what she is thinking.


Strictly speaking Simcity doesn't have a story line. Though I suppose now each sim in your city can be followed to work there are loads of mini stories. But in other games, there are stories. Sometimes beta testers are allowed to see a snippet of these to give feedback on.

This is obviously analogous to plot. Get your beta readers to comment on whether they found the plot engaging. If they said the plot was boring it may be that it is too simple, or too complicated. You'll need to reread what you have to find out which. Or it may be to with pacing, if so see above.


Simcity has advisers for each of the main sections of the game, transport, education, fire, health, etc... These are the characters of Simcity. In the beta I found these characters to be very useful.

In writing the cast consists of the protagonist, the antagonist, and any supporting characters. Make sure they all have a purpose and that you don't have any purely for comic relief as these will seem hollow.


Often Betas don't have full graphics. However, they are normally representative of the style of graphics in the final version. I rather like the new Simcity's graphics. They are a good blend of realistic and fun.

In writing, the graphics is to do with setting. How much detail you put into a setting is up to you, but remember too little will make it seem like your characters are acting in a black void. Too much detail and the reader will go 'wow, what a world ... now, what's going on in the story again?' You don't want to veer to far either side. Some people too much is better than too little. I say otherwise. Most readers can fill in the gaps you leave, so long as you don't leave too many.

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