It would seem that over the last decade the general public has lost sight of the difference between a game beta and a demo. Publishers have played a huge role in this and have taken advantage of the ambiguity among consumers. It would seem only people involved in constant game testing and actual game development can tell the difference.
A beta is meant for proper testing of every functionality of a game from bug recognition to changes in gameplay balancing. A demo is meant mostly for demonstration of a game and this more significantly plays a role in advertising. A perfect example of this misconception was the Battlefield 3 “beta.” This was not a beta at all. This was released a week before the full retail release of the game. No testing could have been done in this beta. Games are not easy to make and require far more man hours and tester feedback. Most games that undergo true public beta testing are done so at least six months in advance. A perfect example of this is the Halo Reach and Gears of War 3 Betas. CounterStrike Global Offensive and Loadout are examples of closed betas. Most games with closed betas only let in a few people that are kept tabs on and are encouraged if not expected to provide helpful feedback to the developers in order to create the most polished game financially possible.
The real question here is why have people forgotten this key difference? Simply put it’s because big time publishers want them to. Betas have always had a positive stigma in people’s mind for them having the game early. A demo has always felt like a small part that hardly represents the whole. While big publishers have gotten away with taking the meaning of a beta away it’s important to remember especially when making purchasing choices for “beta” access if you are really being given a beta or a demo. This is not to say demos aren’t a nice slice of the pie, but they are certainly not a beta and certainly don’t allow proper player feedback. They are merely a message from the owners for you to buy their product.
The next time you participate in a true beta remember to help the developers help you. Join their forums, send them emails, use in game bug reporters and anything else that will make the game the best it can be.