So you want to be a beta tester? Read this first... - RC Groups
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Nov 15, 2003, 12:01 PM
Live to ride... and fly!
Tres Wright's Avatar

So you want to be a beta tester? Read this first...

It is time to speak out, enough is enough. I am not a kit designer/ producer, but I've done my share of alpha and beta testing and feel I'm qualified to address those are are severely abusing the honor system when it comes to beta testing. And hopefully I can educate those that have never beta tested but are interested in trying it. Here we go...

First, what a beta test is not:

Beta testing is not a way to get a free kit.

There, it is said. That's the most common misconception, that you just write the designer and he sends you a free kit that you can throw on your stack of unbuilt kits that you plan on getting to some day. Nope, it doesn't work that way. It may have been sent to you at no monetary cost to you, but it is not free because you are fully expected to earn that kit. This is akin to barter, you may not give money for the kit but you are to give labor for it. More on that below.

So, what is a beta kit?

An alpha or beta kit is an early development kit that the designer produces for testing purposes. The kit may have fitment problems. It may have no instructions yet. It might not even have plans. It probably will not have the hardware package that will be delivered with the final kits. It will definitely not have any threads you can look up on R/C Groups

Lastly, what is expected of a beta tester?

Now we get to the meat of the discussion. Let's do this with bullet points:

- By agreeing to beta a kit, a tester is agreeing to start work on the kit as soon as it arrives. Not next week or next month, right NOW. The designer is trying to work the bugs out to get the kit into production. If you take 4 weeks to build the kit then you are of no use to them for testing because they'll be in production before you get halfway through the kit. Don't forget to have all the electronics, motor and any misc. bits you need on hand by the time it arrives too.

- The tester is agreeing to document all problems and issues with the kit to deliver to the designer. This is the most important and time-consuming task as a tester. Because the kit design may be very early, there are typically lots of problems. There may even be structural problems with the kit that the designer isn't aware of. It is your task to document every problem so that the designer can respond. This does not mean plastering it all over the forums; communicate the issues directly to the designer via email. You will often need to send photos to show what you are describing as well. If you have instructions, you should document anything you find that needs correcting in the instructions too. Even misspelled words. If there are no instructions, you may be expected to help write them! Confirm that with the designer. Remember, there is no mistake so small that it can be overlooked. If you had to trim 1/8" of balsa from rib R4 to get it to fit on spar S1, the designer wants to hear about it.

- The tester agrees to build the kit exactly as designed, and equip it as recommended. We all like to make improvements while building our kits, but on a beta we need to put that urge behind us. If we change a beta during construction, we create a situation where it is unknown if the design will work for the masses. If you like to strap a brushless on everything you build, check with the designer to see if it's OK. Typically the designers try to gather info on as many motor setups as they can, so they may want you to try 2 or 3 different setups to evaluate them. Often I've started with the stock setup for initial flying and testing, then switched to a brushless for additional testing.

These last two bullets are not mandatory, but are icing on the beta testing cake:

- A tester may be expected to help generate interest in the kit. This might be in the form of posting pictures and descriptions on R/C Groups and sharing a flight report. Most designers have web sites and are more than happy to host any video you might be able to make of the beta in action. It's not forbidden to discuss problems you run across during the beta, but try to put a positive spin on it explaining that it will be repaired by the time the kit goes into production.

- A tester might be expected to assist others building the plane. You were the first to build it, so your expertise is invaluable Once the kit goes into production, people building it might have questions. Check any build threads you notice and help out if you can

OK, that's it! Easy, huh? Now for my personal opinion on beta testing, it is not to get a free kit. It is to be one of the first to have, hold, build and fly a brand-new design! That's the fun part, having something that no one else has just yet.

The reason I am writing this is because I've seen a lot of abuse lately. The most common abuse is people rush to volunteer to beta test a kit, it is sent to them and they never finish it, or possibly never even start it. The most egregious act I've seen so far is one tester actually sold his incomplete test kit on the For Sale/ Trade forum. You know who you are People, don't abuse this. The designers are certainly not a rich bunch, it's a big commitment they've made in sending you a kit paid for out of their own pocket. Make it worth their while!
Last edited by Tres Wright; Nov 15, 2003 at 12:04 PM.
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Nov 15, 2003, 12:10 PM
Closet Extrovert
Jim Poor's Avatar
Glad someone said it. I couldn't very well do it 'cause I'm sorta guilty of not finishing a test kit myself. (Alpha) In my defense, I thought at first that I was just getting a left-over kit that needed a home. I'll still finish it one day, if I can get the wings straight.

I'd add one more point to your list:

DON'T test a kit for a type of model that is NEW to you. I.E. If you're a foamy guy, and you see a really cool balsa kit, but have never built one, don't ask to test it.

Unless of course, one of the goals is to determine how easy the kit is for a newbie.

<<Vows to finish that ALPHA even if it won't fly after it's done.
Nov 15, 2003, 12:17 PM
Live to ride... and fly!
Tres Wright's Avatar
That's a very good point Jim, likewise it might not be a good idea to get a highly aerobatic plane if one has only flown trainers. If there are problems with the flight characteristics, they won't know if it's the plane or the pilot!
Nov 15, 2003, 12:45 PM
Tee Sqaured
Thomas Manson's Avatar
Well said Tres.

By agreeing to beta a kit, a tester is agreeing to start work on the kit as soon as it arrives. Not next week or next month, right NOW.
LOL, that was never a problem for me, i have done one beta model, and that was the MM dandy. I stepped right form the car to my work shop and no one saw me for the next 5 hours, lol.

Good job on that write up!

Nov 15, 2003, 12:47 PM
Leave me alone!
Martin Hunter's Avatar
Well said, Tres. I back all of that 100%

This is a subject that's been in the back of my mind for a while and I'm glad someone's saying something about it. I've had a few ask me about the "free airplane" deal, which is precisely one of your points above, and I too have seen the abuse by not finishing testing on an alpha/beta kit. Yes, abuse is the correct word. I've even been guilty of this myself though not intentionally.

I feel as part of my beta testing responsibility, I should not only give feedback to the designer, but also pictures and video to the gang here on rcgroups. For myself, I don't see that as an optional point, as you say, but rather just part of the process and an assumed responsibility on my part.

I look forward to more feedback on this subject.

Nov 15, 2003, 12:59 PM
Mountain Models Wannabe
CoClimber's Avatar

Well said. I do feel that, as a designer, I have a responsability to make these points known to my testers but I appreciate you bringing them up here. I sometimes like to use testers that have no experience building to get their perspective, but it is quite important that I understand a tester's experience up front so that I can weigh their feedback.

I'm not sure how I feel about wanting the tester to post here on rcgroups. If the plane truely is a good plane, they are doing the gang a service to make the info available, but if I turn out a lemon, the tester should not feel the need to sweeten their opinion to please me. They should just privately tell me that I blew it and I should fix the design or pull it.

Nov 15, 2003, 03:00 PM
Live to ride... and fly!
Tres Wright's Avatar
Thanks guys!

Martin, you've set the golden standard on your many great beta build threads, practically any of them would make a great template for others to follow.

Doug, I totally agree with you that beta testers should be truthful and honest- if there are great things to report about the plane then shout them from the highest mountain and if there's nothing good to say about it than email that to the designer in private
Nov 15, 2003, 03:22 PM
Exotic Dancer
Pork Tornado's Avatar
I have been fortunate enough to be trusted with a few of these kits (and hope I have done them justice), but your thread brings up a lot of very valid points that I hadn't thought of. Thanks for making us all think, Tres.

The beauty of this site and the people on it is that above all else, we help each other. Sure, it's a hobby, and as such could be considered unnecessary, but the folks who make it their career deserve our respect. If it wasn't for them, we'd all be very bored with the same old thing.

I started thinking about it as I would any problem I have at my job. Something may really suck about the kit, but you owe it to the designer and your own sense of professionalism to be discreet and take what measures are necessary to be sure the problem is addressed while ruffling as few feathers as possible.

my 2 cents.
Nov 15, 2003, 04:29 PM
Registered User
Don Sims's Avatar
Well said Tres. I've visited with two designers who sent beta kits out, wanted the builders to post here on R/C Groups and the people never took the time to Thank the builders nor post any comments or threads.

I've never understood why folks go through the hassle of getting a kit and then not communicate in any way afterwords. Especially if the designer wants a thread started!!
Nov 15, 2003, 06:37 PM
j_z_123's Avatar
Great write up Tres!!!
Some designers dont even do beta's anymore, fully because they have had bad experiences with people breaking those "rules"

Martin, You have set the golden standard on your betas!

Nov 15, 2003, 10:45 PM
Closet Extrovert
Jim Poor's Avatar
Not sure I agree with giving the negative feedback in private. Of course it should be done in a positive way, but it also allows everyone to see how the designer resonds to flaws and suggestions.

Don't go nuts on the guy, but if there is an issue, address it openly and honestly.
Nov 15, 2003, 11:45 PM
Been There! Done That!
boomerace's Avatar
The first thing I always do on a beta build is ask the designer/kitter if he wants me to post a thread on the build or report the build in private to him only. I aso have made it clear that if he wishes me to post a build thread I will do it as honest as I can but with no coverups. I then notify the designer/kitter of the problem I have found and posted so he can comment on the problem as he wishes. Don't know if this is the way everyone else does it but that's my way. However I expect feed back from the designer/kitter as to what was corrected and how otherwise I reserve the right to comment when the kit is issued.
Nov 16, 2003, 12:44 AM
I have only Beta tested one plane.
I got the job by picking the closes number.
It was a bit of work.
I had fun building/posting. I hope I helped and did not disappoint the designer too much.
Another good suggestions. More beer does not make you a better builder

PS I sure enjoy see you all build.
Nov 16, 2003, 01:02 AM
Live to ride... and fly!
Tres Wright's Avatar
Thanks again guys, and glad to see some additional points being made. The input is appreciated.

To continue on Boomer's comment, communication is a key point. Each designer has different expectations, some may voice them (as Doug mentioned he does above) and others may assume they are understood. It certainly doesn't hurt to ask up front what they expect out of the beta test if it isn't made clear.
Nov 16, 2003, 10:09 AM
AKA BillyKillaWatt
Billy Haynes's Avatar
I agree with boomerace.........I've never done a beta (& this post may keep me from ever doing one) but I'd be honest about it, pos or neg. If you would want me to post the good, you should also be prepared for the bad (if there is any). "notify the designer/kitter of the problem I have found and posted so he can comment on the problem as he wishes. " I think thats the way to go....not hide it.