Reading through the author’s forum from the recent comp, I ran across some discussion of how mean/unfair reviewers can be; this is no doubt true, though it is also true that people get irked about having their time wasted by a game from an author who didn’t do (what they consider to be) due diligence in writing the thing. It’s a fine balance. (And no, the purpose of the comp is not to encourage newbies. Not as such. It may do that, which is fine, but that’s not the mission of the competition. I tend to think that it’s about producing more cool IF, and in a context where that IF gets noticed and talked about, both inside and outside the community.)
Anyway, the particular bit that caught my attention was this:
Certain reviewers seem to imagine that hoardes of willing beta-testers drop out of the sky at the slightest mention that you’re working on a game.
I kinda wonder how much time these reviewers have spent beta-testing people’s games?
— Harry Wilson aka Conrad Cook
Actually, lots of the reviewers have put in significant testing time. This is part of what makes them so sensitive to all the ways in which a game can go wrong. Beta-testing is itself a lesson in game design and implementation: you get an up-close view of what can go wrong and how someone else goes about fixing it. But second: if you are having a hard time finding testers, ask people. You can post a request on RAIF or join the IF betatesting site, but if that is not producing enough feedback, go on ifMUD and find folks; or approach people individually by email and say, “Hello, would you please test my game?”. It helps to include some basic information about what kind of game it is — and, perhaps, an explanation of why you think that person would be a good fit and/or might enjoy doing it. (This latter part is optional, but it might help if you’re addressing someone you haven’t worked with/talked to before at all.)
Sometimes people will be too busy, and will say no. But it’s not wrong to ask. People are much, much more likely to say yes if you ask them specifically and personally than if you put out a general call for volunteers. (Later on when you’ve written some games that people know are good, putting out a general call for volunteers may turn up more testers — but by that point you may already have a team of people you like working with, and not need to do that so much anyway.) Some authors have a rule of seeking as beta-testers the very reviewers that were most harsh on them last time, but that’s certainly not obligatory (and heaven knows you may find it’s more to the point to work with a beta-tester who is sympathetic to your basic vision but has high standards of craft).
Finally, the community expectation in general is that beta-testers will not diss your game in public, will not disclose the errors they found, and will not distribute a pre-release copy; and conversely that you will credit your beta-testers in some way in the finished game. (An ABOUT or CREDITS verb is usually used for this purpose.)
But when all is said and done, it is not unreasonable for players to expect that the game you offer them has been through testing. If you haven’t tested it, you haven’t finished it. If it’s not finished, don’t submit it. It’s that simple. Seriously.