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When did you know you game was ready to go public / into alpha testing (if ever)?

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Hey there! I've been a lurker here on TGM and VPL for quite awhile now, and have been working on my own VPS / ARPG browser-based game on and off for a couple years (at least 3 - 4 years). A little over a year ago, I purchased a domain name and database hosting. I had reached a wall when it came to testing the database on my local machine, and in all honesty found it easier to use the actual database lol. Anyway, this is when I became pretty serious about working on my site, which originally was just a relaxing "turn off my brain and code" project, plus it was some fun web design practice, but now it's become a full project that I'd like to finish at some point.

The entire site is written from scratch, I'm sure it has issues (definitely security-wise...), but I feel like I'm getting close to the point where I could possibly open it up to a small closed alpha / soft launch in the next year or less. Really the only content that's really lacking is the actual assets (think pets, items, etc.), which I've been slowly chipping away at, though I find programming much more tangible and easier to motivate myself to work on. Plus, if I'm going to have people testing the site, I really want them to be looking for bugs and exploits in the site itself, rather than the lore / visual content, etc. Thing is, I'm not confident in this assessment, so I wanted to ask other site owners how you knew when your project was ready (or knew it wasn't ready) for alpha / beta testing?

Some questions:

  • How did you know your site was / wasn't ready to soft launch or go into alpha testing?
  • If you worked alone, how did you balance programming and asset creation?
  • What features do you think are absolutely necessary for alpha testing? Eg. forums, trading, battling, etc.
  • Do you find it okay to have a lack of assets, lore, extra features (eg. games, quests), etc. during the testing phase, or do you think it's best to have a chunk of finished content beforehand?
  • How much moderation did you have? Do you think you should have had more / less moderation?
  • How did you gather a group of testers / alpha players? I currently don't have really anyone I trust that's actually interested in browser-based games but I also know I'm not ready to launch the game to just anyone.
  • If you could change something or go back and tell yourself something before you opened for testing, what would it be?
  • Any additional tips or advice would be appreciated as well!

As for the features I've created for the site, here are the main ones:

  • A forum with topics, threads, posts, and a partially complete moderation system (I'm currently working on post / player reporting right now, actually).
  • Account registration / sign in, as well as a simple customizable profile page.
  • Pets and their basic stats / functionality, though features to make it worth your time to feed / play with your pets is only about 50%-ish done at this point. I'd like to add professions and skills to pets later on, but it's not on the top of my list currently.
  • The pets also have private pages for their owners to manage them and then public pages to display custom profiles and whatnot.
  • An inventory system that allows you to put items in your pets' inventories, feed / play with items, move items to your storage, donate items, and send items to other users. 
  • A trade market that is about 90% complete with listings, offers, etc.
  • A barebones fetch quest page that I've been working on and would later like to evolve into a full questing system.
  • An NPC shop system that restock at given intervals of time, as well as an NPC donation shop, which is where items go when you donate them and sell for 1 IGC. The system is built, I just need to make the actual individual shops and choose their stock.
  • A very barebones adoption system, which is probably where the site is the weakest. I'd like to add some sort of random chance or seasonal system to allow players to get new pets, though I haven't settled on what I want exactly yet. I'm not considering a breeding mechanic at this time.
  • A skeleton of a possible crafting / recipe system, which is what I'm considering tackling next after I finish up the last trade market page.

I plan to add some more things, but I feel the main features that make the site functional are mostly there. Anyway, I just want to hear your thoughts and advice. Thanks for reading!

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