RB 2.5 The Beta


While the populace in Europe were still on their way to work, people in the East were approaching the end of the day.  To be clear, that didn’t mean they would stop working, it just meant the afternoon was about to end and the trudge would continue well into the evening.  At around 5pm, the sun was far from tired and its blazing rays beat down upon anyone foolish enough to try getting home early.  In the metropolitan office of “Great and Feeling Young” aka GAFY, a Japanese video game company founded by a man who had watched too much skin care advertising, the team discussed their next step.

Slightly podgy, with a face that was constantly either in slight disbelief or confusion, the game design lead, Hanzo, put the usual finger to his glasses.  “So,” he paused, and assumed it was clear that this was the time for serious talk. He looked around at his colleagues and hoped for some ideas, as his brain was far too occupied with the actual workings of their newest game, Sword Man 7.  He hated the marketing side of things, it was just so exhausting, for all the impractical reasons.  Still, it had to be done.  So he relied on his team, and asked “any suggestions on how we should proceed with this beta?” 

“Well,” replied the surprisingly caucasian man across from him.  “Friendzoning is the most typical outcome.” Charles, with a gleam in his eye, was French and overly smartly dressed for the smart-casual atmosphere at GAFY, and typically tried to translate obscure wordplay and puns into Japanese which dramatically failed ninety nine point nine percent of the time.  Still, Charles had prepared for the case that this meticulously crafted wordplay just seemed like some clumsy gaijin nonsense.  As Hanzo’s face began to express actual confusion, Charles continued with a factual response to the question, which still contained wordplay, albeit again, lost in translation:

“We need to reach out to alphas in the social sphere, in the other gaming communities.  We need to make friends but keep them at a distance, not too close so they start messaging us every day asking for free games, as it has been in the past, just create some friendly links so we can get more eyes on the product before the general press reviews.”

Now to Hanzo, this idea made sense, but he needed a little clarification:

“In this case, what constitutes an alpha?”

Hanzo had heard of the term ‘Alpha Male’, and it just seemed like some American nonsense.  Men were men, there was a hierarchy, you listened to your superiors, you did what you were assigned to do.  Some men were handsome, some were funny, but it was the work that was most important. You would always work your way up. 

“Well,” said Charles, using the common Japanese way of speaking, “the alphas of social media are the ones with the most followers, the influencers. They follow the trends and keep their followers up to date.  They require a fee, but it’s much cheaper than traditional media advertising.  We have identified eight good suitable influencers so far.”  

“Oh right, makes sense.” But Hanzo never hesitated to ask when there was a doubt, which often infuriated his superiors, but the precision made sure the product was in line.  He remembered a chat he had with a group of loyal players and now the maths didn’t add up.  “But we will only have ten beta game codes to give out.  What about our community players? There’s not enough to go around.” 

It seemed that Hanzo was the only one who didn’t see this coming, and various eyes looked to the floor. 

“Well” said Charles nonchalantly, as he thought of the players who often were as fickle as the influencers.  “The bottom line is that the hardcore fans are going to buy the game anyway, and their followers already know everything about the game, right?  They’ve probably seen leaks and discu-”

“Leaks?” Interjected a suddenly sweating Hanzo, “what leaks?”

“There are no leaks.” There was a slight tremble in his voice as Charles remembered the last game launch and how he had nearly lost his job. He pressed onward: “Thing is, the Sword Man series is not new to our community, we are not really exposing it to new potential customers. That is why I’m proposing completely new media sources.  We need to reach new audiences, we need the alpha influencers.” 

Hanzo could picture the hurt on the players’ faces. He could picture them disappointed, with tears of betrayal in their eyes.  He didn’t need this emotional situation.  His instinct was to put his head in his hands but he was in front of his team.  He tried to remain stoic.  “Ok, sounds good. However, how will our players react when this happens?  What can we say to them?  Could this have an impact on our community relations?” Hanzo took a sip of the now lukewarm green tea, as he tried to think of a quick way around this.

“Check this, bro,” said Charles, unwittingly using an inappropriate expression he had picked up from a highschool fighting anime, “we could invite some of them to the private press stream. It would make the room look really full, right?  Either way they won’t stay mad for long, they’ve been fans for years, I don’t think they will turn their backs on us now, I think they will understand.”

Hanzo was still blinking from being addressed as ‘bro’.

“I’ve sent a list of potential streamers to you all by email.”

One of his colleagues clicked his tongue as he had already deleted it.  One other had to go rifling through her spam box.  After a few minutes, they were all ready, or at least, pretended to be.  

Charles went through the list.

The first one was a young woman who acted like a cat while playing various games.  This seemed fairly wholesome and they had a look at her video channel.  As they watched her on stream, fully clothed (to Hanzo’s disappointment) with her rather cute black cat ears, she chatted to her followers, making catisms such as “how you like me mieow”, “this is nya~t very good” and “can’t get no catisfaction” as she played a game destroying cities as a very familiar gargantuan reptile.  Hanzo didn’t have time to think about copyright issues, that wasn’t his job, but these gaijins sure were carefree about these things.  He glanced over to notice that Charles had turned red.  Hanzo found this amusing but had to ask the cause. “Ah, actually, we can’t use her, sh-she, er, just announced she is opening a Skinchat channel.” Hanzo could only guess from the word Skin that it would be liked but perhaps not appropriate material for good girls and boys. 

They moved onto the next, a large bespectacled bearded man with puffy cheeks and long hair, who had a collection of lightsabers in the background to illuminate the room.  He was quite pleasant and relaxing to listen to, and had a million followers, as his character on screen sat in a toilet and shot people in the head as they visited the bathroom, over and over again.  The people in chat were commenting how nobody would win the game as the treasure was in the bathroom, much to their glee.  As it struck Charles that infinite ammunition was a ridiculous game design choice, the atmosphere in the room dropped a good few degrees.  Charles was now even more embarrassed as he heard the streamer caricaturing Japanese people, and for some reason, in a high-pitched and sexually aroused voice, as he shot his opponents, and the chat exploded with laughter, echoing “fucking kimochi” over and over. Oh dear, Hanzo thought to himself, what language, what a shame for their parents. “My god,” said Charles to himself in French, as he tried to revert from full screen and close the tab without quitting the whole browser. “This whore guy just totally fucked me up the ass.” His face red, Charles explained that this was totally new behaviour, which was of course, unacceptable, so he apologised and quickly moved on.  

The next streamer was a skinny young man with a high forehead of pink hair and some large  pulsating veins, who randomly screamed some sort of catchphrase as he switched between various games as soon as he felt bored, which could take anything from five seconds to five minutes.  He was very very annoying but his chat was overflowing with reactions and comments plus bots that advertised thinly veiled adult content.  “How is this supposed to work?” asked Hanzo, utterly confused. “He doesn’t actually quit the game, you see” said Charles as he pointed to the screen for no real reason at all, ”he will go back to it, and I don’t think he is really random, he is paying attention to the chat, if the activity slows down, he switches game.” Hanzo looked at Charles: “Are you confident this sort of chat can stay interested in a fighting game?” Charles seemed confident, as he was used to presenting bullshit that he didn’t really believe in but had no alternative: “I believe he’ll feature our game for us, in return for getting the beta, it will be ok, and it will be new content, so how can anyone get bored, right?”  Hanzo shivered. Still, he had to concede that the number of viewers was a great guarantee of reach.  

Putting ads in magazines and getting coverage in the media was expensive and becoming increasingly pointless.  Putting the game on the front cover didn’t guarantee anything these days, people simply could skip everything.  He remembered gathering round a magazine at school and talking to his classmates excitedly about the new games.  What were the kids doing now?  They just posted images in chat rooms, even as they sat next to each other.  He guessed it was the same for people and families.  Gaming magazines were almost dead now.  It was really sad, but at the same time, at least that meant he didn’t have to sit at another annoying lunch with that annoying journalist who was clearly disinterested and only perked up when he mentioned waifu-big-tiddy role playing games.

They continued through the selection of streamers: this one was a young man, who seemed to be making references to all the current memes and getting very excited over video game news. He seemed nice, even as he heard something about a new character, jumped up, threw everything off his desk and ran out into the street, into the darkness of the middle of the night and sat there, barking at the moon.  It was almost obviously orchestrated but the chat was going absolutely bonkers. 

Hanzo felt more and more concerned. These streamers spent their time mostly complaining or hating on things, were too loyal to one game or predictably disloyal or simply just absolutely mad.  GAFY needed someone truly professional, someone who could present their product respectfully, just for a bit, at an affordable price. 

This is probably on stream, Alice thought to herself, as she looked to the left and right, as some random guy whom she had maybe seen around but never really talked to confessed his feelings and asked for a date.  It was already a piss take that she had had to travel to school during the lunch break and now she was faced with this monkey bullshit.

She blinked, as the reality sunk in. 

“Are you being serious?” she asked.

The young man froze up. 

What is this shit? Was this a joke? This kind of stuff only happens in anime, right? She looked over her shoulder and checked the scenery for smirking faces staring through their camphones as they prepared for the revelry on their channels. 

Behind the bike sheds, it didn’t seem that anyone was around and moreover, nobody used bicycles and it was all going to rust.  There was also a weird smell in the air, like seaweed and damp grass. 

“Are you streaming this?” She asked.

This question seemed to bring him out of his stupor and he looked up momentarily from the ground, as it seemed as if this could be a happy occasion to do so, and he whipped out his phone.

“I can start-” and he started swiping to find the app.  “No”, she said, gently pushing his phone down. “I don’t think you want to do that.”  The hope in his face fizzled away as he heard her tone.  “So,” his voice on the edge of tears, “there’s no chance then.” His head fell forward like a deactivated android.  She couldn’t help putting her hands on her hips as she asked, “do we… Do we even know each other?”  She was getting angry, she honestly couldn’t believe this, this had to be a joke, when did anyone actually ever succeed to get a date this way, and no he wasn’t asking for a date, he was literally asking to be her boyfriend.  Like what the fucking fuck?

He struggled to answer, as if a teacher was asking why he had crushed a bug underfoot. Everyone knew they couldn’t tell the real truth. 

“I don’t know, I mean, I’ve seen you at school, you are so beautiful and smart, I mean-”

“Ummm…” cutting in with sarcasm was fun. “Stalker, much?” As she posited, she was relieved by the look of shock on his face, rather than one of anger.  

He was indeed startled by this turn of events.  This wasn’t going as planned.  He had envisioned that, just like in anime, she was supposed to be impressed, appreciative, understanding… she would accept his proposal, he would kneel and kiss her hand, carry her off into the sunset, take her out on dates, and protect her from dragons with his huge sword-

“Hello?” She was about to rip into him but he was still reeling.  She felt pity for him, but wow, he was so clueless and fragile.  She didn’t want to be responsible for him turning into a serial killer.

“Listen guy,” she said kindly, “I don’t know who put you up to this, but it just doesn’t work like this in reality, you know? I just like, like, what, what, who even are you?  Maybe check that the other person even knows you exist, first, yeah?”

“Ok fine,” he said, as the tears were brimming, “I get it, I’m an idiot, a fool, you… you don’t have to be a bitch about it!”

She was about to laugh at the ridiculousness when she heard some cackling behind the corner. The fear shot through Alice like a bolt of lightning.  This was everyone’s real fear. “You are streaming this, aren’t you.” Her eyes glaring, Alice suddenly looked and felt very very tall.

“What? No!” he retorted, as he shrank and turned round, “oh no, no fucking way.” And with that, they both rushed over to the corner (well, ok, she went first, and he followed) and the perpetrator stood there, phone in hand, camera facing them both.

“Bruv got pwned hard and bitched her out lololol” this styled blond skinny young man commentated proceedings to his audience, with his school tie tied around his head, he waved his free hand around for extra ummmm hype.

“Mike, what are you doing?” protested the confessor, “you told me you wouldn’t stream!”

“Ahahaha, look he’s crying now, this is delicious, the salt is real!!! Let’s take a selvie to remember it! Drop a like if you want to see what happens next!” With his blazer half on in some sort of attempt to be rebellious yet fashionable, this annoying person swung around and flipped the camera around to add himself to the scene. While it might sound illogical, nobody could escape, they were in the camera’s thrall, as Mike scanned through the stream comments.  With only the power to move her eyes, Alice noticed the back of Mike’s head.

“Shouldn’t you be more salty about your hair,” she said with a restrained glee, “it looks like your mum didn’t tell you her hand slipped.”

“What?” Mike checked the back of his head and a look of alarm crossed his face, indeed there seemed to be some hair missing.

“Mike,” he said, quite cross. “I’m changing my moviez password.”

“I’m changing my moviez password!” parroted Mike, in a heavy Indian accent, bobbing his head from side to side.  He started laughing but it seemed a little insincere.  The chat didn’t like it, mostly.  Noticing the backlash, Mike was quick to try to patch things up (with his chat): “Hey, I’m only joking guys, it’s just for fun, we’re friends really. Well it’s time to wrap this up so.. ”

“No friend of mine, you racist fucker!” said the short Asian boy, as his backbone seemed to grow, and he hunched, a bit like a dinosaur.

“Who even are you?” as she asked the question, it was make or break time for Alice. 

Mike tried to start his self-introduction but she interrupted, wagging her finger, “you’re a no-one, a nobody, a wanna-be, got your haircut done by your mum for free, but she missed and you’re dissed, live on TV, better quit your stream, coz they’ll all sub to me.”  She held it up, then dropped the invisible microphone. 

“Yeah boyee” chimed in her newest crew member, making random signs with his hands, as Mike blinked a few times then tried to laugh it off as the chat exploded with reactions.

Finally free of the camera’s icy grip, Alice walked off, as the coping streamer tried to save face and end the stream. 

Turning back to the bike sheds, she met her friend around the corner, who had also been filming. 

“What the fuck, Candice,” making a point to screw up her face, “maybe you could have stepped in with a little back up?” 

Candice met her look, restraining the urge to laugh and stood firm. “With what, a beatbox?  That was hilarious, and I was recording the evidence! You’re welcome, innit!” They started to walk back to the bus stop.  Candice definitely wasn’t going to keep this video for various uses.  Yes, that last sentence was ironic.  She deflected from the ethics quickly by turning to this random Asian dude, who for some reason, was accompanying.  

“Can I help you?” she asked him. “Me?  Ah, yes, hello, pleased to meet you, my name is Vindy. I’m sorry for all the trouble.  My dog died, and I listened to some bad advice about girls,” he had gone from chipper to half mumbling misery in all of a second, “it’s been a bad day.”  And of course now it was impossible for either of the girls to tell him to fuck off and stop being weird.  They all fell silent. Candice racked her brains for a way to get rid of him without looking like a horrible person. Alice had totally forgotten about being called a bitch and now was trying to figure how the voices would react.  Would they support her, or troll her?  She wondered about going offline for a while.  The boy had resumed sniffling, wincing and pulling his jaw downwards to stop himself bursting into tears, so it seemed only right to take him to the soft drinks machine, and have him buy a round. 

And this was how Vindy found himself lucky enough to talk to two real, not AI-powered, actual human girls in the flesh (and they were not his cousins either). He managed to keep up with the talk about what just happened for at least five minutes, to boot. He described how he had seen the romantic situation in a ton of anime, and the two girls burst into laughter.  He decided to laugh along with them, as the tear ducts started to swell again.  It then became a discussion on romance and chivalry and Vindy learnt in those five minutes that everything he had been taught was wrong and yet in the back of his head there were various examples of people successfully doing the things the girls advised him specifically not to do.  He would think about it later.

The topic went a bit sideways as they discovered they shared tastes in anime and they shared contact details (i.e. subbing to each other’s channels), and in the end, the two girls considered him decent enough to friendzone.  And, later on, by following up on the topic and listening rather than bragging, Vindy became one of the three.  He felt a little emasculated, but it was better than feeling alone.  As he walked back home, he continued to sniffle as he came to the conclusion he had no choice but to kill his dog to make sure his story was airtight. 

“Fill up to your heart’s content!!!”  The app’s mascot, a pig munching on newspaper, squealed happily as the man, self-titled The Coach, tapped on it again as he wasn’t sure if it was loading or frozen.  The loading icon finally appeared after 1.3 seconds and he felt the relief wash over him.  This was followed by a sense of annoyance as he realised he was back here again when he was sure he had something else to do.  The trough zoomed out to fill the screen, this  animal feeding box containing all the discussions going on categorised as various items of food, with a number above each to depict the amount of pigs feeding concurrently.  The numbers jumped up and down, erratically. He rationalised that he had nothing urgent to do than push out his waste, so he snuffled his way through what was on offer.  He went into the gaming section, represented by a donut.

The assistant measured the components of the excreted sweat from his thumb and recommended, through his phone speaker in a tinny English accent with the usual automated tone that went in all the wrong directions, a reduction of sodium intake.  It also recommended installing a partner device in the toilet for more accurate results, sponsored by New! Reduced salt Crispy Crisps.

“Yeah, yeah, we get it”, said the Coach, pretending to talk aloud to himself, “the advertising is just so blatant these days.”  He knew the assistant on his phone wouldn’t answer.  Still, the intentions were fair, arguably; the products that were thrown in his face did actually match his interests.  He still hated advertising in general, but didn’t mind the discount coupons.  “I don’t mind the coupons though”, he reiterated aloud.  The assistant didn’t seem to do anything in response, and there was no light or sound to betray it.

Annoyed, the Coach turned off the screen and noticed his grizzled face in the blackened mirror.  There was a bit of hair sticking out the side so he lifted his cap and smoothed the hair back under.  Annoying.  It occurred to him to get up and wipe his behind but the smallest room in the flat was warm and quiet. There was nobody waiting beyond this door, nobody aggravating him, no demands, well, there was the cat, but she was already dozing off in the underwear and jogging bottoms draped between his feet. Surely it stank, but she seemed happy enough. So yeah, even less reason to move. He woke up his phone and swiped open the feed.  He tried not to lean his neck forward, rotating and stretching his head, listening to the creaks and pops. These noises were not satisfying, they were annoying; he had enough physical issues to deal with already.

He noted the continued talk of the next GAFY game and what should be in it and how it should work. He noticed the trough of a possible beta test and inspected the queue for dinner.

“It is obvious,” he fed (to anyone who might hopefully take a fancy to it), “that the players should get priority. It’s all about the players, not those frauds who make one video and then move onto another game.” 

There was no immediate gobble of this feed but he continued, a little disheartened, as usual.

“It makes me sick when GAFY gives some random person beta access to the game when they have no idea how to fucking play it and just make it look shit.”

This got a few gobbles, but Coach remained disheartened as he guessed it got reach due to the expletives rather than anything else. He pressed onwards, like a soldier, into the jungle, in the night.

“They better give keys to us, we know the game, we know what to test-” a notification interrupted his post.  Someone had replied to his sick post. 

“They should give Mr.Beardy99 a beta key. He’s funny.”

Jesus, he almost wept, is everyone on the net this stupid? 

“I just bloody well told you, that prick” – he deleted and started again. “Sure,” he tapped out the message on his phone screen with more than a little irritation, “he’s funny but does he know how to play?  Does he know the series?”

As he tried working on his draft, there was another notification: 

“Yea, he’s played it a few times, it’ll be good lol.”

The snack post made Coach claw at his own face.

They just don’t get it.  And why is he laughing when there’s nothing funny in his sentence?

Yes, he had assumed this poster was a guy.  Whatever, now the coach waited for people to nominate himself as a choice of beta tester.  None came.  He checked his followers, all one hundred and twenty nine. Perhaps they were sleeping or the stupid network algorithm hadn’t shown them the feed. He just had to wait.  No, fuck that. He had to produce more spicy feed for the trough. “There are people in this community, like myself, who know and love the series, we would do the game justice, we know exactly HOW to test the game.”

He tagged the community manager into the discussion but after sending the food, he remembered the lack of expletives.  But that could be good, he knew he likely wouldn’t get a direct response but the manager was fairly sure to read it.  Good Lord he was going to be pissed if they made the wrong choices.  He tried not to think about what he could do in retaliation, because there wasn’t much.  It then occurred to him that he had been in the toilet for so long, things had surely dried up a bit down there.  The cat, sensing movement, opened one eye, stared him in his, and judged him accordingly.


As Charles mulled one more time over the list while Hanzo started to worry about other things, the notification vibrated in his pocket. Pulling it out, Charles looked over and verbally announced there might be another candidate.

He cast the gobbling to the main screen in the room. They could clearly see the recommendations, which included the feed from Coach.  It did seem to look more like ranting.

“See,” said Charles, “this is the problem with giving it to the hardcore community, I mean, usually, these fans are going to dig through the game and find out everything very quickly if we give them early access. And they don’t have that reach with new players. MrBeardy99 sounds like a good idea actually, he’s got a million followers, and he’s definitely not racist, his audience are quite young too.  Good potential!  What do you think?”

Hanzo nodded in agreement. “Ok, we don’t have time so let’s get going, to start, let’s choose that crazy kid, he still seems like a good kid, and that woman with the huge… following, and Mr Brady 90 Nein.”

Charles wanted to correct him but it just wasn’t his place.  “What about Coach?” he asked. “Well,” surmised Hanzo, “we’ll see if we have any keys left at the end.”  Charles nodded. “So, are we done for today?” he asked.  Hanzo looked up at the clock on the wall.  It was 7pm.  “Yes,” he agreed, “it’s time to go home”.

This was the moment where they paused, and Charles wondered if they should have a drink together. It was up to Hanzo, as the superior. Charles was cool about it either way but he often reminisced about his time in London where everyone had a drink after work. But this was not the UK, not France, this was Japan.  They didn’t court clients or contacts, this wasn’t the marketing department, this was the F5 team: they designed, coded, tested, and often played games. They would get smashed either on Friday, or Saturday, but not both, and not before.

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