If you follow BioWare Twitter, you surely know that Dragon Age III is now in pre-alpha stage. Developers have been given t-shirts and game copies to have a closer look on game during holidays. Two of them decided to tell something more about it.
"The only one that really has a "rigid" definition is beta, which essentially means feature complete. No new features are going in. But internally, our alpha is close to the same thing. Core features are in, and newer features will generally stop unless some form of playthroughs testing indicates that we need to add or cut some features to deliver the type of product we want.
We do have deliverables for finishing levels and game features, which is a large part of the sprint reviews. We'll break things down into milestones and so forth, and milestones get broken down into sprints. For each milestone the producer types will say "We want the game at this state" and the scrum teams will commit to various work/features to deliver for the milestone goals. We typically have 3 sprints in a milestone, and at the end of each sprint, we show off the stuff we've done to the big wigs like Mark and Aaryn and so forth.
We're still very much adding new features now. We may have concepts for things we want in the game, so we aren't just randomly adding things, but as development goes along you realize that the original idea just isn't as awesome as you envisioned, so you tweak it to make it more enjoyable (this is called "iteration"), and to flesh out the gameplay aspects, the writing, etc". - Allan Schumacher
"The pre-alpha disc is for people to take home over Christmas to allow extra feedback on plots and the features we have in the game at this point. We're not close to alpha.
Nothing is ever simple in game dev, but you can think of the various stages as:
Pre-alpha = In production
Alpha = Feature complete (fix bugs & polish, last minute changes)
Beta = Feature & content complete (fix bugs & polish)
Final = Pray to the old gods you guys love the game" - Cameron Lee