Skip to Content

What is playtesting exactly?

10 replies [Last post]
dusticus2000
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969

I am a new game designer and I was wondering what playtesting actually was because I just play the game with friends and see if they like or if they don't. Is there anything special that I need to do?

Dralius
Dralius's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/26/2008
What is playtesting exactly?

I am sure you will get a wide variety of responses on this subject as there are many different ways to approach it. The play-testing i have been involved in is just a group playing the game and then the company's Representative asks us a series of questions and takes notes.
(these are the type of questions i have been asked.)

How did you like the game?
What was your favorite part of the game?
Was the game the right length?
Were the rules easy to understand?
What didn't you like about the game?
What would you change about the game?

Often there are questions about specific mechanics like are there enough bonus ability cards in the deck.

jwarrend
Offline
Joined: 08/03/2008
What is playtesting exactly?

There's nothing that you "need" to do, but of course it depends on your goals as a designer. If you just want to make a game that is fun to play with your friends, and the game you've designed is fun, then you're already there!

But when we speak of playtesting here, we're not talking so much about "do they like it?" which is an important question, but about that more important question "does the game work?" If the answer to that one is "no", then whether they like it or not, it doesn't matter -- the game will go no where.

There is all sorts of conventional wisdom about needing to get your game "blind tested", and all sorts of good reasons why you need to do that -- test your rulebook without you there to teach and explain the rules, get the opinion of people who aren't biased by being friends with you, etc. I won't treat you to all that conventional wisdom here.

I'll simply observe that playtesting with an eye towards developing a working game system that has no obvious holes, that can't be broken by players making moves that you hadn't anticipated, that the game doesn't have a lot of common design flaws, etc, is essential, and is WAY more important than "do they like it?"

My impression based on hearing a lot of first-time designers, and having once been one myself, is that everyone's friends likes the games that they make. And immediately, the designer thinks, "how can I sell this?" The designer feels his game is the newest and best thing in the world.

I've heard of no cases yet where that turned out to be true -- my own included!

The reality is, just like anything else, game design requires patience and growth. And so, interestingly, does playtesting! I've tested several games with my regular group, and just as I'm getting better as a designer, they're getting better as playtesters -- giving me feedback beyond "this is fun" or "this is not fun" and more like "this system needs to be modified, because it's horribly imbalanced". And, they're much more brutally honest than they used to be, because they know they can be/need to be! I've also found that I am in general my own most reliable critic -- that ultimately, I need to be the one to point to the problems in the game, and try to hit on a solution to it. This also takes time.

So, my advice to new designers (speaking as an only slightly experience designer myself!) is first to play a lot of games, and if you can't play, read about some games using web resources like www.boardgamegeek.com. Identify what you like and don't like. Find out what is "great" about games that are described as being "great." Then, start designing. Expect to throw away a lot of your early designs, or at least need to revise them pretty heavily. That's ok! When you're happy with something you've got, start talking to people about it. Don't be hyper-secretive. No one wants to steal your idea -- most people have their own. Consider putting it up on the Game Design Workshop. Get the game tested by someone other than your own circle of friends before you make a big decision like going ahead and self-publishing.

I think there are several well-known examples of games with some mild to serious design flaws that the designer believed in and went ahead and self-published, to bad critical reception. Some will no doubt recover, but some will not. And since it's hard enough to sell a game anyway, you want to make sure your game is a good one!

So, the long and short obviously is, "yes, playtesting is important!" Good luck with game design!

-Jeff

Chip
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
What is playtesting exactly?

Nice post Jeff.

Perhaps my two cents worth here goes beyond the basic question "What is play-testing?", but something to consider when having others play a game you've developed is whether they represent your target audience. Are the people playing your game the same type of people you hope to sell to? If playtesting is to be productive and worthwhile the answer to this question should be "yes".

Chip

sedjtroll
sedjtroll's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/21/2008
What is playtesting exactly?

jwarrend wrote:
That's ok! When you're happy with something you've got, start talking to people about it. Don't be hyper-secretive. No one wants to steal your idea -- most people have their own.

I couldn't agree more, however I am a little bit suprised to hear that from Jeff :)

- Seth

jwarrend
Offline
Joined: 08/03/2008
What is playtesting exactly?

sedjtroll wrote:
jwarrend wrote:
That's ok! When you're happy with something you've got, start talking to people about it. Don't be hyper-secretive. No one wants to steal your idea -- most people have their own.

I couldn't agree more, however I am a little bit suprised to hear that from Jeff :)

Heh heh heh. Well, let me say in my defense that I'm always fully willing to discuss, in full disclosure mode, any of the games I've mentioned in my game journal. There are one or two ideas that I'm holding back from the group, and in general, I won't broadcast my ideas in full detail without someone asking first. This, I think, is only sensible given the large ratio of people viewing the site who aren't posting -- who knows who they are or what they might do? And I think this is probably the approach of the majority of the group. What I was responding to more was the mindset that comes into a group like this and says "Hey, I've got this awesome idea for a game, do you guys know how I can sell it? And how do I go about patenting it? I can't tell you anything about it, because it's so original, but trust me, it's NEW and AWESOME". I think people are reflexively hyper secretive when they come up with something, and I don't think that's necessary or desirable. But hyper-transparent may not be either...at least, it's not for me.

DavemanUK
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
2 methods of alpha-testing

Just a quick one about 'alpha-testing' (you know, when you spend hours each night playing the game by yourself and forgetting to feed the cat)....I use 2 methods:

1) 'mono-strategists' by all but one player. The remaining player can make any choice of action. This checks if any strategy is too dominant and needs tuning.
2) 'free for all', all players choose the (perceived) best action. This checks that all players have viable multiple choices open to them as much as possible.

Addtional, I recommend writing down each "player's" choice of action (and the immediate outcome if applicable) so that you can review the turning points/dominant actions some 4 hours later (when the cat has gone to your neighbours fishpond for its tea).

Dave.

Anonymous
Re: 2 methods of alpha-testing

Once you move to inviting others to play, do you typically have everyone and their cat sign some kind of nondisclosure agreement, or is that over the top?

(I witnessed a very large game company playtesting a product at a con, and they handed one out. But maybe that's just for big, established companies working at conventions?)

Chip
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
What is playtesting exactly?

I contemplated using a non-disclosure when playtesting, but then decided against it. For me and the people I typically play-test with, it seemed a little much. That being said, I do communicate my expectations concerning confidentiality to play-testers when they sit down to play. I've also performed remote testing (mailed mini versions of games) for feedback and in such cases have provided my confidentiality expectations in writing to play-testers (via e-mail) and asked them to respond to acknowledge receipt. I didn't have them "sign" anything though.

If I were play-testing at a convention with a lot of people I didn't know, or who weren't referred to me by friends, perhaps I'd be a little more formal about it. One thing I do ask of people when referring playtesters, or in the case of remote testing where people play with neighbors, friends, etc. is that they don't allow anyone that works for a game/toy company to play or see the game. I obviously can't always control such things. I find people typically respect your wishes though and I haven't had any problems yet.

Also when testing, I always test games using a different name than the one I intend to use when the game is produced. In fact, aside from my wife and a few close friends, I didn't disclose the name of my newest game, Coopetition, for over two years. I'm also working on another game and have no intention of publicizing the name until the details of the game are worked out. (A name/trademark, not necessarily the mechanics of the game itself, is something you can truly protect.)

Chip

Anonymous
What is playtesting exactly?

I have to say I've gotten my best information from play testers if I've requested that they 'screw' with the rules.. Basiclly I try to get the players to find loopholes, weak spots, rules that they can take advantage of and confusing text on cards/board/rules...

On the non-disclosure form, I've not really used one on a regular basis, but when ever I don't 'know' someone and I give them a copy of my game (as opposed to just sitting down for a play test) I usally ask them to sign one, you may never use/need it, but the 'threat' of one usually is enough to keep your game safe...

Playtesting (even thought this doesn't seem valid when you first create a game) is the MOST important part of putting your game together, as everyone has pretty much said, you'll never think of everything players could do with your game's rules until you give them the chance...

Satori

Anonymous
What is playtesting exactly?

Chip wrote:
If I were play-testing at a convention with a lot of people I didn't know, or who weren't referred to me by friends, perhaps I'd be a little more formal about it. One thing I do ask of people when referring playtesters, or in the case of remote testing where people play with neighbors, friends, etc. is that they don't allow anyone that works for a game/toy company to play or see the game. I obviously can't always control such things. I find people typically respect your wishes though and I haven't had any problems yet.

The question of secrecy is one that keeps coming up, yet I have to say that I don't actually know of anyone stealing an unpublished idea. For the most part, there simply isn't enough money in the hobby games industry to make things worth stealing, from what I can tell.

Personally, I'd never considered getting people who play my games at conventions to sign anything. In many ways, playing it in public at conventions is pretty good protection if you're worried, as there will be lots of people with no formal connection to you who will remember you working on it. I also wouldn't worry about games companies or their employees-- they have to maintain trust to stay alive, so I doubt they'd risk that by stealing.

Just two pence-- perhaps I'm being too naiive, but as it is legally impossible to protect a game's mechanics (only its name and graphics), I don't see much protection in being secret, as people who would want to copy a game will do so after it is published. The case of Vive L'Empereur (a variant of Battle Cry published as if it were an original game) shows how quickly gamers spot fakes and villainise them.

Best wishes,

Richard.

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut