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Respect and gratitude to playtesters

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twoeyedcyclops
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I’ve been doing a lot of playtesting recently, both as a designer and playtester, and that got me thinking about what an incredible, valuable resource volunteer playtesters are. But sometimes I’ve seen playtesters treated poorly, either by designers who were rude, argumentative, or who were just not making good use of their time, so I’ve been working on a list of things designers can do to help ensure playtesters (and designers) have a positive experience during a playtest session, and I thought I’d share it with the members of this forum to help spread the word.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list about how to run a playtest, there are other resources out there for that, including the excellent book “Game Design Workshop” by Tracy Fullerton that has a whole chapter on playtesting. These are tips about respecting playtesters and valuing their time.

If you have any suggestions or things you’d like to see added, please let me know. I just want to do my part to help ensure that we are able to keep the volunteer playtesters as the precious resource that they are.

Here’s the list:

1. Be respectful to the playtesters. Remember they’re volunteering their free time to do this, which is very generous of them, as there are many other things they could be doing instead. The number of people who are willing to playtest is limited. If they have bad experiences because of a negative, rude, or toxic designer, they probably won’t volunteer to playtest again, hurting the board game community at large.

2. Don’t ask people to playtest your game if you’re not open to feedback and not willing to make changes to your game because then you’re just wasting their time and yours.

3. Don’t ask others to playtest your game if the rules aren’t far enough along so that the game can be played, and don’t make up rules as you’re teaching the game, because that’s almost certainly going to lead to a confusing, ineffective playtest session. It’s fine to test a rule change to see how it plays, but think of that rule change before you do the playtest.

4. Solo playtest your game first - multiple times - to ensure the game works at least at a basic level before asking others to playtest your game.

5. Be honest. If your game takes thirty minutes to learn the rules, don’t say it takes five minutes. If it takes an hour to play, don’t say it takes thirty minutes.

6. Respect people’s time. If your game is long, think about whether this particular playtest session needs to be for the entire game, or can what you’re trying to test be accomplished by doing a partial playthrough.

7. When explaining the rules at the beginning of the game, explain the rules in a clear and organized fashion to ensure that the playtesters understand the rules before they start playing.

8. Pay attention during the playtest session. Listen, take notes, record it if you can. If you’re checked out and not paying attention, what’s the point of even doing the test?

9. Be mindful of how you’re influencing the playtest session. Make sure your actions are not papering over problems in the game. For example, if there’s a complicated bit that you always do for the playtesters, you’re not solving the problem of what to do about the complicated bit to make it more understandable, you’re just papering over it by doing it for them.

10. Don’t expect or ask playtesters to design your game for you. Ask them how they felt while playing the game, ask for details on what they liked and didn’t liked – that’s the kind of feedback you should be looking for, not how to fix problems or how to make the game better. Figuring that out is your job.

11. Don’t argue with the playtesters. If you disagree with a point they made, keep it to yourself, think about it, and decide later if there’s merit in the point they were making or not. You’re not playtesting to defend your work. You’re playtesting to see what various other people think about it, and to try to make the game better.

12. If a session isn’t going well, stop it. There’s no reason to continue an unfruitful playtest session, or to continue testing if there’s nothing else to be gained from the session.

13. Show gratitude to the playtesters by listening to their feedback and by sincerely thanking them for their feedback and for their time.

Jay103
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Nice list. twoeyedcyclops

Nice list.

twoeyedcyclops wrote:
3. Don’t ask others to playtest your game if the rules aren’t far enough along so that the game can be played, and don’t make up rules as you’re teaching the game, because that’s almost certainly going to lead to a confusing, ineffective playtest session. It’s fine to test a rule change to see how it plays, but think of that rule change before you do the playtest.

I'd say that you should provide written rules to the playtesters. Don't explain to them verbally how to play. An important part of the playtesting is testing your rulebook. There are DEFINITELY things in there that you think are so obvious that you forgot to mention them, just because you're too close to the game.

If there's confusion from your rules, then you can clarify, and make notes to yourself on how to clarify the written rules.

X3M
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cough

Even though my "play testers" where more game buddies then testers. I liked to reward them with some of their own content. Like their own unit designs or a piece of the map to call their own.

I miss those days.

pelle
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Excellent list! I mostly do

Excellent list!

I mostly do remote blind testing, never any formal ftf tests. Thing that makes me avoid a game (and there are always games seeking testers) is a designer/developer that insists on all feedback being handed in with some amount of red tape, like I must use their huge google docs form. No thanks, not unless they pay me. Allow testers to send in feedback in as many ways as possible. Set up mail list and facebook group etc.

Also do not insist that I buy some software. PDF or a VASSAL module, please. If you want to also use some other software I do not care, but if you only do that I will spend my time on some other game.

Worldshapers
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I think this is excellently

I think this is excellently written! :)

jeffinberlin
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Great list! I always say to

Great list!

I always say to designers, they should treat their playtesters like gold!

12 years ago, I started am open playtesting night at a local gaming cafe here in Berlin, and I have seen just about every one of these mistakes.

Additionally, we must often reiterate that it is a give-and-take thing. Everyone needs to take turns playtesting other designers' games, and not only their own. We love it when people who are not designers want to playtest our games! No fighting over table time :-)

I don't have a problem with changing rules during a game when it's clearly better, and neither do my playtesters, but again, most of them are also designers. It might be different with a more casual gaming crowd.

I recently had someone bring a game to the table who declared that his game was "finished." When we asked him what he wanted from the playtesting session, he said, "I already know the game is good." So why do we need to playtest it, then? Needless to say, we found plenty of things to critique, but he wasn't very open to that. I don't think he had any idea that many of us have published games before, and know what we are talking about:-)

Blind playtesting is great, but also a luxury, and I rarely get the chance to do it, until the publisher tests it. We also don't care to take the time to read the rules, as it goes much faster when the designer explains the game. There are always exceptions, of course, and I did recently test a simpler game by reading the rules and teaching it to the others.

Great tips!

twoeyedcyclops
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thanks for the comments and feedback!

Thanks everyone for the comments and feedback. I've added a few points to the list based on everyone's feedback. One is about making it easy for the testers to give feedback, not hard or whatever is easier for you (this reminds me of a time I just gave about 10 minutes of verbal feedback to a designer who then asked me to write it down on a form he had!), and the need for giving back and testing other people's games. Not only is this nice to do for the other designers, but it's good for you as well, you learn so much more that way by playing unfinished games.

Jeff, I agree with you, playtesters are gold. I'm super grateful to the random people that playtested the game I'm currently working on. One random guy who tried it pointed out a huge problem, and thanks to him, the game was greatly improved. Just some random guy at a Protospiel event who caught a major problem no one else noticed.

Fertessa
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I agree with everything on

I agree with everything on the list mostly (though I do change rules between playtest sessions if one is just not working. I think about it of course, but usually the change is made because a round of testers suggested it and there's no time like the present tot est it out, if it makes sense.

I know that I really appreciate when people take the time to test my game, so I try to do the same if I see a designer not getting any traffic and trying to do the same. A thing that'll immediately set off alarms is if I ask questions or make an observation, and they brush it off as if it's the player's fault for misreading their design.

That or they respond in a way which lets me know they have zero intention of addressing it. As someone mentioned, they'll say the game is done or 80% done and the playtest is just the small tweaks stage. Once they say that, I already feel like I've wasted my time.

Personally, I had a problem being defensive. If someone pointed out a problem I knew was there, I always had to say " Yeaaah I know.I'm changing blah blah blah", but I'm changing that habit. I always write notes down when playtesting, so hopefully everyone felt their opinions were valued, but perception is important. So now, if I playtest at a con, and group 4 points out stuff someone in group 1 and 2 also pointed out, I change my answer into more of a question.

For example if Group A suggests that I add in a card that introduces backstabbing other players, and Group C gives me feed back like " I wish there was something I could do even when it's not my turn, to feel more villainous." Then I would go " well, an earlier group suggested I added a backstab card, what do you think about that?" I get a really good response when I turn it around like that, and it stops me from being insufferable and saying " yeah I know" all the time.

questccg
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Understanding a game's "Context"

twoeyedcyclops wrote:
2. Don’t ask people to playtest your game if you’re not open to feedback and not willing to make changes to your game because then you’re just wasting their time and yours...

Perhaps this is easier to do when it's not face-to-face playtesting, but you also need to understand how "far along" a game is. If you are going to criticize a game that has been played hundreds of times, by all kinds of players (Young/Old or New/Veteran) and for the most part people enjoyed their experience playing the game...

It becomes much harder to "deal with" playtesting feedback that is much more critical. I'm not saying "bad feedback" ... It's like someone once told me: "What if you could assemble more than three (3) cards and it was more like components to a starship..." Well that's a NICE suggestion, but it means completely RE-DESIGNING a game that has been playtested by many people and who have genuinely enjoyed the game.

Asking someone to do something that is meant to RE-DESIGN a game from scratch should NOT be on the list of any playtester.

And that's what I wanted to make as a point: "As a playtester, understand that the game you are playing has probably been played with a bunch of people already." Make sure your suggestions are "HELPFUL" and not "CRITICAL"...

If you don't like one detail about the game, doesn't mean that the game is worth a low rating... It's the same thing about losing a game versus winning. Good playtesters should understand it's not about who WINS. It's about PLAYING the game and learning so that your next experience is more insightful and that maybe then you'll win...

Having a winning strategy is great, but you also have to realize that your opponents are doing the same thing (they too want to win the game).

We take all criticism relatively since our game is "Father Geek Approved." And this accolade is very important. Why? It has meaning because it works on three (3) distinct levels.

1. Kids (aged 9-13) have rated the game and given it a "thumbs up". That means that the game is a "gateway" game and can be enjoyed by younger players too. It doesn't mean that the players are playing the game "optimally" but what it does mean is that the players had "FUN" playing. Very important.

2. Parents have rated the game and given it a "thumbs up". This is also very important because it means parents can play the game along with their children and also ENJOY the game experience. The mechanics mesh well together making the game cohesive to higher levels of strategy that parents can utilize during the games they play.

3. Veteran gamers have rated the game and given it a "thumbs up". Being a "gateway" game is GREAT and all... But without higher levels of strategy and mechanics which allow more complex levels of play, Veteran gamers would NOT give us a "thumbs up". Because Veteran gamers liked the level of game play means that experienced board game aficionados will also enjoy playing this game perhaps with "Expansion" content or even just the "core" with an open level of mindset to give the game's mechanics a chance to "surprise" even the most competent experienced gamer.

So we know that groups that have played the game (and on different levels too) have given us great reaction and feedback. And I will forever remember the Comic Con where an Uncle and his Nephew were playing and the Uncle was "gunning down" his Nephew, attacking at every possible opportunity... The Nephew kept trying to bank more resources ... and managed to survive the massive amount of attacks his Uncle was giving him. It made me say "Wow... Aggressive play is very entertaining... But aggressive trade can also be a path to victory."

Our last playtest group found that the game was a bit "too confrontational". And my response is that is how the game was designed. Early on, I learned that if there was MORE combat... The more that would appeal to YOUNGER players. I know player elimination can suck, especially when you are the first player who is eliminated. But all that means is choose a different Faction next time and try a different strategy or play style and see if your outcome improves.

That's WHY we gave each Faction an "Asymmetric Ability"... For replayability. (And now we are "considering" having 2 Variable Player Powers or "VPPs" for each Faction: one economic and one militaristic.)

Where am I going with all this???

Playtesters need to understand the game's context and not think their "ideas" are the only ones reviewed and considered towards the hundreds of playtests of the game. Everyone wants something different... Unfortunately you are playing game "A" and understand what that MEANS to play game "A"... It's not game "B". Or some variant of "B"... CONTEXT!

Fertessa
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questccg wrote:twoeyedcyclops

questccg wrote:
twoeyedcyclops wrote:
2. Don’t ask people to playtest your game if you’re not open to feedback and not willing to make changes to your game because then you’re just wasting their time and yours...

Perhaps this is easier to do when it's not face-to-face playtesting, but you also need to understand how "far along" a game is. If you are going to criticize a game that has been played hundreds of times, by all kinds of players (Young/Old or New/Veteran) and for the most part people enjoyed their experience playing the game...

Playtesters need to understand the game's context and not think their "ideas" are the only ones reviewed and considered towards the hundreds of playtests of the game. Everyone wants something different... Unfortunately you are playing game "A" and understand what that MEANS to play game "A"... It's not game "B". Or some variant of "B"... CONTEXT!

I think that it's fair to not redesign your game at one playtester's suggestion, but if multiple players give ideas about some element of your game, then there's a reason. I have also been given the useful advice to not take every playtester suggestion literally. Instead, try to figure out what they're trying to fix.

If someone is making suggestions to add cards to your game or change a mechanic, instead of being annoyed, try to understand the problem they are trying to fix. They might not even realize they're attempting to "fix" something and just want to suggest something cool. If you identify the problem, and it's not something others have mentioned or that you find aligns with your game, then disregard it.

Playtesters are not obligated to think about how many times your game has been tested, or to censor themselves to be more useful to the designer. They are giving their free time to help you. In my opinion, it is the designer's job to sift through what they say in order to find the useful bits. Their reactions are valid. Once your game is released, more gamers who think like that will multiply, and that critical feedback could turn into critical reviews.

If you want feedback, then accept all feedback. If your game has been tested hundreds of times to the point that you are unwilling to make major changes, then I think it'd be more useful for you to have more targeted or hand-picked playtesters play through your game, rather than randoms.

Jay103
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change

Quote:
2. Don’t ask people to playtest your game if you’re not open to feedback and not willing to make changes to your game because then you’re just wasting their time and yours...

You need to listen to feedback and honestly consider it.

But you don't need to CHANGE things based on feedback.

pelle
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Designer (or developer) does

Designer (or developer) does not have to do anything based on reports, but it is THEIR job to filter playtest reports based on what they think the game needs and what time/resources allow. Testers should report what they find and can and should not try to filter based on what might be too much work to change or what was tested before or not. Filter is on the designer's side of communication.

If some ideas are good but just too much to work into the game then save it for an expansion or a completely new game (but please give some credit if you do...).

When reporting issues I find or suggest possible improvements I expect most of it to be ignored. But one thing I think designers can almost never ignore without VERY good reason are any reports mentioning that some part of the game was not easy to understand. If one playtester noticed then many players will as well.

twoeyedcyclops
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Item 2 clarification

Correct, being open to feedback means just being willing to listen and think about the feedback you receive. It does not mean the designer must make changes based on what the playtesters say (see item 11). The point is, if you're conducting a playtest session, you have to keep an open mind that things could possibly still be improved and playtesters might have something valuable to say. If you're no longer open to hearing feedback, then there's no reason to playtest the game.

questccg
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I agree BUT...

twoeyedcyclops wrote:
Correct, being open to feedback means just being willing to listen and think about the feedback you receive.

Yes I understood. But if you rate the game a 3/10 and say it's because you would like the game to "play differently"... Then that kind of feedback is way too "critical".

twoeyedcyclops wrote:
It does not mean the designer must make changes based on what the playtesters say (see item 11). The point is, if you're conducting a playtest session, you have to keep an open mind that things could possibly still be improved and playtesters might have something valuable to say.

Again I understand. But before you make a "suggestion"... Think really hard about "Is this going to be hard to implement???" or "Will this completely mess-up the existing game??" You just can't shoot off at the top of your head WHATEVER you like. Like I said there needs to be CONTEXT. It could be a moot point like in "Extra comments"...

twoeyedcyclops wrote:
If you're no longer open to hearing feedback, then there's no reason to playtest the game.

Of course there is... Seeing what strategy players use to face their opponents is for example one reason. Another would be to see how the winner "wins" the game (how did he play, what was his play-style, etc.) I think you forget how beneficial 3rd parties are to just PLAYTEST a design. It gives you inner working to HOW your game may be played.

And believe me, I have played my own WIP with many players and through that experience, I have learned a lot about play-styles... How some players take their time while other are way more aggressive and interested in destroying their opponents.

There is a WHOLE array of gamers each with his own "play-style". And my WIP accommodates many (perhaps the majority) of styles. BUT if you never sit down and SEE what players figure out... And how that affects their play-style, you'll never know how interesting the depth of strategy is in your own game.

For example: in a four (4) person game including myself, one player said: "We need to get rid of him... He's banking way too many credits and is going to WIN the game!" (Talking about me). He needed to convince one (1) player to ATTACK and destroy my defending starship! He managed to convince another player of this fact and that player destroyed my only starship protecting my Homeworld. Like he said, on his turn he played three (3) Tactic cards doing +6 Damage combined with his starship of +4 Damage, so 10 Damage in one single turn... Destroying my Homeworld... Because I was down to 8 HP.

That's very aggressive play. You don't see that in MOST games. Most games are much more even in terms of "aggression".

But had he not played on that game night... I would not have seen such an aggressive play-style ... which changed the way I saw the game being played. Also another opponent who WON the game, took a different strategy and was successful in the end as a victor.

The bottom line is "IF" your game is very open-ended and allows for various types of "play-styles" (Timmy, Johnny, and Spike) of the world... You'd never know of deeper ways that you can play my WIP... Unless you playtest with more people and different groups!

questccg
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As a side note...

There was a "complaint" that our game has "too many roles". There are ten (10) roles in total. That was expressed during the first playthrough. By then end of the playtesting session, people were like: "Oh yeah, now I understand why there is Role X and Role Y..."

But because of the "crappy" feedback early on... It's like not giving the game a chance. Every little critical thing that you dislike or feel should be different is "expressed" ... and then four (4) hours later when more of the game is experienced, different scenarios, modules, expansions later... and all of a sudden the feedback is more "acceptable" (maybe a 6/10 or 7/10).

However nobody is going to "sift" through the feedback (except myself and my development team) to try to understand how from an initial playthrough the game went from being "crappy" to "pretty decent". That's something that I might do... Just because I want to understand the feedback and what it was being said by the playtesters.

So I guess it's how playtesters should approach FEEDBACK. To me, they should give feedback relevant to the context of the game. Sure we all want every game to be different than what the designer had in mind. Maybe if Catan was played like "B" or some variant of "B"... Wrong! Keep those ideas and thoughts to yourself... If you're playing Catan give feedback that is relevant to Catan...

That's what I mean to say. And I think playtesters should be more conscientious of the amount of EFFORT put into a game. Just trashing it after one playtest is probably not the best way to go... PLAY the game. Try different strategies. Add a module or vary the scenario... The game is very open and has a lot of flexibility built-in...

During most first playtest sessions, you know little to nothing about a game. And in the case of our WIP... there is a TON of additional content to experience and vary how the game is played. How can YOU as someone who knows little to nothing about the game... be so critical??

Maybe if after you've played everything and tried everything that was being offered (I would say a good 8 to 10 playtests)... Well then you can be more forthcoming with your own personal take on the game.

But again, remember to stay within CONTEXT. We're comparing Apples to Apples... Not Oranges. Same should go with playtester feedback: it needs to be RELEVANT.

These are my feelings on the matter...

questccg
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Mostly good from the groups I've managed

Often I get that "the game has a lot of METAGAMING". And that's something HARD to playtest for... You need different groups and different players from all walks of life ... to see how different people approach the game from different angles.

And like I've said, I've managed various playgroups and METAGAMING is something that often "creeps up". So more experienced gamers who have played games like "Magic: the Gathering" (Magic) or a slew of board games with all kinds of mechanics, result in different approaches in to HOW they approach the game.

It's not always you get a very competitive Magic player that understands METAGAMING and how your deck and cards go hand-and-hand to allow you to deal the maximum damage in ideal situations... Let alone finding the ways to set up those ideal conditions (usually by convincing other players to go with the strategy...)

Like I said, I understood: "Listen and maybe you'll hear something of value from what each playtester is saying..." "Be open to the comments of each playtester." "Take everything with a grain of salt." "Don't be offended if people tell you your baby is ugly."

It's just feedback... Feel free to ignore what you think is useless and other aspects which you might want to revise and review... It's just hard to "go back" once you've already given "bad feedback" to something more reasonable (because honestly the game is pretty darn good!)

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