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Protospiel Online review

Earlier this year I attended a Protospiel Online with a complimentary press badge in exchange for a write-up of the experience, warts and all.

What is a Protospiel?

A video explainer

A Protospiel is a tabletop game prototype testing event. Designers act as both tester and host for players. Typically these are held in person in various sites across the United States and Canada. Though no one ‘owns’ Protospiel as a brand, and you can host your own version anywhere you like. Last year a few were held online, using a combination of Discord and Tabletop Simulator.

Okay so what’s the point for you?
 This was my first time at a “Protospiel” branded event, but definitely not my first play testing event. I went in keen to see what an organised online-play test would be like, and I knew that on since it was on Discord there would be a series of channels for game-related chatter. That’s a siren-song I could not resist.

I was going under ‘press’ to experience the event, so I didn’t have a game prepared to test, and - full disclosure - the badge was compensated for in return for a write up of the experience on BGDF, though I promise it won’t be just a recap, and does contain plenty of opinion.

How is an online Protospiel?

In some cases you might have a local play test group, and wonder why you you’d care to go to a play testing convention anyway - or perhaps you go to other Protospiel type events and wonder, why would I want to go to an online Protospiel when there are weekly online play tests organised through various social media groups? Hoo-boy I guess let’s work through each of these.

Why a Protospiel?

Perspective, naturally! Your local play test group might not be designers, or you might be getting the same perspectives every meetup. Since a Protospiel bring in many design-minded folks, you’ll get a wide berth of ‘perspective.’ A note about designers; they make both the best and worst play testers.

  • Designers speak a similar language, and often know how to articulate problems they’re having during play. But…
  • Some designers are inclined to offer up solutions that fit their own design style rather than the one that fits the game at hand.

There are, of course, plenty of people that aren’t designers at a Protospiel, who by fact of being there, are invested in prototypes; the convincing is already done.

If you have a weekly online play test that fits this, then you know what? You may not need an Online Protospiel. Unless, that is, you’re looking for the publisher perspective. A Protospiel is a good place to meet publishers and gauge their interested in your game, or see the prototypes they’re bringing (and see how yours might fit in their catalogue).

Secondly, there’s the intensity of the testing. Protospiel is more than a Thursday night of gaming; it’s long enough to set aside normal life for a couple days and focus all your energies on immersion into game testing. This incubator of fresh perspectives and just-long-enough timeline will push your own prototype further and faster than ever.

But online? It’s a bit less intense; a lot less immersion into the mindset of testing, and doesn’t at all feel like an incubator. In other words, the value of the intensity is reserved for in-person Protospiel, not the online ones.

What did an online Protospiel have, then, that you can’t get at a regular online play test? For this, I look to a recent addition to Protospiel online - the coffee talk channels on the Discord server.

Coffee talk

First a description: There was a video channel always available and moderated, with a schedule of coffee-talk topics that changed every few hours. Here, people that weren’t playing could gather around a (proposed) topic, popping in and departing as they saw fit.

While the topic itself was often just a fallback if the room was newly populated or ran out of conversation, it was appreciated, and some of host-moderators had presentations to kickstart the discussion as well.

This is where the real juices are, that separate the Protospiel Online from most other online playlets sessions.

These prolonged conversations are inspirational, and can branch off into breakouts and personal connections that most closely mirror the “immersion” that happens during in-person Protospiels.

One such connection I made was with Jonathan Chaffer, 10 year attendee of Protospiel events. We spoke on a separate channel about his experiences and comparison of Protospiel and the Online variant, and the games he brought. While our conversation echoed a lot of the sentiments above, he also added that there are tradeoffs with preparing your prototype as well.

As mentioned above, prototype testing is done through Tabletop Simulator (TTS), which is something you should probably learn about to take advantage of any online testing. What’s the tradeoff there?

Digital testing with TTS

According to Jonathan, there’s a bit of friction in making a game that is quite pleasant to play digitally (in TTS), but it’s easier than physical games to make something you can play at all. Put another way, iterating with TTS is fast - gone is the cutting, pasting, and card-sleeve stuffing of physical prototypes. But along with this goes the sense of physicality that you get with a real game on the table. For instance, have a big chart or tableau of cards all players need to read? Easy in TTS, but in person, will players be sitting with good views? Will they have too many cards in hand to splay out? TTS can’t test this.

So, Protospiel. Is it worth it?

Yes. Online? If you’re like me and relished in the conversations, and the near 24hr testing that you could always be sure was going on, then yes.

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blog | by Dr. Radut