Jan 23, 2006

Playtesting - Part 1

I will attempt to try to organize my beliefs about playtesting in a chronological order over a series of posts. That will be more useful as a reference for when you run your own playtests. If you do use it, just remember that you are taking advice from someone who has never been published. Kids, don’t try this at home.
Part 1 - Create a Playtest Team
Part 2 - Organize a Playtest Session
Part 3 - Introduce the Game
Part 4 - Play the Game
Part 5 - Get Feedback
Part 6 - Make Changes
One of the side benefits of attending Dreamation is turning out to be playtesting. Specifically, in addition to adding Matt and Joy as playtesters, a couple of guys I hadn't known previously but met and played with at the convention turned out to be living in my area. When one of them found out that I was a game designer he asked for my blog's address and e-mailed me letting me know he and his friend would be happy to join my playtest team.

This is good because before the convention I had two very distinct groups. My local and primary group was unfortunately non-gamers as I use the term. They play Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, and occasionally a board game, but none of them have ever been to a convention and if I talked about Board Game Geek or Tigris and Euphrates their eyes would go deer-in-the-headlights.

My other groups is definitely far more experienced with respect to games, but it is smaller and they all live quite far away from me, meaning I usually have to drive to them and spur-of-the-moment tests are quite out of the question.

It is a good thing that I have groups of different skill and experience levels, but I wish I could meet with my gamer group more often.

Finding good playtesters is difficult. From my (continuing) time as a CCG playtester, I know that it can be a tedious process. Testing a game can suck all of the fun out of actually playing. Finding people who are willing to deal with the testing process requires diligence, screening, and luck. It is not just willingness that testers need, they also need the ability to quickly learn to rules that can (and will) change mid-game. They need the ability to deal with losing because of poorly designed mechanics. They need to understand that you have a goal that is not necessarily their immediate enjoyment.

And of course they need to be reliable. Having a scheduled playtest session fall apart because a couple of people fail to show up not only wastes the opportunity to test that day, but it makes it far less likely that those who did show up will agree to set aside their day for you next time. Everyone has emergencies, but some people are just flakes. You need to make sure that a successful playtest does not depend on the flakes' presence.

I have some unfortunate experience with this. When I became a CCG playtester, I had to assemble a team of satellites for me to test with. There was one particular person who lived near me that I wanted to join my team. I had to hound him for weeks to get the signed non-disclosure agreement. When he finally showed up to sign it, I told him that I needed reliability from my team members and that if he was going to be as hard to reach and fail to show up to playtests that I would rather not have him at all. He assured me that radical recent events had prevented him from meeting me at designated times and from returning my numerous phone calls.

Well, he was my friend so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I gave him the NDA to sign and never saw him again. I’m sure he thought he meant it when he said he’d be reliable. All flakes do.

Don’t assume your friends will all be good testers. Even if they say yes, it might be just because of a feeling of personal obligation as opposed to actual interest. Uninterested playtesters can be a hindrance. On the other hand, interested playtesters are worth their weight in gold. Well, not gold. How about foamcore board?

2 comments:

  1. Mattias Lundmark11:07 AM

    This is all great stuff, just what I have been looking as I'm entering the playtest phase of my latest game project (one I might actually finish! :). I just have one question: how hi-fi do you make the initial playtest material? I find it hard to decide on the right level of surface and grapical design.

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  2. Glad you like it. I wrote about graphical quality in my post on Graphic Design here:
    http://rellekmr.net/gdw/2006/02/graphic-design.html

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