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Subject: 10 Playtest Principles - Advice on how to be a good playtester rss

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Eric Jome
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Introduction

We spend a lot of time discussing the ins and outs of designing a game, but another very useful and related skill comes in playtesting. Doing this well is going to make the difference between inspiring and supporting a designer or ruining the experience and making things worse. Here then are a series of things I've learned doing a lot of playtesting formally over the years. Hopefully these 10 principles will be something you can use to help yourself and your game designer friends turn in work we'll all love to play for years to come.

What is the playtester?

A playtester is a lot more than someone who plays the game and gives a thumb up or a thumb down. In fact, liking or not liking a game has little to do with your contributions. You're there to be someone to reflect with, to grind through cases and mechanics, to inspire and encourage. You should see yourself as a teammate with the designer. The designer is there to forge their vision of a game, but you're there to see that the result stands up to the goals and requirements.

In this spirit then, here's 10 principles you can consider as you help others with playtesting;

1) Ask questions about the game. - It's easy to get trapped into a pattern of just making pronouncements and giving instructions, but the playtest process is enabling, not directing. You need to have a solid understanding. It's a discussion, a conversation. Get there by asking questions to try to understand the designer and their intent.

2) Ask the designer in which areas in particular they are looking for help. - You can't playtest every game from the same place. One game might be at a very experimental stage, while another might be looking for just a bit of fine tuning or color commentary. If a designer is seeking playtest help, they should have some goal for it, something to get out of it. Find that and work towards it.

3) Do not criticize, but rather suggest improvements. - You really want the experience of working on a game to be a process of improvement, one with a positive outcome. It can be too easy to just reject out of hand, insist that something doesn't work, or negatively react. Focus on how you fix the problems, not on the problems.

4) Have something positive to say about a game, even if you don't like it. - It is important to be encouraging and helpful, to maintain an atmosphere of progress. This can be hard if things are in a pretty awkward or rough state, but the core idea here is to keep things going, to not let them stall or let the designer just get discouraged.

5) Look for the main idea of the game. - A game should have a core mechanic or two that really comprise the action and activity of the game. This is not so much what a player does on their turn, but why that player does it. For example, if the game is about scoring points, try to draw a line from actions taken to points earned. Understand that line - the best game usually lies along making that line more interesting or clear.

6) Look for the game style and respond accordingly. - A game usually has something of an intended audience or atmosphere of play. Find that style, understand it, reflect on it. Is this a light, family game with simple actions? Or a complex simulation of a deep and serious subject? Consider how the rules and the theme merge together to suit this style. Who is this game for? When would it be played? How will the people act during it?

7) Do not make a different game, but rather make this game better. - This is a hard one! I've seen many playtest sessions where people tore up a game, replacing core mechanics with radically different directions or entirely revised themes. This often happens especially when the playtester doesn't like the game, but beware! Drastic changes shouldn't often be necessary - you're likely moving away from the vision or purpose, making a game you want, not helping the designer make the game they want. Be cautious suggesting major changes and ask about them first.

8) Record your thoughts and suggestions before, during, and after the session. - Have a tablet of paper and a pen or pencil with you while you play. Instead of interrupting people and game play, consider making notes that you can come back to and refer to. Try to make them clean and clear and, at the end, be able to hand them to the designer as you talk over the session. Diagrams, breakdowns, questions - these are gold to the designer. A good playtest should result in tangible feedback and changes, not half remembered impressions and easily forgotten chit chat.

9) Be honest, frank, and direct. - It can be very hard to be with someone who has spent a lot of time and money, investing lots of hope and passion in their game and have to give them tough feedback. But that's what you're there to do. Be tactful and remember to focus on improving and being positive, but don't sugar coat it or avoid constructive criticism because it might be hard for the designer to hear.

10) You need to know as many games as possible to contrast and compare them. - It can only help you be a better playtester to have played and really understood hundreds of different games. Good ones and bad ones. New ones and old ones. Games that you don't like but lots of other people do and vice versa. Be able to talk the talk about mechanics and components. If you don't know where to start, consider learning everything you can in the top few hundred here on BGG.

Good luck and good playtesting!
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Dan Vore
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This is good stuff. I'm getting ready to playtest a game and this has provided me with some stuff to think about.
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Nate K
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We may want to consider pinning this thread. Just a thought.
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The Chaz
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kurthl33t wrote:
We may want to consider pinning this thread. Just a thought.

Whoa there! That would be something like two pinned threads for this sub in one week. Let's not get carried away... laugh
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John "Omega" Williams
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11) If the Theme or Game Type is not one you like- Then let the designer know that you are not the target audience. Or better yet. Dont playtest games not in your interest range. You are alot more likely to consciously or often unconsciously try to derail the game design in some way.

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Oliver Kiley
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Great post on a really important topic for design. Bravo.

I think many of your points got at this, but what is really important is as a designer is to be clear on who your intended audience is, and as a playtester to make it clear what your game preferences are. The degree of alignment tempers the entire conversation and feedback.

Now, this isn't meant to say that you should only playtest with your target audience. In fact I would contend you should playtest with as broad an audience as possible - because the feedback and comments from those outside the target group can still be immensely useful, particularly in regards to things like rule clarity, graphic design, etc. and it gives the designer a sense of the broader reception your design might garner.

Quote:
7) Do not make a different game, but rather make this game better. - This is a hard one! I've seen many playtest sessions where people tore up a game, replacing core mechanics with radically different directions or entirely revised themes. This often happens especially when the playtester doesn't like the game, but beware! Drastic changes shouldn't often be necessary - you're likely moving away from the vision or purpose, making a game you want, not helping the designer make the game they want. Be cautious suggesting major changes and ask about them first.


Good point. But, I would say that it's up the designer to filter out what constitutes a major revision/change. A playtester might suggest a seemingly big change that the designer never considered but which solves/improves a number of aspects of the design. And don't think for a second that a prospective publisher wouldn't do this - games are often reworked or re-themed significantly during development.



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Peter Dast
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All good points. A couple of other things to keep in mind:

When the designer is explaining the game, give full attention. Put away smartphone, save gossip & banter & shop-talk for after game.

If you find your attention flagging DURING the game, try to understand why and make notes. Turns too long? Choices mundane or too numerous? Designer needs to know.

Be willing to test games whose themes and mechanisms you do not love - with an open mind. Your feedback as a non-fan may be more valuable than that of someone who ALWAYS plays 'that kind of game'.
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Kim Brebach
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Mezmorki wrote:
Great post on a really important topic for design. Bravo.

I think many of your points got at this, but what is really important is as a designer is to be clear on who your intended audience is, and as a playtester to make it clear what your game preferences are. The degree of alignment tempers the entire conversation and feedback.



This!

Such an awesome post and good responses too.

I've learned that with playtesting that if you go in unprepared as a designer and slap your game on the table and people just start playing they are missing a lot of critical context within which to frame their thinking and feedback - their help. That can explode in your face fast leading to all sorts of potentially ill advised feedback and designer brain pain.

Soon after conceiving my first major design effort I wrote a kind of market analysis of;
1. where my game lives in the gaming landscape,
2. how it is both similar to and different from games in its market space
3. who its target audiences are
4. what type of mechanics they like / hate within the context of such a game
5. what problems my game is trying to solve eg mine were downtime, collectibility, solitaire syndrome, theme and system disconnects
6. components eg cards, counters - eg the style / quality of art i want
7. theme

I think that its very useful for a designer to think about these foundations for their creation as many things flow from it. As a first time designer it gives me certainty about what I do and don't want in my design and things I can seek feedback on from the right play testers. I understand my prospective publisher found that a very useful document too. But to extend on the direction of Olivers reply...

When prepping play testers for a first session on your game I think it is helpful for designers to;
1. give an elevator pitch (back of box description) of the game
2. describe your target audience then check play tester (audience) compatibility with this type of game
3. perhaps give a summary of your design goals to play testers? Or at least make design goal notes available for those playtesters who are curious or who want to go the extra mile with repeat playtesting.
4. Prepare and run through a scripted explanation of your game rules and play, and constantly improve that script. Try to keep coming back to the script during explanations. This will pay off for all, specially during first session for each group. You can evolve this into a simple play description or intro later (or a KS video!)
5. explain feedback focus points for each session eg first impressions for first time players against a set of metrics like fun, downtime, interactivity, mechanics, flow, thematic logic, etc (whatever can be reasonably ascertained from a first single play), all the way through to a repeat play test for eg testing a specific set of mechanics which have changed between iterations.
6. make it clear how you would like to handle other feedback or bugtracking too. During or after game (if after each player will need a note pad)
7. recap on the play test feedback focus points specifically at the end of the session during the feedback and analysis.

Are there other key steps play testers would appreciate from designers at either initial or repeat play tests?

For a first time play test group this may all take another 15 minutes but having laid these (and any other?) foundations, your play testers should be able to better follow the 11 excellent principles above and give you clearer and more productive feedback aligned to your design and play test goals. Sessions with repeat play testers can just follow steps 5 - 7 of course.

There's a theory anyway. Cant say I've yet come away from a session thinking that i prepped well enough and handled it perfectly by any means. By hey, you gotta have goals right?
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Mezmorki wrote:
Quote:
7) Do not make a different game, but rather make this game better. - This is a hard one! I've seen many playtest sessions where people tore up a game, replacing core mechanics with radically different directions or entirely revised themes. This often happens especially when the playtester doesn't like the game, but beware! Drastic changes shouldn't often be necessary - you're likely moving away from the vision or purpose, making a game you want, not helping the designer make the game they want. Be cautious suggesting major changes and ask about them first.

Good point. But, I would say that it's up the designer to filter out what constitutes a major revision/change. A playtester might suggest a seemingly big change that the designer never considered but which solves/improves a number of aspects of the design. And don't think for a second that a prospective publisher wouldn't do this - games are often reworked or re-themed significantly during development.

True, but I've also heard some designers say that they don't want playtesters to offer solutions, they just want help in identifying the problems with the game. Fixing the problems is then up to the designer/developer, who perhaps better know why decisions were made a certain way in the first place and would have a better idea about how to correct them without creating new problems with the underlying system.

Personally, that sounds pretty myopic and maybe even a little egotistical to me, but it's their game to screw up (or save), I suppose. Maybe the better advice to give in this list would be to specifically ask the designer what they're looking for in feedback. Do they just want your thoughts on the game and help in identifying issues and weaknesses, or are they also open to suggestions and new ideas? Because knowing that ahead of time can make a big difference in how you approach the playtest.
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Dan Manfredini
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Great advice!
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Jeff Warrender
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Good post. I posted a thread a few weeks back that raised some similar suggestions: Suggestions for Playtesters.
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I seem to be wearing the contrarian hat lately. To the OP, I don't understand in giving advice to play testers. Are there a bunch of lousy play testers out there? I mean beyond telling play testers how you want to receive feedback (and probably designers do this differently), why offer up a litney of guidelines? I'm just happy to have folks sit down and give a half-baked idea a go! Better to give good advice to designers on how to take feedback rather than play testers on how to give it.
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This is very helpful, but I wish there were a similar article about how to find opportunities to playtest in the first place. (In my case, I guess it would have to be mostly solo games, as I don't have a dependable group of friends to game with.) It seems like there's a magical world of playtesting going on all around us; now if only I knew how to enter that world.
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Eric Jome
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adamw wrote:
Are there a bunch of lousy play testers out there?


I wish it wasn't true, but the answer is yes.

Playtesting is not the same thing as playing. Often the best a designer can usually get from a group of friends is playing. Which is pretty good in general.

A good playtester brings a lot more to the table. A good way of working. Skill at being constructive. Innovating, inspiring, and really testing the game.

Testing is a paid skill in many industries. You can get a degree in testing. There are whole institutes of testing for various fields and products. Being a good tester is a valuable and useful ability...

And this article intends to help the amateur game tester do better.
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Eric Jome
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Rookiebatman wrote:
It seems like there's a magical world of playtesting going on all around us; now if only I knew how to enter that world.


Well, I wouldn't call it magical, but yes, many big game making companies keep testers or designers as staff as well as having groups of special, loosely affiliated testing groups. There's a tiny cottage industry...

Here on BGG for example, anyone who is regarded as a popular and well known taste maker for their video reviews or blog is a likely candidate for being included as a tester and a reviewer.

But if you really want to get involved in development, the best experience I know is attending a Protospiel game convention. Either that, or start pitching your prototypes to game companies - though it's hard to get through to anyone of real size.
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cosine wrote:
adamw wrote:
Are there a bunch of lousy play testers out there?


I wish it wasn't true, but the answer is yes.

For some reason, I have to take you to task on this a bit. Mainly because it rubs me the wrong way, but also because so many here seem to agree with your list and I want to make the other side of this clear.

Anyhow, first, I disagree with the premise, but I think it is based on your definition of a play testers - so apparently that is where I disagree.

Bottom line: I don't want to scare potential testers away, so let me clarify: if you're out there and willing to play a prototype, I love you. Thank you! Thank you for your time! Anything you can help with, wonderful! If you can be clear about your opinions and specific about what isn't working for you, thank you ever so much!

And that's about all I ask and am richly rewarded if that criteria is met.

Quote:
A playtester is a lot more than someone who plays the game and gives a thumb up or a thumb down. In fact, liking or not liking a game have little to do with your contributions.

Oh but I disagree! Liking or not has everything to do with your contributions. The very thing I want to know - the pentacle of what I want to know - is if you enjoyed the game! Would you play it again? Would you tell others to play? Your suggestion that this is minimal when I believe it to be essential is maybe at the heart of my concerns. I don't want a stoic analysis. I want a passionate diatribe!

Quote:
You're there to be someone to reflect with, to grind through cases and mechanics, to inspire and encourage. You should see yourself as a teammate with the designer.

No, not at all! What you are describing is a co-designer in my book. I have a co-designer already. I'm not having people play a prototype as a co-designer. I've already done that many, many times by the time I'm sitting with play testers. Play testers serve an entirely different role - a no-less *critical* role that is diluted in your definition I think.

I'm perfectly happy to have a test session end up saying, "this game stinks and here's why." I certainly need both parts: (1) that it stinks and (2) *where* it stinks. That's what testing is about. If that's what you mean by 'teammate', then I'm in violent agreement.

Quote:
The designer is there to forge their vision of a game, but you're there to see that the result stands up to the goals and requirements.

I can get behind this notion a bit, but a play tester is there to destroy the vision. That's how I would phrase it. If I am at prototype stage and testing, then I need clear destruction. Not platitudes, but clear distaste.

So potential testers out there: buck up! You are needed and you are essential and your opinion - as raw opinion - matters alot.
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Eric Jome
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adamw wrote:
If you're out there and willing to play a prototype, I love you.


Good for you. And I take whatever help I can get too. But players are not playtesters. Players are just players. They have their own kind of valuable input, but this thread isn't about helping the designer take feedback from players. It's about helping people be better playtesters.

Quote:
Liking or not has everything to do with your contributions. The very thing I want to know - the pentacle of what I want to know - is if you enjoyed the game!


You mean "pinnacle". Anyway. I hear this all the time from designers. And you're wrong. This seems like a common sense thing, but like a lot of common sense, it doesn't work. Why? Because you can't please all the people all the time. If you play your game widely enough, you'll find no end of players that will like it or not.

A playtester is more like a movie critic. You have to be able to see the merits and flaws in things beyond what you personally like or don't like. This isn't just about taste. It's about helping someone make a quality product. You can't focus group your way to greatness - focus group being what a group of players are.

Quote:
I'm perfectly happy to have a test session end up saying, "this game stinks and here's why."


This article, among other things, encourages people to avoid saying the word "stinks" and just get to the why.

Quote:
If that's what you mean by 'teammate', then I'm in violent agreement.


It's a figurative expression, a metaphor. You take it too literally.

Quote:
I can get behind this notion a bit, but a play tester is there to destroy the vision. That's how I would phrase it.


And that, in my view, is a horrible way to phrase it. A negative, unproductive way. A way that's going to cause designers to give up, to produce useless feedback ("It stinks!" with no "why"), and generally make the atmosphere of testing a game go badly.
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Kim Brebach
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I think you guys both have valid points and this valuable thread can and should stay on as constructive a path as possible.

From my limited experience in games testing (and deeper experience in web usability testing) I think there are various ways to go about testing a game. Much will depend on what stage your game is at eg first test outside of friends group / repeat test with somewhat experienced testers / professional testing organised by a publisher / blind testing etc etc. Other factors include what type of testers you have access to, how much time you have, whether you are doing once off testing or repeat iteration testing with the same groups, and how professional your testers consider themselves to be. There are many variables beyond the designers control.

The designer will also want to test their game as much as possible right? - so some sessions will be with more casual player / play testers (perhaps best for assessing enjoyment levels, learning curve issues, key conceptual or rules stumbling blocks, recognition of initial strategies and overall impressions etc etc) and hopefully others with more experienced play testers, some of whom will hopefully be following at least some of these 11 principles (you should expect such playtesters to assist at a more mechanical or nuanced level of feedback - to see the designs whole and its parts - from its objectives to its implementation and cohesion). Both types of play testing sessions will provide valuable information to the open minded and discerning designer.

As play testing is collaboration between designer and tester to make a game better, I believe the 11 principles above will absolutely help play testers to help designers better. But how many play testers will ever read this thread, let alone practice the principles effectively?

I really believe it is incumbent on the designer to set play tester appropriate objectives for each session. It isn't that hard. I added some basic steps higher in the thread I think it wise for designers to undertake for each test session to give the context and set the framework for feedback. Each group of people has their own social dynamic the designer will need to be aware of and respond to perhaps, but your test goals should help steer feedback in the direction you feel you need. Just make sure you leave free discussion space where testers can ask or suggest whatever they like too. Testing for me is also a creative puzzle solving process and you don't want to feel to constrained.

Perhaps an objective setting phase in each session would help scale between the differing objectives and playtester behaviours you are both discussing?

From the play testers point of view do you think specific objectives each session are of value? What would you personally want more or less of?

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Thank you for a very reasonable reply! I make a lengthly reply here because I enjoy the topic a great deal, not to be preachy or dogmatic. I hope it comes off that way.
kbrebach wrote:
Perhaps an objective setting phase in each session would help scale between the differing objectives and playtester behaviours you are both discussing?

Yes. Quite agree. I understand you mean 'phase' in a single testing session, but there are a variety of longer phases (lasting years?) for testing that determine the type of testing needed. Designers move through these at different rates I would imagine. I classify them into design, development and production. I spend an unusual amount of time in 'private' play testing for early designs that I'm attempting to see if they work in any way at all - not mechanically so much as cohesion. Does the game fit together? I haven't historically spent any time setting the objectives for a tester because in general, I'm usually in the unfortunate place of believing everything is great (or near great). This is the dangerous hubris of design and a failure to recognize this is fatal. However, I do always state the game is an unfinished game and how far close to done I believe it to be (e.g. "This will probably come out in a year if all goes well with testing.").

But to answer your question: yes. Setting the objectives would be good - if the designer is aware of particular aspects needing particular attention. I have done this with repeat plays with the same test group. For example, there are things I attempted to address and I'd like to see from the group who found them if they are resolved.

Quote:
From the play testers point of view do you think specific objectives each session are of value? What would you personally want more or less of?

I have only play tested a few games. But in general, I would like to have the freedom to make any comments that I felt were necessary (as a designer, I would encourage it). It would be good to understand if the designer had particular aspects to examine - or more likely, qualities they already know are not right and do not need to hear about. Some things do not need testing until very late in development such as spelling on cards or missing graphics and other qualities that the designer is perfectly well aware have not yet been addressed.

In sum, I have a very structured way to receive feedback, but not a structure for the range of feedback to receive. Does that make sense?

May I add one more point? One of the best testers I have is also my most hated. He is too blunt and is at times I think off base in the observation. But many times, he is right and I can tell he absolutely wants to improve the game. Most of all, he'll put up with crap and call it crap. My best tests have been folks who say, "I won't play this game again." If it's a tester I know, I also know that it is a failure so extreme, I took a very wrong turn in design and need to rethink many things. That is spectacular feedback, but I realize it is only valuable because I know and greatly respect the person giving the feedback. These are in my close tester group - those who see more raw things. Not in a convention setting where I test with complete strangers. Both situations are critical and neither should be constrained nor overly coached.
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This article http://www.sirlin.net/blog/2013/3/3/the-playtesters-are-sayi... discusses some examples of gauging play test feedback on aspects of designs considered 'broken' or at least unbalanced. Very interesting, although this is really aimed at a more granular level than the 10 principles are I think.

But it also hints at a phenomenon I have noticed where play testers are actively looking for balance issues and brokenness. Its part of their job. But they do so in a way that is more explicit and direct than a player might, often with red flags going straight up at the first sign of trouble. Fair enough again. However players may rather assume they should find a way to 'play around' a difficult (possible balance) obstacle. And players may find those solutions (see the 'stolen purples in puzzle strike' example in the article). and that may be a wonderful part of the a games intentional or emergent paper-scissors-rock self balancing tactics engine.

Case in point - the first time i played Chaos in the Old World i played Khorne and went dismally with barely a red mist cloud to be seen. I blamed the game for being unbalanced. I was wrong. I thought about where i went wrong and changed my play style and next time whipped up a veritable red mist storm with Khorne. We still love that game.

So I take notes of red flags on my games cards or mechanics, and I think about them, but I look to the whole design, and I'm often aware of specific card or tactical / strategic gameplay solutions to the perceived problem already. But where I'm uncertain I look for play based solutions for those issues to emerge within a repeat playtest group. If the red flag stays up, then I deal with it.
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kbrebach wrote:


I've learned that with playtesting that if you go in unprepared as a designer and slap your game on the table and people just start playing they are missing a lot of critical context within which to frame their thinking and feedback - their help. That can explode in your face fast leading to all sorts of potentially ill advised feedback and designer brain pain.


First let me say I agree with so many of your points Kim, especially in the context of a first-time playtest. However I would also like to add a bit that slightly contradicts this bit you said first.

While this entirely does apply to first-time testing, later on after you've gleaned the useful emanations from the people you've prepped thusly, you may actually want to reverse that thinking with a blind playtest.

Blind Playtest
-Players are given no information about the game, except what can be gleaned from the rules you've written, and the materials you've presented.
-You can either observe play yourself, or let it go free and have the players get back to you later, so they aren't asking you questions during play.

The purpose of all this is to see if you've made something that stands on it's own, without extra marketing from you, the designer. It'll help identify holes in your rules or presentation, or show that players given the rules fresh play the game differently than intended (also requiring a rewrite/restructuring of the rules). It'll effectively give you a good gauge on how your game looks/feels to the uninitiated.

...CJ
inspiredpress.net
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Robert Wyant
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Here is one.
Don't Dominate the Playtest Forums.
I was in one playtest where one group posted so much the rest of the groups felt that our contributions were unimportant. Whenever we made a good point this other group would jump in and take over the discussion to the point that every other group pretty much stopped posting.
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Kim Brebach
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Chrisjander wrote:
kbrebach wrote:


I've learned that with playtesting that if you go in unprepared as a designer and slap your game on the table and people just start playing they are missing a lot of critical context within which to frame their thinking and feedback - their help. That can explode in your face fast leading to all sorts of potentially ill advised feedback and designer brain pain.


First let me say I agree with so many of your points Kim, especially in the context of a first-time playtest. However I would also like to add a bit that slightly contradicts this bit you said first.

While this entirely does apply to first-time testing, later on after you've gleaned the useful emanations from the people you've prepped thusly, you may actually want to reverse that thinking with a blind playtest.

Blind Playtest
-Players are given no information about the game, except what can be gleaned from the rules you've written, and the materials you've presented.
-You can either observe play yourself, or let it go free and have the players get back to you later, so they aren't asking you questions during play.

The purpose of all this is to see if you've made something that stands on it's own, without extra marketing from you, the designer. It'll help identify holes in your rules or presentation, or show that players given the rules fresh play the game differently than intended (also requiring a rewrite/restructuring of the rules). It'll effectively give you a good gauge on how your game looks/feels to the uninitiated.

...CJ
inspiredpress.net

Thanks CJ. Thats great advice.

Yeah i havent got to blind playtesting yet (soon) - my game is almost stable and the rules almost ready for it, but I have wondered about the process.

I am a believer that the most important testing is that done with your target audience (my game is reasonably niche and deep and somewhat complex with 200 individual cards across 5 types and will be marketed appropriately), and I already know that players from my target audience pick the game up reasonably well but those outside of it struggle more. But how do you control / evaluate whether your blind play testers match your target audience? ie that they are more likely to 'get' your game naturally.

You also have the issue that usually real players don't play a game without any context - most games that hit a game table are naturally pre-selected to match the target audience and at least the owners will have bought the game because they read the marketing and saw reviews etc and they partially play the role of the designer in at least explaining the game / rules to other new players.

So how does that play out in the blind play testing process? What is useful to give the blind play tester as context? Just the box description and the rules and no other context?

I assume its best to be present as an observer at the earliest blind play test if possible and take lots of notes and maybe answer critical questions only ie to keep the game on track while noting where it would have derailed? Do play testers find that useful? What specific play testing principles apply to this phase of testing?

Then i guess that once I have ironed out the rules clarity enough I can take remote feedback from blind play test sessions where I'm not present via a survey tuned to what I need to get? How much time are play testers usually prepared to spend on a survey?



 
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Pete Lane
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Omega2064 wrote:
11) If the Theme or Game Type is not one you like- Then let the designer know that you are not the target audience. Or better yet. Dont playtest games not in your interest range. You are alot more likely to consciously or often unconsciously try to derail the game design in some way.



I would disagree. I was a playtester for FFG for a few years, even though I don't particularily enjoy AT games. I was able to use my preference for Euros as a good playtesting tool because I cared more about how the game played as opposed to the "cool factor." Even in the early days they had some local fanboys who could see no wrong in what they did, and while they offered some great opinions to the games, they also missed seeing some aspects I could pick out. I was able to form good relationships with the designers because of this, and even though I don't volunteer any longer, I am proud of the work I did on those games.
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CJ Andersen
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kbrebach wrote:
Chrisjander wrote:
kbrebach wrote:


I've learned that with playtesting that if you go in unprepared as a designer and slap your game on the table and people just start playing they are missing a lot of critical context within which to frame their thinking and feedback - their help. That can explode in your face fast leading to all sorts of potentially ill advised feedback and designer brain pain.


First let me say I agree with so many of your points Kim, especially in the context of a first-time playtest. However I would also like to add a bit that slightly contradicts this bit you said first.

While this entirely does apply to first-time testing, later on after you've gleaned the useful emanations from the people you've prepped thusly, you may actually want to reverse that thinking with a blind playtest.

Blind Playtest
-Players are given no information about the game, except what can be gleaned from the rules you've written, and the materials you've presented.
-You can either observe play yourself, or let it go free and have the players get back to you later, so they aren't asking you questions during play.

The purpose of all this is to see if you've made something that stands on it's own, without extra marketing from you, the designer. It'll help identify holes in your rules or presentation, or show that players given the rules fresh play the game differently than intended (also requiring a rewrite/restructuring of the rules). It'll effectively give you a good gauge on how your game looks/feels to the uninitiated.

...CJ
inspiredpress.net

Thanks CJ. Thats great advice.

Yeah i havent got to blind playtesting yet (soon) - my game is almost stable and the rules almost ready for it, but I have wondered about the process.

I am a believer that the most important testing is that done with your target audience (my game is reasonably niche and deep and somewhat complex with 200 individual cards across 5 types and will be marketed appropriately), and I already know that players from my target audience pick the game up reasonably well but those outside of it struggle more. But how do you control / evaluate whether your blind play testers match your target audience? ie that they are more likely to 'get' your game naturally.

You also have the issue that usually real players don't play a game without any context - most games that hit a game table are naturally pre-selected to match the target audience and at least the owners will have bought the game because they read the marketing and saw reviews etc and they partially play the role of the designer in at least explaining the game / rules to other new players.

So how does that play out in the blind play testing process? What is useful to give the blind play tester as context? Just the box description and the rules and no other context?

I assume its best to be present as an observer at the earliest blind play test if possible and take lots of notes and maybe answer critical questions only ie to keep the game on track while noting where it would have derailed? Do play testers find that useful? What specific play testing principles apply to this phase of testing?

Then i guess that once I have ironed out the rules clarity enough I can take remote feedback from blind play test sessions where I'm not present via a survey tuned to what I need to get? How much time are play testers usually prepared to spend on a survey?





There are advantages to both observing and not observing. Basically the point would be to see if the visuals (box/board/card art) combined with everything else you include with the game is enough so that uninitiated players can pick it up and play, and understand it the way you intended. It would be the same as someone picking up your box from a store without knowing anything about it other than what they can see and read.

Obviously it's not the death knell off a game if it doesn't work 100% without extra marketing context, but it does give you a lot of information if it falls completely flat, or there are lots of misunderstandings. Admittedly, in the end most of your sales are going to come from sources where extra info is given to your prospective buyer in the form of marketing and advertising, but knowing that it can stand on its own helps you know what you get right and improves the overall quality of your games.

Granted, getting people to blind test can be hard. With our most recent game, Sudden Death: Ninja Attack, I was lucky that my brother liked the one sentence concept blurb I gave him. So he's never played and hasn't looked at the rules before. All he knows is the theme. I gave him a deck, a copy of the rules, and I'm hoping he'll get some friends to play and to hear some feedback from him soon.

...CJ
inspiredpress.net
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