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Subject: Playtesting from the view of playtesters. rss

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Samo Oleami
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Greetings - I've never visited this forum before, so probably this issue was addressed plenty times (so you might as well answer me with a link).

Our gaming group is beginning to get a lot of offers for playtesting from local designers (kickstarter fever) so I wonder what are normal things one could expect if one devotes to playtesting a game.

1) As I understand playtesting is voluntary and playtesters get a mention in the rulebook in the fine print. That's probably it. Do they get a free game? (Not that it matters, just asking what is common).

2) If paranoid designers want an NDA with playtesters - is this reasonable? I understand things work on the level of personal honour and responsibility.

3) We decided we want to read the rules before agreeing to playtest, that's not far from usual, is it?

Anything else playtester should be expecting (or demanding)?

Thanks for your time.
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Nat Levan
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1) Depends on the level of testing. If you play 5 or six times, mention in the rule book should be the minimum, and some designers put all play tester names in. Getting a free game would be a nice courtesy, but not necessary for just playtesting.
2) NDAs feel like a red flag to me. Nothing "wrong" with it per se, but designers should be excited to share the game, not worried about people stealing ideas.
3) Absolutely should have the rules before testing.

If you're returning the game via mail, make sure return shipping is paid. Make sure you have contact info in case you have questions.
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Samo Oleami
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Thanks.

2) Yeah it sounds like a red flag a.k.a. needless complications.
3) We think so too.


Another thing - it looks like most playtesting will be done with designer present. How desirable is this? Is it better to have a written feedback than a live one?
Probably blind playtesting makes sense later in the development process (?).
 
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Keith Sink
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1. I wouldn't expect a mention in the fine print, but that may be the norm.
2. I would not play a game that required an NDA. To me, it means they are paranoid or inexperienced. Both red flags and you don't want someone saying, "he stole my game because it has a similar theme".
3. It's probably a good idea to see the rules ahead of time. You can ask questions. Another alternative could be that you are fine with not having the rules ahead of time as long as they are not longer than two pages.

I would also ask for specific questions the developer wants answered: Feelings about the game, age of participants, a report of what happened(in detail), also individual thoughts as well as complete. Make sure everyone's voice is heard, even if you don't agree with what they are saying. Let the developer sort through it.

I find a check list helps the developer get all the questions they want answered. You can provide one if they don't include one with their package.

You could also offer to give your impressions of their press release, packaging, components, etc. as well if they are interested.
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Gregg Jewell
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I would put playtesters that provided significant feedback in the credits. If the playtesting is not a paid service I may offer a free copy, big discount or early access to the game.

Personally, I would never have anyone sign an NDA for my games.

It depends on the goals of my playtesting. Right now I want playtesters that fit the genre of my game so they are definitely going to preview the rules before committing to a playtest session.

For this phase, I'm not there during the actual session to avoid influencing the gamers but I try to leave a detailed questionnaire and encourage they put thoughts to paper during the game to discuss afterward.

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Nat Levan
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Live feedback is great for the designer, because you can watch what people are doing. Even a detailed report won't capture everything. But that said, written feedback is great so you can go back and look at it later.
Like you say, if the game is far along in development, a blind test may be useful to test the rules, but it is still good to have the designer there in case you run into problems. Nobody wants to stop halfway through the game.
Good luck with your playing!
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Jessey
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3 depends on what stage the game is at. Sometimes you need feedback on a design from other people, and you don't have a rulebook yet -- you (the designer) *are* the rulebook. In those cases, the designer will be intending to teach you the game (and may play with you, or watch - they probably won't leave the room, because without written rules they need to be there to be referenced ).

Late stage playtesting will (if the designer knows what they are doing) be done anonymously. They'll give you the game, the rules and maybe a questionnaire to fill out after playing. This is a test of both the game, *and* the quality of the rules (so you should freely comment on both - if something was confusing in the rules, note it).

1 will be an arrangement between you and the designer. I'd credit everyone who played the game during the design process, others will credit only significant help. If it matters to you, ask.

2 will vary by designer. Personally I don't bother because I'm 99% sure it's not binding anyway.
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Pete Lane
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I was a playtester for FFG years ago, and basing on my experiences then which may have changed in recent years:

1) As I understand playtesting is voluntary and playtesters get a mention in the rulebook in the fine print. That's probably it. Do they get a free game? (Not that it matters, just asking what is common).

I never got copies of the games I playtested. However they did often pay for our dinners when we were "working" on their time frame. This also got us our names in the rule book, but not always (and sometimes only first names).

If they are handing you a copy of the game and want you to play it "when you get around to it" at a regular game night that you would have held anyway... then no, I don't think they really owe you anything. However, if they say "come to X location for X hours and play X times" then it becomes a bit like work, and they should at least buy you dinner for your time.

2) If paranoid designers want an NDA with playtesters - is this reasonable? I understand things work on the level of personal honour and responsibility.

Absolutely. It's their property, you're just trying to break it wide open. I did for every playtest. Also, if you come up with an idea that makes the game function better, then you can't turn around and sue them if the game becomes a big hit. This protects the company and they'd frankly be stupid NOT to make you do so.

3) We decided we want to read the rules before agreeing to playtest, that's not far from usual, is it?

Actually, yes. What you like to play in "real life" should really hold no factors if you're being a playtester in the honest form. I'm a Eurogamer at heart and it was used to my advantage testing for FFG. While I may not have been the intended audience of the final product, I could see the game for the sake of the game, and not be caught up with theme.

Anything else playtester should be expecting (or demanding)?


If you say no, they'll just find someone else to do it. So if you make demands, they likely won't pester you with doing it again.

Part of the fun of playtesting is that if something doesn't work, you can help make the game better.
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Kenny VenOsdel
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stagger lee wrote:

I was a playtester for FFG years ago, and basing on my experiences then which may have changed in recent years:

1) As I understand playtesting is voluntary and playtesters get a mention in the rulebook in the fine print. That's probably it. Do they get a free game? (Not that it matters, just asking what is common).

I never got copies of the games I playtested. However they did often pay for our dinners when we were "working" on their time frame. This also got us our names in the rule book, but not always (and sometimes only first names).

If they are handing you a copy of the game and want you to play it "when you get around to it" at a regular game night that you would have held anyway... then no, I don't think they really owe you anything. However, if they say "come to X location for X hours and play X times" then it becomes a bit like work, and they should at least buy you dinner for your time.

2) If paranoid designers want an NDA with playtesters - is this reasonable? I understand things work on the level of personal honour and responsibility.

Absolutely. It's their property, you're just trying to break it wide open. I did for every playtest. Also, if you come up with an idea that makes the game function better, then you can't turn around and sue them if the game becomes a big hit. This protects the company and they'd frankly be stupid NOT to make you do so.

3) We decided we want to read the rules before agreeing to playtest, that's not far from usual, is it?

Actually, yes. What you like to play in "real life" should really hold no factors if you're being a playtester in the honest form. I'm a Eurogamer at heart and it was used to my advantage testing for FFG. While I may not have been the intended audience of the final product, I could see the game for the sake of the game, and not be caught up with theme.

Anything else playtester should be expecting (or demanding)?


If you say no, they'll just find someone else to do it. So if you make demands, they likely won't pester you with doing it again.

Part of the fun of playtesting is that if something doesn't work, you can help make the game better.


It's worth noting that I think these answers change drastically from an established company such as FFG and a more "normal" designer. In my experience as both a playtester and designer I'd say:

1. Mention in the rulebook only, if you provided significant feedback (i.e. multiple play reports vs. a few only) or were one of a few playtest groups. If they provide you with a prototype copy they may or may not let you keep it. It varies from designer to designer.

2. NDA's from a company are one thing. NDA's from a hobby designer show a lack of understanding of the industry and are a red flag to me. If I playtest I want it to bear fruit, not end up in a dead pile. (even so I've playetested for Tasty Minstrel and never had to sign an NDA)

3. Not at all. In fact its great. As a designer, more people reviewing your rules helps solidify the ruleset and remove ambiguities. If the rules are fraught with errors I wouldn't want to move onto the game until those issues are addressed. Also it is important for you to know if it is a game you WANT to test out. Usually a description gives you an idea, but reading the rules will really decide that. If you are a bad fit for the game your input will likely be small as replays aren't likely. If you read the rulebook and decide "hey this isn't for me, sorry" you can still give valuable feedback on the rules or any concerns with gameplay you saw. Additionally this can save a designer money if they are shipping you a prototype. If you review the rules and decide "no" they can still get some feedback while avoiding expensive shipping fees.
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Kim Brebach
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Best post on playtesting http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/938100/10-playtest-principle...

and another http://boardgamegeek.com/article/13438143

Having the designer there is fine. They will need to do blind play testing too later though.

NDA - Whatevs

Re rules first - usually more associated with blind playtesting but I cant see that it hurts. Just keep in mind that most games are taught by one player who knows the rules. The designer can play this role.

The designer may wish to play or observe passively. Both are Ok but they should be doing both.

One other thing. I personally find it incredibly valuable to do 'extreme play testing' too. This is where players aggressively and deliberately look for ways to break the game, via combos, or automatically best opening or later moves or find bizarre edge cases or even see what happens with all out ultra aggression etc. But you probably need to prep your designer that that will be your approach, or ask whether they need that now or later, but trust me they need it sometime.

Have fun Samo - many people really enjoy play testing.
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Samo Oleami
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Thanks to all so far. It's really insightful.

What I haven't mentioned is that based on experience we expect a lot of plainly bad designs, people who can't handle criticisms (and are shocked at encountering boardgaming hobbyists (meaning they aren't)). So ideally we want rules which keep our the intent of our gaming sessions intact (some stuff so far was painfully bad), while we also don't want to scare away a promising designer when they eventually show up (we hope).

Quote:
2. NDA's from a company are one thing. NDA's from a hobby designer show a lack of understanding of the industry and are a red flag to me. If I playtest I want it to bear fruit, not end up in a dead pile. (even so I've playetested for Tasty Minstrel and never had to sign an NDA)

Yes this is what I would expect as well.

I would understand this from a larger established company.
Quote:
Also it is important for you to know if it is a game you WANT to test out.

We wouldn't ask for rules if the games we got hadn't such obvious problems which could be detected by mere browsing of the rule sheet.

So If anybody can suggest what would be the best for our situation I would very much appreciate it. The scene in Slovenia is in very early stages and there is no local game design worth mentioning, let alone a publisher. We don't want to waste our time explaining to would be designers what happened in the boardgaming in the last 20 years (which always ends up in confusion and bad feelings), while we also don't want to scare away people who know what they're doing. Basically we want to be open, while not letting clueless people take too much of our time (as it mostly ends up being counter productive). Also take note that we're one of 3 existing open gaming gatherings in entire country that I know of and momentarily the most active one - we attract would be designers as there's no one else they can turn to.
 
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Kim Brebach
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yeah it sounds like you are approaching this in a really good way Samo.

I think that it is fair enough that you expect a certain amount of professionalism or 'commitment to the game design craft' to be proven before you accept to play test a game in your group. There has to be a minimum quality there or your group will stop doing what it does and that will be no good for anyone.

I would recommend you direct all designs to certain key game design and playtesting resources as soon as you first hear from them, and ask that they read, digest and act on the recommendations within before testing the game. If its clear that they haven't done this or wont do it I think its fair enough to say no to testing. Its a quality control thing. Reading their rules first may indeed give you the intel you need to make this call.

I'd start by directing designers to the single best introduction to designing and developing a board game I have ever read (which is pinned in this forum). It has a perfect amount of detail on testing processes for your purposes. There are other places to look but that is the best one stop shop IMHO.

I think the links I shared in my previous post give useful information for both designers and play testers on the art of play testing too.

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