Sam “King of the Hilltop”
When it comes to running playtests for a game, you can run into a variety of issues that can alter the course of your game for the better or for the worst. I am going to talk about a few of these situations and hope the next time you go and playtest, you can maximize your benefit from it.
If you are looking for a basic outline of the various steps and phases of a playtest, see my brother Ed’s thoughts below mine.
Now, onto 3 tips to maximize your playtest sessions.
Tip 1: Please hold your comments and critiques until the end.
I have found that when someone opens the floodgates of commentary, critique, or analysis in the middle of a game, it halts everything. There is no more progression. Everyone jumps on board and begins the critique immediately without finishing the game. This is like licking some salt and begin critiquing the food that salt was put into.
I like to begin my playtest sessions with a small talk that if you have any critiques, issues to point out, or analysis, I would love to hear them but we also need to get through the game in a reasonable amount of time. Please write them down, notate them, and at the end we will most definitely go over them.
Now, that being said, if everyone at the table is distracted, not paying attention, not engaging, it may be best to cut the session short and jump to the post-analysis sooner rather than later. You can usually tell when this needs to happen when people are all on their phones, not looking at the game, or even thinking about the game. They have checked out. If only one person is not paying attention, you can keep playtesting but if the majority are doing it, it’s time to start thinking about your exit strategy.
Tip 2: A little PCP goes a long way.
What is PCP you may ask? In this case it means, Praise, Comment, Praise. I find that once people start being negative about a game, it only gets worse. Negative attitudes and emotions bias and skew playtest feedback. The goal is to establish some positive attitudes in the feedback process.
Now you may be saying, but doesn’t that skew the results in a positive direction? Yes, yes it does. But there is really no way to avoid bias but if it is in a positive direction, people may start contributing towards ways to resolve situations instead of just tearing it down. You need to be careful though not to cultivate a “yes” culture where no matter what you do the decisions are great, awesome, best thing ever!
So, how do I start this PCP process? It usually goes something like this, “Alright, the game is over. Everyone grab your notes and let’s get ready to make this game better. However, I would like to go around first and ask everyone to name one positive thing they liked or appreciated about the game. Then we can proceed to tear it to shreds! MWAHAHAHAHA!!!”
I have to admit, I used to hate hearing critiques about my games but over time I have started to actually enjoy it. Not completely, and sometimes I am in a better mood than others but overall, I find great satisfaction breaking it down and refining a game. Three cheers for failure!! WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!!
Tip 3: Write, acknowledge, and don’t argue.
When you ask people to playtest a game, you are asking for their time. When you are asking them for feedback, do not, I repeat, DO NOT shut them down.
They are spending their precious time playing your game instead of one of their favorites, or learning a new game that has been shown to be loved by a lot of people. They are literally taking a risk or doing you a favor by playtesting your game. Listen to them.
Now, the more you start to playtest, the more you hear some of the same things. Even if you have thought through every scenario of which they are talking about, you need to acknowledge their contribution. They don’t know what you have done and not done. They only know what they have experienced and are sharing their perspective.
So, even if you don’t want to hear it or you don’t think it is that important, engage with them and write it down. If you are doing online playtesting, tell them that you are writing their comments down. It’s like an immediate sign to the person speaking that if you are writing their words down, it means you are taking them seriously. They have been acknowledged for their contribution and will many times want to contribute more. Let them! Sometimes through a discussion or an observation, you can find great ideas to spark tweaks and changes in a game. The key at that point is to not argue. You may point out issues you are wrestling with, apply their opinion to new situations, and look at the results but don’t argue. Don’t be combative. It’s going to be alright. If nothing else, they will have a good experience and tell their friends that it was a good experience.
What do you do to maximize your playtest sessions? Do you have any tips or ideas you would like to share? We would love to hear it!
Also, we have been playtesting Cult of the Deep on Tabletop Simulator for the last 2 weeks and we have had some awesome sessions. However, we need more in order to help refine the game to be its very best. We invite you to join us by signing up for our playtest, and please feel free to invite your friends. If the dates and times don’t work for you, let us know. We would be happy to try and set-up another time and date for a playtest.
Cult of the Deep is a hidden role dice game where you are a cultist trying to establish your faction’s rise to power. Complete rituals and fight over control of mythical monsters to lead your faction to victory and control over the Cult of the Deep.
Playtesting: The Life Blood of Game Development and Buzz
Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
Playtesting is essential for two reasons: game refinement and generating excitement about your game. Playtesting takes place in stages. I refer to these stages as Initial, Rough Refinement, True Refinement, and finally, Polish & Presentation. Ninety percent of playtesting is Game Refinement, and takes place in the first three stages.
The Initial stage takes place as the designer has the idea and transforms it into a physical or digital prototype. This stage of playtesting takes place in the designer’s head as mechanics are put together, transferred to the prototype, and even covers the designer playing the prototype by themselves. This stage allows the designer to manipulate the game and judge if the game is worth pursuing into the next stage. Games in this stage of playtesting are extremely nebulous and change drastically.
The next stage is Rough Refinement. This is the stage that the game really begins to take shape, going from a lump of clay into a vase. The game is presented to close friends and friendly playtesting groups that are supportive but offer critiques and feedback. The game “finds itself” as the game in the previous stage changes through mechanics being added or substracted, changes to theme or feel, components are altered, and sometimes even being combined with another one of your games in the same stage or previous one. Rough Refinement is where you see drastic changes and allows you to really flesh out your game and try new things.
True Refinement is the stage when the base of the game and other things don’t change much unless a flaw is discovered that was somehow missed in the previous stage. If this is discovered, the game really needs to go back to the previous stage until that problem is fixed. This is the stage when you take your game to people you don’t know, local gaming groups that don’t really have an interest in games in a rougher stage, and have blind playtesting where people take your rulebook and try to play the game. Smaller changes and tweaks take place that streamline the game and rules change in small ways, usually to clarify or specify what the designers intended. This stage is truly a refiners fire to burn out all of the remaining impurities.
Polish and Presentation
Now comes the Polish and Presentation stage. Now keep in mind that this is my thought and point of view not solely as a game designer but also as someone who is trying to self publish and establish a game company. Continuing on, the game is presented for playtesting but the playtesting is focused on making sure you that the game you have is enjoyable to your target market and that the many hours you have playtested with previous groups have not missed things. This is where you have a booth at a con, or have a table with events running at cons trying to promote and get some hype about your upcoming game about to be published or Kickstarted. Many people would say that this isn’t playtesting but I would argue that it is. Yes, another focus is on generating some excitement around your game coming out, collecting names for future promotions, and getting the word out; however, you are also evaluating your game in the actual market and testing out its viability in that market. You are collecting crucial feedback on what your game’s true potential could be if released in the current market in its current state.
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