Testing... 1, 2, 3

5 Lessons Learned From Local Playtesting

- Design Discussion #5 -

Previous Design Discussions:

Design Discussion #1 - From Idea to Thematic Design

Design Discussion #2 - Making Prototype Components

Design Discussion #3 - About the Endgame

Design Discussion #4 - Simplicity is King

Hello my wonderful readers! The last week has been both awesome and incredibly hectic. My time has been filled with tons of time spent designing, attending my regular board game groups, and writing and editing blog posts. But, the craziest part of it all has been holding my first two local playtesting sessions. Eight different people played the drastically different and new version of my game for the first time, and it was my first time running real-deal playtesting sessions.

As you might imagine, playtesting a game is extremely important, and the attitude and atmosphere of a playtest is a lot different than that of just playing any other game. Playtesting (when done correctly) serves the purpose of allowing a designer to truly learn about the low points and high points of their game from people they know (local playtesting) and people they don't (blind playtesting). Playtesting is a tool to both make your game mechanics balanced and ensure that as many people as possible who play your game will enjoy the experience.

I went into playtesting knowing of it's importance thanks to my many hours of absorbing information from other blogs and podcasts. Playtesting is a very important tool and you only get good out of it if you do everything you can to put good into it. So, because of that, I think the most important thing about playtesting is recognizing its significance. But, I'm not here to be vague, I'm here to get specific. So, other than recognizing the importance of playtesting, here are five other big things I've learned this week about how to make your local playtesting sessions as useful and as effective as possible.

1. Don't Play Your Game

In my first legitimate playtest, I made the mistake of being one of the playtesters. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved getting to try out my design and see what worked and what didn't work, etc... But there are a lot of issues that can arise during playtesting when the designer plays the game with the playtesters. Here are just three of the biggest ones issues that I noticed:

1 - Influence on Gameplay

You designed your game, so you know how you want your game to be played. And if you play your own game, you'll do everything you can to play it that way. This is bound to influence how others play as well, especially if it's their first time playing. You may want your game to be played a certain way, but that doesn't mean it will be. One of your primary playtesting goals should be seeing how players decide to strategize and play in response to the game their presented with. It's only through that attitude towards playtesting that you will truly know how your game works. Much like a scientist taking part in their own experiment, by playing the game yourself and being a role model for others, you will confound your own results.

2 - Harder to Observe

It should go without saying that if you're playing a game, it's much harder to focus on how others are playing and behaving. A big part of playtesting is observing the playtesters behavior. You want to see how people are strategizing and behaving, when people are enjoying themselves, when people are on their phones, etc... If you are playing the game, it is much harder to pay attention to those sorts of things because you will be preoccupied with playing and your own strategy.

3 - Increased Table Knowledge of Rules

By playing your game, you help the other players remember the rules. While this may not always be a bad thing, it is when you are playing with new players. When strangers are playing your published game, you won't be there to help them with the rules. You need to make sure your rules are clear and easy to follow when you aren't there.

2. Take Notes

I don't care how good your memory is or if you record your playtests, etc... You MUST take notes. You won't remember everything that happens in a playtest. You won't remember what everyone does, how everyone plays, all the issues you run into, how many rules are forgotten... the list goes on and on. You need to be able to look back at your notes and any pictures or videos you take and remember what happened in that playtest.

The notes you take can be as detailed or as vague as you want, just so long as you can look back at them later on and understand what your notes say. What rules did people forget or have to ask about? What strategies did and didn't work? If your game has lots of asymmetry, what players, strategies, and other aspects were too strong or too weak? Remind your future self what did and din't work.

3. Discuss the Game AFTER

As a designer, talking about issues with the game and troubleshooting solutions is a part of your job, and it can be incredibly tempting to do exactly that while the game is being played. But that is a bad idea for several different reason. First and foremost, discussing the game and/or making changes mid-game has a high risk of just confusing your playtesters and messing up their strategy. Like if you were playing with them, if you tell your playtesters "I want X to work like this..." then they may alter how they play because of what you've said. It's important to keep early playtesting as organic as possible and avoid altering how new players play the game. As you get further into playtesting you can begin to ask people to try certain strategies to see how they impact gameplay, but to start you should want to just see what strategies come up naturally.

However, that's not to say don't discuss your game at all. You need to be sure to allow time for discussion of the game after you are finished playing. If this means ending your game early, so be it. It is important that you do get verbal feedback from you players about their individual experience and thoughts on the game.

4. Make Feedback Forms

A great way to get feedback from your players is by using feedback forms. There are several benefits to using feedback forms to collect information from your playtesters. The first benefit is that it provides you a way to look back on how playtesting sessions went. Like I said before, you won't remember everything from a playtest nor will you remember all of the feedback you get. Having things written down provides you a great way of looking back on feedback when you are working on redesigning and changing your game's design.

A second major benefit to using feedback forms is ensuring you get more honest answers. When you are getting feedback at the end of your playtesting session, it is important that everyone's individual thoughts are heard and expressed. By having players fill out a page of your feedback form by themselves and then discussing each question as a group, you help increase the chances of hearing everyone's opinions.

5. Feed Your Playtesters

Pizza is the food of champions, teenagers and playtesters. You should always, always, always, provide some sort of food, snacks, and/or drinks to your playtesters. Remember, they are taking time out of their busy schedules and volunteering to help you test out your game. My playtesters were learning, eating and discussing my game for upwards of 4 hours. That's a lot of time to volunteer, and you need to make sure your playtesters are thanked and know that their time is appreciated. Food is a great way to do that (especially if you want them to come back and playtest again).

Are you a new reader? Feel free to subscribe here.

Wrap-Up Question:

What do you think is an important aspect of playtesting?

Let me know in the comments below and on Instagram!