How To Get The Most Out Of Playtesting

February 20, 2015

Testing your game may sound as easy as handing someone an early build and asking them to tell you if they hate something or encounter any bugs. Although there is some truth to this, the fact that playtesting is very crucial to a game’s success should inspire you to make sure that you get the most out of the process that you can. The last thing you want is for all that time spent playtesting to be a waste.

The following tips will help make this process more fruitful. Hopefully they help you discover which mechanics aren’t fun, if there’s a game-breaking glitch toward the end of the game, or if the controls aren’t as great as you thought– all problems you should dread discovering after the game is made available to the public.

Always Test The Test Build First

If there’s one way to waste the time of both yourself and a playtester, it’s handing them a build that breaks within a few minutes after they start. To avoid this from happening, have you and a few (if not all) members of your team play through the build themselves to catch any serious bugs before your playtesters arrive.

There is always a chance that they will run into something big pretty early on anyways. After all, that is the whole reason they are there in the first place. However, you should strive to make sure they can play at least an hour or more so you can collect plenty of data and make it all worthwhile. Having the entire team test the game ahead of time also allows everyone to get caught up and know where the game stands at that point.

Make It A Comfortable Experience

Providing a build that breaks within a few minutes is not the only way to screw up a platyesting session. Another way is to fail to create a comfortable environment for the tester. This may sound silly, but why take the chance of affecting your playtester’s comfort and focus while playing your game simply because you didn’t prepare?

Make them feel like an important part of the team (which they are during that session) by being there to greet them and/or have them sign in as soon as they arrive. It also doesn’t hurt to provide some refreshments before, during, or after the playtest, especially if they’re going to be there for a long stretch of time. Lastly, make sure everything works ahead of time by checking if the computer or console turns on, the controller has batteries, the internet is working, the latest plugin needed to run your game is installed, and so on.

Don’t Just Have Anyone Playtest

You should already have a target audience in mind by the time you reach the stage where playtesting is needed. The target audience are the people that your game is most likely to appeal to. It may be because of their age, gender, preferred gaming platform, favorite game genre, or other characteristics. So instead of bringing aboard a good friend, or someone that begged you to let them be a tester, we recommend you find playtesters that fit the description of someone who would be interested in your game.

In fact, you should avoid recruiting friends or loved ones for playtesting entirely. They may be less likely to provide honest feedback since they know you personally and want to like the game, flaws and all, more than they actually would. Also, try to introduce fresh playtesters once in a while to get new feedback, even if you’re still bringing back people that have been testing your game for a long time.

Avoid Pressuring The Playtesters

The thought of playtesting a game while the creators watch your every move is enough to make many gamers a bit nervous, especially if they find themselves dying a lot or are unable to get passed a certain challenge. Thus it’s important that you show patience if they aren’t very good at the game, and even encourage them to discuss why they think they’re having trouble. If they’re relaxed, they’re more likely to be honest and tell you they feel a puzzle or boss is too hard or that they simply don’t have the skill to complete it.

But if they’re nervous, they might be more likely to criticize your game unfairly to justify their inability to do well. Make it clear that you’re simply there as an observer and are expecting some people to have more trouble than others with certain challenges. That is how you will find out which ones need to be tweaked. In other words, let them know you’re there to test the game, not their gaming skills.

Ask Questions And Analyze Results Together

You should definitely come up with a list of questions to ask playtesters after they are done checking out the game. This helps you answer any design choices you may be debating in your head and make sharing the collected data with your team easier. Also, avoid asking vague questions like “Did you like the controls?” Instead, shoot for knowledge-based questions like “what did the blue button do?” or “what were the candy cane collectibles for?”.

After playtesting and asking questions, you should take all the important data and share it with other teammates that weren’t involved in the session. This will make identifying big problems even easier and give the team an idea of what they should do to remedy them. More importantly, it may help you spot a design flaw that you didn’t notice because you were too busy coming up with a solution in your head to an earlier problem.

[su_note]Learn about the entire process of creating a video game at the New York Film Academy Game Design School (campuses in New York and Los Angeles). [/su_note]

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