I completed the first three sessions of formal play testing this week. I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach this, as there are very few people who really go into detail as to how they complete this part of their game design process.
I have a background in marketing so I thought the skills I used and learnt professionally are probably a good place to start. I ran the play test sessions a little like focus groups. I presented participants with a letter that explained exactly what they were taking part in, and contained details about what elements of the game are production quality. I then sat back and carefully watched players set up the game and work out the rules for themselves. Making careful note of things that were confusing and things that were incorrect. At the end of play I gently interviewed them and started a conversation about the game.
Watching other people play a game you have designed is a strange experience. To see how other people interpret the rules you have so carefully crafted and then proceed to find as many ways as possible to break them is both terrifying and hilarious. One play tester quickly spotted a way of totally locking up the game with their first move in totally bizarre incidence of mutually assured destruction. I was aware that statistically this was possible but extremely unlikely. It’s instances like these that improve your game and show how important play testing is.
So if you have aspirations of designing a game this is what I would suggest preparing for your play test sessions.
- Written introduction – This helps control the information available and the experience of different play test groups.
- A way of recording observations – I used a note book and pen to record observations, it’s low tech and not intimidating.
- Questions – Make sure you can start a conversation about your game that starts in an area that you know will be useful to you. Play testers will go off at useful tangents but make sure you get what you need as well.
- Food – It never hurts to feed and water your play testers, remember that they are giving up their time to help you.
- Follow up survey – This gives empirical data that you can use to identify trends.