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Playtesting our Mettle

First and foremost, we’d like to announce that we’ve finally named our thesis game! After a short but intense bout of discussion and flailing, we chose Foresight 404! There were a few close contenders, but we felt that Foresight 404 was the best title for our project. So there you have it!


Making games is fun and all, but sometimes it seems like it’s missing something. We happily tinker with our game and try new things while building levels that serve as giant playgrounds, but sometimes it feels like we’re just talking to ourselves. That may be because we do mutter to ourselves on occasion, but it’s also because we’re usually in our own corner without anyone else around. This may sound like an introvert’s dream, but the simple truth is that our game would never go anywhere if we left things in that state. What we need is feedback, from the outside, and lots of it. We need total strangers to tell us why we’re awesome or to shout at us about how much we suck. Involving the public is a really good idea, I promise. There are so many ways to get others involved with your game: message boards, social media, press reviews, lets plays, and so forth. But what about playtesting?

Inviting someone new to play your game is invaluable. If it goes well, it provides a morale boost for the team and it generates interest in the game.  At the very worst, the team gets significant input about how things need to be worked on to make the experience more enjoyable. There’s a lot that goes into a playtest, though, so I wanted to write briefly about the lessons we’ve learned thus far.

First of all, there’s no playtest that’s too small. Seriously. Your mom, your spouse, your squash club, the lady on the bus with her small dog….have all of them play your game. I’m sure you have an audience in mind, but sometimes having a completely unbiased pair of eyes on your game will provide insight and questions you might never have been asked if you only sought out fanpeople of your game’s genre to play. If your mechanics can’t be understood by someone with a basic grasp of video games, then you might reconsider your mechanic. This is not to say you can’t have complicated things! It just helps you find out where you’re hitting and missing with the game. But remember, playtesting isn’t just about feedback! If you get interest because one of your playtesters went and told all their friends about this crazy prototype they played, well, how does that hurt? Ask people to play your game all the time, no matter what stage you’re in. Grouping it around milestones is okay, but ideally you want enough time to incorporate critical feedback before anything major happens. And don’t front-load your playtesting before alpha! Just because you’re feature complete doesn’t mean you can’t adjust things later. Mechanics are not the only thing you can test, either. Remember our post last week about the colorblind playtesting we did? We wanted to make sure our color palette was visible to that population.

After all that…well, how do you playtest? You can just sit someone down and have them play, but that’s not really how you learn anything. One of the most common things used is a feedback form, filled out after the player has finished. There’s a lot of different opinions as to what should go on this form, or if one should be used at all…so we’ll just go over our playtest form evolution.

Here’s what we had on our first playtest form ever:

What did you like the most?

What did you like the least?

Is it clear how to navigate the level?                         Yes                No

Why or why not?

Comments:

 

That’s really it.  We printed it out on single sheets of paper with enough room for players to write their thoughts. Seems simple enough, but it ultimately didn’t give us that much information. People don’t have time or interest in writing novels about what they did and did not like about things, and what does it even mean “is it clear how to navigate the level”? Yeesh. Open ended questions are useful in limited context, but if you leave everything open for them, you’re asking for them to commit more time and effort to playing a game than they might have bargained for. Sometimes people write negative things just because they hate the stupid form. Sometimes they want to write novels about the experience, but do you really have time to read novels during game dev? Yeah, we don’t either.

After that form, we learned a bit about how to solicit feedback, and we tried again.

P1.1 P1

 

This time we went for a digital form with some multiple choice options and a few free response questions. It was still problematic, but it was a step in the right direction. The problems with this form are many, but some of the bigger ones are the generic nature of our questions: when you playtest, you’re not really trying to get an overall opinion of the experience. You go into the playtest with specific questions about specific features or experiences you’re trying to refine. We should have had images of the individual tiles and asked if the player knew what they were, and if you want a player to provide a text answer make sure they have room to write their response and read over it. Unless it’s a one word answer, you should make sure it’s a text box.

For our last pre-alpha playtest, we’ll be doing a big event in person. This time, several team members will observe the players and take notes, and afterwards we’ll have a face to face informal interview to ask the players what they thought about very specific concerns we have about our current version. This way, we get all the information we need and they don’t have to fill out anything. It requires a little extra work on our part because we’ll have to transcribe our notes to a computer for easy access later, but it will hopefully lead to some delightful insight.

So there you have it. We’ll definitely be doing more playtesting both in person and online. We participate in feedback Fridays whenever possible and have plans for at least two more live playtests before the end of the IGF submission period, so if you’d like to jump around some crazy levels – well, we’d love to hear what you think!

 

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