Playtesting your game is absolutely fundamental to its development. Even for a relatively simple game, I don’t think there is actually an upper limit on the amount of testing that should be done. Every single test brings new insights and ideas with it, whether with close friends or total strangers. The more playtesters you can recruit, the better chance of you have of nailing the design and gameplay.
That’s all well and good- but how to practically DO this testing? How to practically actually arrange the playtesting groups if you don’t have a large budget with which you can simply pay for large groups of objective playtesters to try out your new game? =This is exactly the question I faced, pretty much at the start of my game design journey.
You have a few options available to you – these are some methods I’ve tried, surely there are more! I’ve listed them in order with the easiest (and cheapest!) first.
Initial feedback from friends and family
The big advantage of play testing with those closest to you is that it should be relatively easy to organise.
The obvious disadvantage is that it is not a particularly objective test! Your friends probably aren’t going to tell you their honest opinion if they think your game totally sucks ass.
However, it is still useful as it shouldn’t cost you anything and is likely bring any glaring gameplay issues to your attention.
For this reason, I would consider testing with friends and family a good idea, but probably only for early prototypes. The earlier in development, the more likely you will get honest feedback – and it’s a pretty quick way to find out whether you have made a major issue as if your game is actually broken, it should be pretty obvious to you regardless of how nice your friends try to be about it!
Obviously if they know you’ve been working on this for 2 years straight and it’s your baby, they might hold back on their negative feedback – as well as the fact that they may have been influenced by your own enthusiasm in the project for so long that it also affects their objectivity.
It is the negative feedback that will probably be the most important feedback you’ll need to develop your game - so you are definitely going to have to go further afield than those closest to you!
Game designer meetups
If you are in the UK, I found some local playtest through meetup.com. Check out Playtest UK! These may be held in a local pub, or boardgame café (if you are lucky enough to have one of those near you!)
Obviously the first time you do this, you will probably be meeting and playing your game with strangers, which is ideal.
At game designer meetups you can meet other designers, many of which may be incredibly helpful, have tons of game design and industry experience. I recently met someone just about to launch a kickstarter project for his NFSW card game (Cucumber Sandwhich) – an enlightening experience for sure!
Game designer meetups are pretty critical even aside from elementof playtesting your own games. The exposure to other designers and the opportunity to playtest other designers games is all useful in forming your own useful experience.
You can probably expect to get pretty constructive critical feedback – exactly what you need! Also, your fellow game designers are creatives, and I found myself bombarded with all kinds of wild and interesting ideas, alternative game play modes, and redesign suggestions.
Downside however, if you go to a regular playtest session you will soon be seeing the same faces again and again (though you’ll see new faces too). But there is a limit to how many times you can keep cracking out the same prototype and expect the same level of enthusiasm.
I think one of the biggest issues with game design meetups is that they are somewhat skewed in various ways. The people there are probably already pretty heavily into boardgames and card games. This means they will already be very used to playing games and quickly picking up rules and “getting the gist” (even if they are badly explained or written). So they may pick up the rules easier than your average player.
In particular, they a may not necessarily be representative of the target market for your game! So watch out for that.
As my game is a party game, my target market doesn’t necessarily play many boardgames at all! So I soon realised I was going to have to stray further afield than playtest meetups!
Mobile playtesting (plus incentive)
This turned out to be by far the most useful of all the testing I did.
I started off with a reddit advert on my local city reddit r/Bristol.
I put up reddit posts saying that I was seeking groups of playtesters for a new party game. I worded the advert mainly trying to target students and young professionals (who I thought were the main target market for my game).
Always keep in mind your target market, and aim to arrange your testing groups accordingly.
By arranging testing with groups of strangers people who already know each other and testing in their own home, it seemed like a fairy effective way of replicating a “natural” game session.
However, unless you have a really good game proposition or are already well known in whichever forum you are promoting your playtest sessions, It’s probably going to be important to offer some kind of incentive. This should also help to ensure you get the full attention of the group.
I chose to offer bottles of wine for each player, and snacks. I also offered the cash value for the wine, in case they didn’t drink. I also offered a prize for the winner of the round (e.g. a chocoloate rabbit).
A token prize for the winner also helps to stimulate some competition a little.
Game testing flightcase ready for action
It was important to ask specifically for groups of players – e.g. say these incentives are only available for a minimum of four players.
It is up to the “group leader” (i.e.. whoever responds to the advert) to find and get together 3 or more of their friends in order that the whole group can test your game and get the incentive. I did experiement with having an additional special incentive for the group leader, but in the end didn’t seem to be necessary.
If you phrase your advert well, you will hopefully get responses from people who are simply curious about game testing and the fact that you go round to their house does really help to sell it– it’s some free entertainment when they would probably just be sitting around with their housemates watching TV.
The first time I did this, it was around Christmas time. I offered mulled wine as well as snacks and a small cash incentive. The advert did generate a lot of responses and interest. I was kept extremely busy for a couple of weeks and I got a huge amount of important insights and fundamental tweaks to the game.
Aas well as being effective, it was also an extremely fun way to do some critical game testing.
Using other venues – e.g. your own house
As with the mobile playtesting, you could also place an ad (e.g. reddit or gumtree,) with an incentive offer to host playtesting sessions in your own house. An advantage of testing in your own house is that you don’t have to go anywhere…but then you also might need to worry about making sure your house is looking fairly neat and tidy.
You can also get your “group leader to arrange the meeting at a venue convenient for you and your playtest group, e.g. a café or pub.
Personally, I found testing in public spaces was not really ideal with my game, as it involves miming. People feel bit more self-conscious about that in public spaces but you may find it works for you.
Games Fairs, Expo’s, etc.
The UK Games Expo has held a large playtest area for the past few years (run by Playtest UK) – you can simply bring along your game and sit down with other expo visitiors to get that critical feedback on your design.
This is a bit of an unconventional approach but I had done hardly any testing with under 18’s before we launched our game at the UK Games Expo this summer – despite having an age rating of 10+ on the game (which was more of an educated guess than anything else) - Luckily, the expo had many families visiting and we were kept busy with under 18’s for nearly the whole time – we must have tested the game out with hundreds of kids by the end of the weekend - a bit of trial by fire as far for the game in the end!
We did tweak the game as a result of this including reducing the age to 8+ as we were pleasantly surprised to find kids actually loved the game.
Does anyone else have any practical tips for organising playtesting sessions?