Playtesting Game Design Vishnu Kotrajaras, PhD What is playtesting? Something a designer performs throughout the game design process, to gain insight into how players experience the game. The end goal: – To get feedback to improve your game. Playtesting and iterative design Test in every stage. The beginning stages are very important. – Otherwise, you won’t have enough time to make changes. Recruiting playtesters Self-testing – In prototype stage. – In order to get the core game mechanics. – Continue to do self-testing throughout the life of the project. Confidants – When the prototype is playable. – Find friends outside the design team to test. – You need to be there only to explain the game, do not intervene with their play. Make yourself invisible. • Because personal relationship can ruin their judgement. YOU Ideal playtester Recruiting playtesters (2) People you do not know – Outsiders have nothing to lose or gain, so they will tell the truth. Ideal playtesters – From any place in your local area. • Schools, sport clubs. • post your ads online or in newspaper. – If you get enough people, turn down the ones with poor communication skill. • asking questions during interview will help you on this. Recruiting playtesters (3) Target audience – They provide much better feedback because they know your game type very well. – Posting on gaming websites. – Have testers sign a nondisclosure agreement to prevent them stealing your idea. • Do not be afraid of someone stealing your idea. They cannot make it work as good as you. • The risk is relatively low (in western countries). Do not forget to prepare Snacks and drinks – Testers will feel they owe you something and will do better to provide you with their feedback. – Make them more likely to return to test again. (so they can provide the information about how they think the game is progressing) – But you must also keep fresh recruits throughout the process. A playtesting session Do not explain much. Let the testers play it out. Allow them to make mistakes. Provide answers when they get stuck. Ignore your ego and pride. Do not persuade testers to give good comments. (they will usually obey you because they are at your place). Otherwise you won’t get an honest feedback. A playtesting session (2) Forgive them if they are too harsh. Communication skills are different for everyone. – But tell everyone that there is no right or wrong. (It is like brainstorming.) – No testers should ever criticise another tester. – And remind them to always stick to the game. A playtesting session (3) Do not silence the testers unless absolutely necessary (such as he has very bad manners). – Isolate him out, perhaps having him test alone. – But do it as soft and polite as possible. Tips for a playtesting session Act as a researcher – Welcome the playtesters and thank them for participating. – Tell them that you are testing the game, not their skills. Any difficulties in playing the game will help you improve the design. – Let them start playing. You take note. • Include specific information when writing up your playtest. Record the date and time, who played and for how long. • Ask them to talk out loud throughout the game about what they are thinking, questions they may have. • Warn them that you won’t be able to answer, you just want to know the questions. – Do not help them in playing. – When they finish playing, interview them or discuss with them to get additional feedback. – Thank them and give out gifts. Structuring the session One-on-one – You watch over their shoulders as they play the game. – You take notes and ask questions along the way. Group testing – Let them play together, you observe and ask questions. Feedback form. Interview after the session. Open discussion – You take notes during the discussion. – Free-form, or guided discussion. It is up to you. Mix the above. The Play Matrix (help testers) Helps stimulating discussion and analysing gameplay skill chance chess poker blackjack Mental civilization calculation warcraft Tetris unreal Physical dexterity football tag Using the matrix Ask your testers to plot your game on the matrix. Ask players where they want to move the game to. Ask them what needs to be changed to move the game towards their preferred quadrant. This is a also a good chance to learn the type of players. – Strategic – Acton – Gambler – kids Taking notes Keep notes – Otherwise, you will only remember what you want to hear. The notes must be filed chronologically, or entered into a database. Taking notes (2) There is a form – See additional notes. – Create your own questions as you get more experience. – Questions can be geared towards particular areas. – Rank your questions in order of importance. – Do not ask too many questions. One-on-one interview is best for evaluating things. – But if you can’t, then organize group interview. – Try to keep aggressive members from dominating. – They do not have to agree on anything. Just let them speak their opinion. Example: let a tester choose music Let the tester rank the music you chose for the game. Tell them to put boundaries on what is good, what is ok, and what is unacceptable. – The ranking has to be detailed. – Not just choices for the tester to choose which is better. Remember Do not lead testers. – If they ask question, respond by asking them what they think they should do. Ask testers to think out loud. – So you know why they get stuck, etc. Use feedback forms. What about quantitative feedback? Time it takes to read the rules. Time it takes to perform certain functions. Speed that a player gains a level. Asks testers to rank ease of use of certain features, from 1 to 10. Must have clear objectives that you want to find out before any measurement. – So that you can design the stats to be measured accordingly. Never use quantitative feedback alone. Controlled situations You set parameters or events in the game so that you can test – The end of a game. – Rare events. – Special situation. – A particular level of a game. – Feature(s). – Loopholes. – Dead-ends. Testing is not about being fair to testers or making sure they enjoy the game. It is about seeing what happens in every possible situation. This is the real reason behind many cheat codes in games. Yes, they are tools for testing in controlled situations. Example: Monopoly To test the going to jail feature and see how it affects players who owns very little property versus players who own a vast amount of property. – Start the game when the player is in jail. – Play for 30 minutes, see what happens. – Then repeat the experiment with a change in the player’s financial position. Well known cheats contra Example of the usefulness of testing Age of Empires 2 – They want non-gamers to be able to pick up and play. – But part 1 was difficult to learn, even for an expert gamer. – Grandmother and middle age people testing, they do things right too after completing the newly developed tutorial.
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