GameDev Thoughts: The Importance Of Getting Better Feedback To Improve Your Indie Game

Simply put, getting feedback on your game will be one of the hardest things to do as a designer. But it is crucial to making a game people will want to play. As a designer, you will inevitably feel emotionally attached to your game and it is natural to feel reticent about showing other people your game, especially when all of the kinks have not been worked out yet. Additionally, you may feel that you enjoying your game is enough to deem it a good game. But that is not true — you are too close to your game to know if it is something that others will find enjoyable and entertaining and know where your game falls short. Pitfalls are like blind spots, and it is impossible to see them without first getting some insight from people who are not as biased as you.

The good part of playtesting your game is that you will be able to identify any kinks right away. If you playtest early. You will also get information on whether your storyline makes senses, if your game is something that is truly engaging, and if your game is too easy or challenging. You can find this out by either recording where your player looks at when they play a game. Try looking at their facial expressions and gestures as they play a game. Did they seem flustered or utterly uninterested? What words did they use to describe and in what order? Knowing what order they used to describe your game can be used to determine their initial impressions which are crucial in delineating when and where they had an issue and they perceive as the standout aspects of your game.

Another good thing about playtesting is that it is a process of discovery. Playtesters can sometimes see issues or potential avenues that you cannot see. Your game could potentially be too similar to another game or too unrelatable. If your game is too similar to another game you will also be compared to said game and players may quit your game altogether if they view said game as having cooler features or a better execution. Moreover, if your game is too unrelatable to anything they have ever seen they may be unfamiliar with how to even play the game. Having to learn all of your game’s mechanics through a grueling onboarding process may feel too overwhelming. After all, most people play games to relax, not to be tested or intellectually stimulated. Think of playtesting as another step in the iteration process, without it how can you adequately bug-proof your game while providing an adequately unique experience?

The more you test, the more data you have for each iteration of your game. More data equals more opportunities for improvement. You can also save data points at a later point or for a later game. As a designer, you can never have enough data to improve your game. Each piece of data is informative as it gives you an entryway into the mind of the people who will actually be playing and buying your game. The best thing you can do in the playtesting phase is to be as receptive and open to feedback without actually talking to the people who will be playing it. This is because you may slip up and say something that will give them a clue as to how they should perceive your game using the actual words you used. This is the bad part of playtesting because it is so easy to make someone biased towards your game just by phrasing a question a certain way. Being hands off and as generic as possible is the best way to go about it.

Do not make your playtesters do too much work. Test out the core basics without making them feel overwhelmed. After all, they are doing you a favor. Give them a rating scale to identify their level of satisfaction with certain things and if they want to add short comments allow them the ability to do that. It can be easy to feel entitled to a long, drawn out reason as to why a user feels this way or another, but do not force them to give you a thirty-minute spiel on any particular subject. And ALWAYS remember to reward your playtesters for their time. This can be in the form of monetary compensation, a meal, or a discount on some of your other games. The more you can give the better and the more likely you are to have reliable and detailed feedback.

The truth about playtesting is that you will never get enough information from one sit down with playtesters. As your game naturally evolves, so will the playtester’s minds. Think of both things as malleable pieces that both shape and mold each other. The key here is to playtest both early and often. Do not assume that you know what the problem is with any one piece of information as problems can be misconstrued. Let people who are preferably strangers and in your core audience playtest your game. Be comfortable with playtesting as many times as possible because this is the most reliable to ensure that your game will be successful.

Important Takeaways: When playtesting your game be prepared for the good and bad. While some may love your game and its early stages and not see that much wrong, others will wonder why you are even making a game in the first place because they cannot see your vision. As long as you playtest in early production and as often as possible you will be farther along then your peers who pushed playtesting towards the very end of the game, which will show when the game launches.

Choose people who are unbiased so that they can give you an open and honest critique. Try not to influence their ideas and/or perception in any way (which is easier said than done) so that all your hard work is not undone. Sometimes the most debilitating thing to experience as a designer is to stay focused when someone does not see your vision. While it's still important to stay true to who you are as a game designer, always take good feedback to heart.