Playtesting is a vastly overused term. It can mean many different things, but will ultimately boil down to what you are trying to accomplish. Let’s take a quick look at the different types of playtests and how they fit into the whole picture.
Focus Testing. This type of testing is all about suiting your demographic. In this type of testing, you’ll test using your targeted demographic and see how they like the game. Make sure to be super specific. Sometimes, in this type of setting you will also bring in other designers to make the game an overall better experience. External designers may help you with helping to make the game a better fit for your target player, and having a second opinion from a professional won’t hurt.
Quality Assurance Testing. This is what most people think about when they hear the word testing. Arguable the most boring and monotonous form of testing. The purpose of this type of testing to test for errors and bugs in the game’s design. This consists of playing a particular section of a game over and over again trying to discover glitches or unexpected “features” of a game that weren’t intended.
Usability Testing. These tests are frequently conducted in order to see how players understand and view the game. In this type of setting usually very specific goals or instructions are given to a player to see how they understand and apply those rules to the game. If you’re worried about a specific section of your game that you think may be particularly confusing, usability testing is your best bet. The goal is to make sure that the user experience and interface is as well put together as possible prior to the game’s release.
Balance Testing. A fun game can quickly become a snoozefest if some kind of play exploit exists that lets a player bypass most of the interesting choices in the game. If only one strategy can win and it is just a matter of which player follows that strategy the best, it’s not nearly as interesting as if there are a multitude of paths to victory. Likewise, if one character in the game has a clear advantage over the others, it is important to identify this as soon as possible that so that players do not feel the game is being unfair. For this kind of testing, it’s imperative that you employ seasoned or veteran gamers with a deep knowledge of game mechanics design.
Fun Testing. Fun is pretty subjective in nature, but as a game developer, your entire career hinges on crafting fun experiences for players. On top of that, you want the overwhelming majority of your game to be fun, not just parts of it. Fun testing is a good way to ensure that your game as a whole register as fun in the player’s mind. Make sure to ask both qualitative and quantitative questions when surveying testers when dealing with this particular form of testing.
Important Takeaways: From my experience, one of the most common mistakes that developers make regarding testing is a lack of focus. Each type of testing has different goals in mind, so remember to make the goal of each testing session crystal clear before diving in. Remember these different definitions of testing when the word playtesting is used, and don’t just test for testing’s sake. Make sure that all five points are properly addressed and given enough attention when your game is ready to be tested.