GameDev Protips: How To Get More Out Of Having People Playtest Your Game

Every game needs to be playtested extensively by as many different people as possible before release, both in order to gauge player reaction and to make sure that everything is in working order. There are two main ways to playtest. Using non-designers from the general public and using designers from your own team. Testing with the general public will differ greatly from testing using your own design team. The feedback from the public and their view on what makes a game good will be different from yours and your team’s. It is exactly because of that reason that they are often the most useful testers — they are a fresh set of eyes different from your own that will point out flaws your developer bias may overlook.

Playtesting with non-designers may be more meaningful than in-house testing. This is because you are working with non-designers who are in your target audience. If you go to fellow designers from other studios, they may be holding back valuable tips because they don’t want you to succeed and create competition for their own studio. Someone from the general public has nothing to lose by giving you valuable feedback, and in fact, it is often in their best interest. However, playtesting with non-designers requires much more patience and effort. These people are most likely not experts on games, and might not know what to look for. Sure, they may like to play games every once in awhile but they likely do not know them inside and out like you and your colleagues. In this type of environment, you have to be thorough and observant. Your objectives for testing need to be clear and you need to lay out what type of feedback you are looking for.

Your role as a designer in a playtesting situation is not to get an answer as to whether your game is fun or not, but rather to watch how your players play the game. Is any part of the game particularly challenging to them? Are they able to advance through levels too quickly? Are the rules clear and easily understood? Are any parts of the game particularly frustrating for them? Your job as a designer is to note where these situations occur. You can also measure non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and posture. Those who are excited will probably lean in really close to the game itself whereas those who are less enthusiastic may be leaning back, their gestures minimal at best, and potentially appear sleepy or bored. Also, there will most likely be fluctuations in body language. A playtester may lean back at first and progressively start to lean forward as the game starts to pick up the pace.

Looking at things such as non-verbal cues compared to the playtester’s actual feedback can help highlight the pitfalls in your game. Sometimes a playtester may not know how to communicate something verbally, but their body language will show it. Having a video of the session will be useful in the future as you might want to go back and see how people responded to your game at some point and balance certain parts of your game in response.

Important Takeaways: Playtesting is an important part of game development. Keeping testing in-house is easier to manage, but your team might be jaded or biased from having worked on the game for so long. They might know more about game development, but since they made the game, their reactions are predictable. If you bring in playtesters from the general public, you will have to explain what you want to see from them with regards to feedback and carefully document their behavior yourself. Also, many designers overlook the physical reactions testers have to a game, and these are definitely worth noting to find potential problems that they aren’t communicating verbally, be it intentionally or not. If people enjoy a game, they will often sit closer to the screen, or spend long periods of time without moving. Players who don’t enjoy a game will fidget and appear to be tired or bored. Creating a video of each session will allow you to utilize this information in the future in addition to their verbal feedback.