By trade I am a user experience designer. I design and test website features to improve usability. Play testing games is a natural extension of the principles I use every day at work. I recently set up a play testing session with my friend Austen, and I thought it would be worth while to explain a couple tricks that help me get the most out of my time.
Play test with specific objectives in mind
Sure it’s easy to set up a game and jump right in, but I find that if I don’t have very specific objectives, I get shallow feedback and my observations are scattered. Objectives should be narrowly focused on one or two aspects of the game you are designing. The more elements you introduce at, the harder it is to understand how one change impacts a game verses another.
Some objectives I’ve focused on in previous play tests for my miniature game were moving around obstacles, weapon balance, dice mechanics, and determining initiative. My game with Austen focused on a new change I introduced around defending against attacks. In the past I had one simple stat to determine how effective a defense could be, but this time around, I wanted to see if adding a mechanic that allows players to add more defense by sacrificing some of their future effectiveness.
Choose a specific audience to play test
Determining the right people to test a game should be taken very seriously. You may have a clear objective that you are testing for, but there are some players that won’t help you get the feedback you need. For example, if you want to understand the depth of strategy your game has, play testing with someone that is new to strategy games won’t be a lot of help. On the other hand, a person that is new to strategy games might be very helpful to get feedback about rulebook comprehension.
Austen was my first test subject when I first started putting Scrap World together. He in fact was the first person I play tested after creating the first rudimentary prototype. This run through was his second time playing the game. I had tested the game with others, and in the process I introduce a few crucial rule updates that I wanted to try on him particularly the rules surrounding making defense rolls.
Austen has a very strategic way of thinking which I love. He is always able to find loopholes in the system. Having someone that thinks so differently from me makes testing new potentially complex mechanics incredibly helpful.
Spend time testing not setting up
This is not only courteous, but having a game ready to play will help you cut right to the chase. I’m surprised by some game on the market that take 15 to 20 minutes just to set up. I’m not saying they are bad games, but play testing them must have been a nightmare. If having the game set up is unavoidable, at least make the set up interactive and use that time to explain rules.
Scrap World has a lot of components (maybe more then it should). For my test with Austen, I was invited over to his home to play. I got the unintended added insight into the portability of my game because I had to transport it over to his home. I might not have been set up when I got to his house, but I did think very hard about what was required to play and I didn’t forget anything.
End the session by asking questions
One of the best parts of playing games is the post game commentary. For most players discussing a game come naturally. I find that after a play test, if I’m not carful I find myself passing up important opportunities collect information because I’m not prepared with the right questions. If I take a second before the game to prepare one or two questions, I get much better feedback than if I didn’t
Those are my tips. Let me know in the comments what works for you. I’d love to hear how you get the most out of a play testing session.