Sunday, 10 August 2014

[Design Talk] Play Testing

Hello World,

As I discussed in my previous post, play testing is an important part of any games development. It is one of the largest factors that determine whether a game is good or not. Although this sounds simple on paper it is a lot harder to pull off successfully than one may think.

The first challenge is the fact of showing and displaying your creation out for others, which can be very tough. It’s hard to put our work out there for other to critique, we have put so much of ourselves into the project that any criticism others have about it feels like criticism about us as a person. But as I stated in the last post you can’t let your ego get in the way, otherwise you are only holding your project back. By letting as many different people critique your work you can understand what works and what doesn’t allowing you to adjust your game for the better.

The second challenge comes from listening. Advice does you no good if you do not heed it. This is a much tougher challenge then one might initially think. I found this missed information to take two forms, defensive refusal and subtle thoughts.

Let’s take a look at the defensive refusal. This occurs when you ignore information stated by your playtester. This can happen for a number of reasons, a couple examples being, thinking the player is talking about an issue you already know about, thinking your player is just being a jerk/troll, or thinking your player just doesn’t understand what the game is about. This is bad, and is a habit that you should be trying to break as soon as possible. No playtest information is inherently bad or useless. As a designer you have to take in as much as you can, even if  you don’t think the players point is valid or useful,  write it down anyway and thank the player for the information. Who knows maybe later down the line you may look at that point and finally see what they were talking about.

This leads to the second form of missed information, the subtle thoughts. These are little tidbits of information that are easily missed by the designer during a playtest. Because of their indirect nature it is easy for them to fly under the radar during a play test. Examples of this are, when do your players ask you/the DM questions, looking at the word choice your players use for questions and looking at how the mechanics influence the choices players make in game. I am going to be the first to say that these are hard to catch, especially when you are trying to manage a campaign while you playtest. A good way to miss as little as possible is to keep your playtest campaigns simple, a one or two shot at most. The more characters and story arcs you try to fit in the less you are focused on the mechanics themselves. It is also very import to dig deep down into where the players suggestions/questions come from. For example if a player says “There should be more spells” It could just be that they feel their magic isn’t powerful or versatile enough and that’s a whole different problem all together.

Neil Gaiman (Author of Coraline) once said…

When people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

In closing, all information stated by your players during a test is useful and you need to make sure that you try to soak up as much as possible. Try not to let the plot distract from the mechanics, keep it as simple and cliché as possible. It is also important to test as often as possible. The more you playtest the more you can see whether the changes you made in the last pass made the game better. Because in the end we are just trying to direct are game to be the best that it can be.


Thanks for reading
-Patrick