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One of the most important elements in the lifecycle of game development is playtesting. When you see someone from outside the studio actually sit down and play your game, you're able to better understand whether your game is accessible, usable, and if its mechanics are actually appealing. These are not questions that you want to answer after your game is released to the public. Therefore, data collected from playtesting can be an invaluable tool for mitigating risk and giving your game its best chance at success.
However, there are many ways that playtesting can go wrong, so it's important to establish a process that you're confident in, and to improve it over time. At Arkadium, our playtesting process is a collaboration between game design and marketing, and typically involves inviting players to our office. We believe that the best practices we've identified over time may be helpful to your team as well, so we've boiled them down to these five tips for better playtesting.
When designing your playtest, you should be keenly familiar with the type of player your game is for. While your game may appeal to a larger audience, it's a mistake to "design for all." We find it helpful to identify personas for our target audience -- for example, "Jane, 25-34 years old, owns an iPhone" -- and try to recruit players who closely match that description.
Some questions we always consider when recruiting are:
The last point is often the most important. If you're developing a sequel to a popular first-person shooter (FPS), you might assume that most of your players have played the first game, or perhaps a similar FPS. In this case, it would make sense to recruit playtesters who are already familiar with the basics of FPS games, and solicit feedback on the elements that are unique to your game. If you're developing for a casual audience, however, you may actually want the opposite. We often find that it's imperative to test our game with players who have never played a game's predecessors, especially when testing the game's tutorial or a game that's meant for more casual players.
Every time we have a playtest, we always strive to have some new playtesters who have never tried out our game before. This guarantees we have a fresh set of eyes providing feedback every time, even if we also invite returning players to playtest something new.
We also have a policy against recruiting friends of our employees for playtesting. While their feedback can be very valuable in a pinch, we find that when they know someone personally who has worked on the game, people have a tendency to want to love it more than they would otherwise, which can drastically skew the data.
Of course, it can be difficult to find and recruit playtesters who closely match your target persona. There are likely online communities -- some related to your game, for instance -- that are full of players who would love a chance to visit your office and provide you with feedback. However, while your biggest fans will be eager to help, they tend to be more informed and more engaged with your games than the average player.
If you only collect feedback from your biggest fans, you're much less likely to hear about the problems that new players face on Level 1, and much more likely to hear about how great Level 10 is. We supplement our pool of playtesters by recruiting on sites like Craigslist, FindFocusGroups.com, and Meetup.com.