How to Playtest Your Game

In this post, Tristan talks about our playtesting method.

The game has finally reached a point where we're ready to show it to the world! Well not yet exactly, but we did show it to a few friends. As any self respecting game designer would know, play-testing a game is one of the more important parts of the game design process. In fact, if there are any doubts about a game mechanic, play-testing it is the way to go. In this article, I talk about how we conducted preliminary play tests for the game, and some of the interesting things we learned during the play-tests.

The Play-testers

First let me talk about the play-testers. Our very first play-testers are a few friends from the game industry who we lured with our charms, err, the promise of free food, and those unlucky enough to sit by our table during the recent Manila Game Jam held at the Ateneo De Manila University(ADMU). Seriously guys we really appreciate you taking the time to sit through the game and answer our questions. Speaking of questions, what play-test would be complete without a play-test questionnaire?

The Play-test Questionnaire

For our first play tests we decided to go for a more general questionnaire, since our primary goal in doing these play-tests is to gauge where the game is in terms of fun, and to see if any problems will arise. As we iterate on the game based on preliminary feedback,  we'll also iterate on the questions, refining them until we're ready to test the game with more people.

Our questionnaire consists of two parts: Pre-game, and Post-game:

Pre Game Questions

The first part of the questionnaire deals mainly with knowing who the play tester is. This is important because answers to the questions will mostly be opinions of the player towards the game. Knowing the play tester will help us later on when deciding how much weight to put on his suggestions/feedback later on. Here are some of our Pre-game questions:

1) Do you consider yourself as a strategy gamer?

2) Please list down at least three strategy games that you have played.

3) Rate your skill as a strategy gamer.(1 lowest,5 highest)

4) Rate your interest in a game about politics. (1 lowest, 5 highest)

5) Rate how clean a campaign you will run.(1 dirty, 5 clean)

Questions 1,2, and 3 allows us to know what the play testers game preferences are which may shed some light on some of his/her Post Game answers later on.  Question 5 is of interest because it tells us how the player plans to play the game ( good or evil) at the start, and later on we compare it to his actual play style.

Tester Plays the Game

After answering the Pre Game questions, the play tester is given a short introduction to the game, the goals of the player, and basic mechanics by yours truly. Afterwards, the player is let loose in the districts of Summer Island to test his political mettle against the opposing candidate. During the course of the game, the play-tester is allowed to comment and ask questions about the game, while we take notes.

Post Game Questions

When winner of the Summer Island elections have been revealed, it's now time for the play-tester to answer the Post Game questions. The Post Game questions deal mainly about the play-testers feelings towards the game. Some of the questions:

1)  How fun was the game? (1 lowest, 5 highest)

2) Which part of the game did you enjoy the most?

3) Which part of the game did you find the most difficult?

4) How difficult is the game? ( 1 lowest, 5 highest)

5) How corrupt were you in the game? ( 1 lowest, 5 highest)

Remember during the Pre Game questions we asked how clean a campaign the player could run? In the Post game questions we ask how corrupt the player's candidate was during the campaign. It was quite surprising and fun( insert evil laugh here) to see that most players ended up being more corrupt than they thought they would be.  But the best feedback was one tester that insisted they would be super corrupt but ended up only being moderately corrupt (wouldn't it be wonderful if more of ouir politicians were like that?)

Play-test Results

First a disclaimer before we present our results. Since we just play-tested with a very small pool of players, results from the play-test are not accurate at all, and should be used merely to present a different perspective on the game. Also, a majority of the play-testers are game industry professionals who have insight into the game development process which may or may not have coloured their reaction towards the game.

The play-testers had an average of 2.78 (skill as a strategy gamer), 3.33 (interest in politics), 2.89 (running a clean campaign), 3.22( corruption), 3.5( had fun), 3.44( game difficulty), 4.17( accurate to political theme).

Aside from the values above, we also received qualitative feedback from the play tests.

Things Players Did Not Enjoy

Too Many Stats to Track

These were game feedback which had keywords like info, and stats  attached to words like Too much or Too many. These feedback seems to deal with the playing having a hard time processing game information hindering them from making decisions during the game.

AI Turn is too Fast

These were game feedback which mentioned keywords like AI, Fast and Quick. These feedback seems to deal with the player having a hard time knowing what the opponent is doing.

Things the Player Enjoyed

Being Corrupt

These were game feedback which mentioned the keywords dirty, bribery, and scandals. The feedback seems to show that the player enjoyed doing bad things in the game.

Dominating Districts

These were game feedback which mentioned the keywords domination, and winning.  These feedback seems to show that the player enjoyed seeing his territory expand visually in the game through the borders of districts he has captured.

Looking Forward To More Play-tests

If you're looking to do a similar process during your own play-tests here's a few things to keep in mind:

  • Quantitative data is not useful with a very small pool of play-testers because results won't be reliable. Try using open ended questions in your questionnaire.
  • Ask follow up questions. The play-tester rated fun as 4.5? Ask him what kept him from giving the game the full 5 points.
  • Always clarify if the play-tester's answer is vague. The play-tester might not mean what you think he means. (at the same team be careful not lead the tester to conclusions)
  • Observe which questions the player isn't asking. If there's a mechanic important enough to the game and the player is not asking questions about it, don't assume that the mechanic is clear to the player.

Thanks for reading.  Here's a copy of our playtest feedback questions for your reference.  If you'd like to be updated on the latest Party Animals, please sign up for our mailing list!