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Learning How To Read Player Testing

Play Testing 101

Have you ever had the opportunity to test your special project with friends? Asking friends to try your game is an easy way to gather constructive criticism, but by the time your game receives any "real" attention, your friends will no longer be around to help you. Game development can be a long and tiresome journey, we as developers had best be prepared in order to handle new players and challenges. Today we examine how to read through the opinions of play testers and distill what they mean when they say, "That was fun!"

Iron Tides visits San Francisco to participate in the 2016 Indie Showcase.

Iron Tides visits San Francisco to participate in the 2016 Indie Showcase.

1. There is confusion.

No new player will immediately understand the unique nuances of your game. From the game controls, to the concept, and game objective, there is no direct link granting players unlimited knowledge into your game. In fact, the faster you get your player to understand the fundamental essence of your game, the easier it is to transition to rules and restrictions. Just remember there will always be the initial confusion of the game, and this requires patience and enthusiasm. Prepare a three to five sentences that best describe your game and practice this as if your life depended on it. Every game experience is an opportunity to watch your player grow from an infancy of understanding to a fully fledged supporter and avid player of your hard work.

Sam Raski stationed at Casual Connect in San Francisco.

Sam Raski stationed at Casual Connect in San Francisco.

2. There is something players want to change.

How does this system work?

How does this system work?

Whether they say this to your face, or slip it in between a sandwich of positive and negative comments... There is something the player wants more control over or wants to change. Side note: This does not mean they do not like your game. 

Try to understand that when a player suggests a new way to play your game, they can mean one of two things.

1. The player is engaged and wishes to contribute to the experience in a way that makes sense to the flow of how they perceive the experience. Understand whatever they say is from one perspective and do not underestimate the value of their opinion.

2. The player wishes to help make a better product for you because there is a potential the player wants to play again. The current experience may not yet appeal to your player now... but there is definitely a way to change their mind because the potential is there. This is the opinion you want to hear the most, particularly if the suggestion is something that has been expressed on more than one occasion.

3. Players need time to process new things.

Agame can be experienced in many ways, but games that are good are clear in providing a one-to-one experience where the player feels engaged every step of the way. Other games are better at wrapping all elements together in one succinct game loop but there isn't one rea fits-all game element... Understanding the structure of the game and what the experience has to offer can take time for the player to process. If the structure of the game is complex, the players' opinion may change the longer they stay engaged. You must also be aware that what's engaging right now may also become tedious later.

Sam Raski explains the basics of the resource system to a new player.

Sam Raski explains the basics of the resource system to a new player.

4. Not everyone is your target audience.

The title itself says it all so don't waste your time trying to sell a concept to a player who is clearly not within your demographic. Instead, focus your passion towards a player who does love what you do and sees the potential for a great experience. There always be at least one person who genuinely enjoys your game. (Thanks, Mom.)

5. Always watch what they do.

Always try to anticipate the needs of your players and watch them as they try to execute the desired outcome. Are players getting stuck? Confused? Where and how often will they express frustration? Listen and watch how the player reacts to in game cues and responsibilities. Sometimes the devil lies in the details, and players are not sure what they are feeling as they play. It's always up to you to understand what is going on their head just by watching their actions.

6. Ask for feedback.

After every play session, it's a great way to ask for feedback in a very neutral way. Try to avoid words that subconsciously suggest the experience was amazing, or poor. Be specific in what you want to know so that you get the best and most authentic result as possible. If you can, try to write everything down for later!

"What did you love about the inventory system?"

should become:

"What did you like or dislike about the inventory system?"

Try asking these questions at the end of your next sessions:

  • Did anything in the game stand out to you?
  • Do you have any feedback or thoughts you'd like to share about the inventory system?
  • What would you change about the inventory system?
  • Was the inventory system clear or unclear?

Always have FUN!

Have fun with your play testers! Always try to be as approachable and personable as possible. Prepare a few statement pieces about your game and be ready to answer any questions before they arise. 

Good luck, future developers!