It’s no surprise that most of the time your friends and family don’t want to give out negative criticism. Does this dress make me look frumpy? Absolutely not! Do you like my new tattoo? Of course! It’s human nature to keep the clan happy and not make waves. Therefore, when you only test your games with family and close friends, you might not be getting the best feedback.
One thing that inventor relations folks will tell you they don’t like hearing is “my family thinks it’s the best game ever!” (or something akin to that.) Why? Because your family probably isn’t made up of the most reliable judges because they want to be supportive of you! And yes, it could be a decent game, it could even be a good game, but is it really better than their favorite game? Awesome if it is, but I’m not sure everyone would name your hot new invention as their favorite game if they were asked by some random person on the street. It’s great to have that positive support and regular play testers, but you really need to look somewhere else for feedback.
I always joke that you need to ask the person who hates you the most or is the most negative person you know about your game. Hopefully, they’ll give you a laundry list of complaints. “It’s too long, I don’t like having to wait for my turn, I think that one special card is kind of stupid, why can’t I just roll three times on my turn?, why can’t I just steal the card I want?,” and so on. You definitely don’t need to take all of them to heart, but there’s a pretty good chance within the list of negatives, you’ll find something that needs fixing or tweaking.
One of my recent games, Chugga Choo with Peaceable Kingdom, was designed with my 2-year-old daughter in mind. She was into trains at the time and all of the cargo I included in the game was stuff she liked. So of course, she loved the game – it was made for her! She liked it so much I had to make a second prototype to leave with her when I took the original to New York for Toy Fair. I tested it with a couple of her 2-year-old friends, and they seemed to really enjoy it. When I met with Peaceable Kingdom, I didn’t start my pitch by saying my daughter and her friends love this game. Instead I explained how to play, why it was different, and they saw its charm. They didn’t like it because they heard my 2-year-old was in love with it – they liked it because it fit a need they had, was sweet and adorable, and embraced the message of their company. And when I told them about the second copy I had to make for my daughter AFTER the pitch, they obviously found that as a good sign!
If you’re still convinced that you have a great game and your family really does think it’s the best – you don’t have to say it. Tuck in the back of your mind when you’re pitching that you’ve got a solid game and that will come through in your confidence. And if you feel that you need to talk about the positive feedback it’s gotten from play testers, don’t over exaggerate and say it’s everyone’s FAVORITE. Instead talk about how even the losers wanted to play again because they had a good time or how there was non-stop laughter, because those are attributes of a solid game.