Nick and Greg - Let’s Play Games Rules for Playtesting
Whether you are a big game publisher or a lone inventor developing a game in your spare time, at some point, you will have to take your idea, your baby, and introduce it to the world of gaming. You want validation, clarity, feedback, and, most importantly, criticism to create the best version of your game. You will need objective feedback, which means letting strangers play your game. Data is the key; the input needs to be quantifiable. This process can be scary as no game developer wants to hear negative feedback about their game. Still, without an outside perspective, you run the risk of being blind to all the weak points in your game; this is where objective, data-driven playtest feedback becomes invaluable.
Over the past two years, Let's Play Games has built a community of over 2,700 board gamers in Chicago - and venue partnerships with some of the best bars, restaurants, and cafes in the city. Recently, LPG has leveraged our audience and our connections to perform market tests for several game publishers to significant effect. We use a multi-moderator, data-driven methodology to provide our clients with the best playtest feedback available. Our process is intensive, but here are some of our basic rules for publishers get the most out of playtesting their games.
Develop A Questionnaire
Developing your questionnaire is where you begin and is probably the most important task. You will want to create a comprehensive questionnaire that challenges the players to answer an array of questions about your game on everything from:
Likelihood to recommend the game to others, etc.
Our questionnaires are continually evolving the more market tests we perform, but our first version was the result of hours upon hours of research. An excellent place to begin is board game review forums such as can be found at boardgamegeek.com. Find reviews for games where the reviewers were hyper-critical of certain aspects. These complaints are sheer gold when it comes to pinpointing what makes gamers upset.
As the inventor/developer, you will most likely want to attend the playtest yourself, and that's fine. Still, it's crucial to have non-partisan moderators - who are familiar with the mechanics of the game - as observers during playtesting. The urge to throttle some poor gamer struggling with the rules, or making critical comments about your game, might be too intense for some. This is when having an impassive moderator comes in handy.
All LPG moderators are seasoned board gamers equipped with their own sets of criteria in evaluating gameplay. Our moderators are tasked with gauging player reactions, keeping track of time, and noting any offhand remarks said during gameplay that might prove constructive. They are an invaluable source to our clients and an integral part of the process.
Not stepping in to help the gamers resolve any stuck points might be the most challenging part of playtesting, yet it is essential to let the players experience the games as if they just opened the box and are playing for the first time unobserved. Again, these are the moments when moderators come in handy.
Choose Your Venue Wisely
Depending on the intended audience, you will want to choose the location for playtesting carefully. Some games, notably games targeted towards younger audiences, are better played at home around the dinner table. For that, our large community of board gamers is well suited for identifying family gamers with kids of all age ranges who are happy to open their homes to the prospect of being the first to play an untested game. But you better buy them some pizza!
LPG has many venue partners in Chicago who are well suited to host playtesting events and fantastic menus to entice playtesters into participating.
Expose Multiple Groups
It's crucial to playtest your game not just with who you suspect your intended audience is, but with gamers of different levels of skills and preferences. A game that you suspect will resonate with fans of Gloomhaven might be a big hit with cooperative game players who enjoy Subterra. You might think you have a serious game for strategy-oriented players and discover it's a great party game! Only by exposing a myriad of board game players will you honestly know who your audience is and, with luck, how to market to them.
The LPG community represents a variety of gamers who enjoy long-form RPG-style games, push your luck games, bluffing games, cooperative games, etc.
The first playthrough is undoubtedly essential for identifying weak points in your game's strategy, rules, goals, artwork, etc.. Still, you won't understand how players feel about your game until they've slogged through the fundamental rules and set up and played a second round. During round two is when you'll uncover whether or not your game has replay power. With the players all formally introduced and armed with an understanding of the game, they are now free to enjoy themselves more fully and take advantage of the various tactics, strategies, and nuances that make your game unique.
You will also find that their initial opinions and reactions to the game will have evolved. They might come to appreciate aspects of the game that they were confused by previously. Game mechanics, they found cumbersome are now tools they can wield to their advantage. The gamers can now relax and enjoy the game.
Data, Data, Data!
Like the subheader suggests: data is king. The deeper you dive into who your playtesters are by gathering actionable demographic information, the more worthwhile you will have made your playtest session. Feedback about the game mechanics from a variety of testers is valuable, as is knowing who those testers are. Ask questions of the players to find out:
Are they experienced gamers
Game type preference
Preferred game length, etc.
If you are a game publisher or inventor and you would like to know more about the LPG method or about scheduling a consultation for playtesting, feel free to reach out to Nick or Greg at Let's Play Games!
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