Welcome back to part three of my game design process. So far we’ve talked about where game ideas come from and creating the basic gameplay loop, this week we’ll talk about what I would consider to be the most important part of the process, testing your game. While this week’s post will most likely be a short one the concept can’t be stressed enough: testing your game is crucial to its success. I just want to take a few moments to talk about why testing is useful, some ideas on how it should be done and then what to do with the information gathered through testing.
Why Test Your Game?
As a developer it is so easy to become engrossed in the work and to fall in love with the creation process, however it is just as important to occasionally take a step back and look at the work as a whole. The act of testing and getting input should happen early and often. Receiving feedback from participants who are not attached to the work is just as important as staying up alone until midnight getting ‘that one gameplay element’ just right. I have a fairly unique approach to consumer feedback which I will expound upon just a little later.
Testing is extremely useful for many reasons; testing helps you get a feel for how all of your concepts work together as a whole, testing also allows you to pinpoint which concepts work on paper but may not work in practice, testing helps you determine which portions of your game are strong and fun as well as figuring out which elements are weak and need help. It is through testing with non biased participants that we create an opportunity to generate valuable feedback on our ideas. Armed with this newly found knowledge we can then make better informed decisions on how to proceed with the game design.
How to Test Your Game
There are many ways to go about testing that are equally valid. I have personally experienced just a few and since my board game Pocket Dungeon Quest is reaching the final stages of design I have some new ideas on how I will be approaching testing for that. For the mobile games I worked on it was useful to set up a small location where we could sit down a bunch of strangers and give them a playable version of our game, afterwards we gave them a questionnaire and tallied up their results. What was helpful about this approach was because of the way we advertised the game testing we had many walk-ins who had never heard of our game. Getting an outside opinion is like gold at this stage.
There were some things about the way we handled this process that was not very helpful, as one of the lead designers of this game it was not helpful that I was not able to observe people playing my game. I didn’t want to talk with them afterwards, I wanted to see where they got stuck, which parts of my game they kept going back to. I wanted to stand in the same room quietly and see how easy or difficult it was for strangers to pick up on the rules I had laid down and whether they ‘got it’ all on their own, or how much explanation they needed. Unfortunately someone else was in charge of setting up this particular testing session so I had very little control.
With the board game I am currently designing my testing process has been different. First I took an early version and played through a game with friends and family. My family loves board games and I was able to see this early version in action and work through some of the rules that looked good on paper and find the flaws. After this initial test I revised many rules, talked through some of my new ideas with other game designers who I trusted and created an even more refined version.
I took the new version that sprang from this feedback and played through a game with strangers. I didn’t know any of these people, they had a lot of questions and there were still a few things that didn’t quite work that way I thought they would. Sometimes these players tried to do things that I simply hadn’t thought through completely. Many rules were created on the spot, some rules were solid while other just had to be tweaked slightly.
After this play through session I have since revised the rules yet again, created new components, removed confusing pieces and refined much more of the rules. I plan to make a near final version of the game and travel to a few game design meet ups and test it even further before completing the rules.
Now that you have your feedback, what do you do with it? My opinion is, take it with a grain of salt. I have personally seen many great game designs ruined by feedback because it was simply assumed that anything the consumer said must be correct. I can tell you with all certainty that this is not the case.
The feedback that you received from an outsider should be seen as a suggestion. The game designer should always have the final say. As the game’s designer you know best which suggestions work within the realm of the vision you have for your game. The consumer may not always know what they want when it comes to a brand new concept, and may ruin any chance of your idea standing apart from everything else out there. There are times when the consumer is right. If something about our game doesn’t make sense, or if many people seem to struggle with the same areas of design it’s probably best to rethink those points. The caution here from my experience is, take the consumer’s feedback willingly but always maintain control of your design.
That pretty much sums up my take on gameplay testing and what to do with the information you gather from it. I hope you found this helpful! I would love to know about your experiences and wether you have found them to be similar to mine or altogether different. I would love to know about other approaches to this subject. I have heard of hiring other companies to do the gameplay testing for you, but in my opinion there isn’t anything better than running these tests yourself, hands on.
I’ll see you all next week were I will talk about the next part of the game design process, fleshing out the concept. Until then, game on!
~ Jeff Dehut