Behind The Joy #4: Getting & Using Play-Testing Feedback
Last time we covered the four steps involved in designing a game around player experience. Implicit in Steps 3 & 4 is the ability to accurately assess and respond to player feedback. Today we are going to talk about how you can get more feedback, and get more out of it. Most designers, ourselves included, initially struggle with this step because it takes experience to know what to look for during a play-test and when to look for it.
Types of Play-Testers
Who do you play-test with? The short answer is everybody. The long answer is a progression. First, you play the game either by yourself or with a trusted person (they understand the game is most likely broken and subject to rapid change, but can grasp the potential you see in it). When the design is roughly functioning, you widen the circle to your family and familiar gaming groups. At this stage, you are looking to see if the game grabs their attention. Finally, you reach out to every kind of stranger you can. This helps you both check the game’s market appeal and exposes the hidden balance/strategies you didn’t consider during design.
Fighting For Feedback
You have managed to convince a group of friends to play your game now what? Just jump right in, play the game, and then ask them what they think? If you do that the answers will vary something between, “It’s good.” “It’s alright.” and “Its okay.” At the end of that play-test you have nothing useful. Instead, you need to prep your testers before you get started by telling them specifically what you are going to want feedback on. For example, an early play-test prep may sound something like, “As we play tonight, I want you to think about the choices you are making, and tell me if you think they are making a big enough impact on the game.” Now, at least a Yes or No answer will give you something you can work with as you Test/Center/Repeat.
During The Play-Test
Your play-testers send a constant stream of non-verbal feedback about your game that is a gold mine for designers who can interpret it correctly. Are they playing with their cell phones? Then the game has already lost them. Do they look confused or bewildered? Your game has presented too much information or too many choices. Are they leaning forward focused on the actions of other players? Good! The game has them intrigued and involved. Learn to watch your players. Take notes on their engagement and on the key timing of the major parts of your game. These notes will help you understand where the game needs adjustment, and how to fix it!
After The Play-Test
Do not just ask players what they thought! You need to have questions primed to get past the 1 or 2 word answers into meaningful discussion of the game. Here is my list of go to feedback questions. They are designed to help me fix problems by spurring good conversations.
1) On a scale of 1-10, what would you give this game?
2) What would you change about the game to make it 1 point better on your scale?
3) Is there anything about this game that is still confusing after you played?
4) What did you like least about the game?
5) What did you like best about the game?
6) Questions specifically related to the thing you prepped them for before the game.
7) Do you have any thoughts we haven’t covered yet?
Most of the time I do these questions verbally, but during early play-testing I will preprint these questions on sheets of paper and ask testers to fill them out without talking to each other. This increases the chances a shy person will give you honest feedback, and can get you multiple different perspectives from 1 play-test.
Using The Feedback
You have worked incredibly hard to get play-test feedback. What do you do with it? Early on, its about making the game work. Next, its about making it better. The play-test feedback will show you trends. How is the player experience different from what you intended? Once you know, you can use the designer’s toolkit (theme, mechanics, and components) to make adjustments to focus the game back on your player experience target. This will be a seemingly never-ending process of adjustments. If you are doing your job, the changes will get progressively smaller.
We hope this exploration of play-testing helps you hone in your desired player experience. Next time, we will talk about what game conventions offer aspiring designers. As always, fire away with comments & questions!
Pat & Kat Lysaght