Jul 19, 2017

Play-Testing Tips Part 3 of 3: With Your Audience


In this post I will be offering some advice and tips for play-testing with your audience (consumers of your final product). There are some notable differences when play-testing with your audience compared to play-testing with other designers as I wrote about previously, which is why I believe it is important to address them separately.

Once again, always show appreciation and gratitude to people who play-test your game; whether it takes ten minutes or two hours, always thank that person or persons who spent their time playing your incomplete project, as their time is valuable and they chose to spend it supporting you.


Keep The Pitch Short

Designers will generally be open to, or maybe even excited to play an unfinished game, however your audience will likely be less enthusiastic to play something incomplete. It just sounds less appetizing to spend time playing something that might be broken or not fun. So make sure you rehearse a little elevator pitch that will have a good chance of hooking someone into trying your game. Don't just focus on the mechanics, try to communicate the theme, the objective, and the best part of the game (with a smile).



Also, offering a treat will greatly improve your chances


Watch For Non-Verbal Signals

Without being weird about it, spend some of your attention noticing the non-verbal expressions of your play-testers. When are they tense, when are they disinterested, when are they confused, when are they bored, when are they enthused. Players will very unlikely say "I feel lost" or "I feel powerful", and so it is wise to spend some of your focus trying to evaluate for yourself what is being evoked in the players and when. Several times I have seen players of Nevera Wars feel down and out, resigned to losing, but then discover a new option, a new avenue to success and be re-energized, all without saying anything.

The goal is not necessarily to ensure your game is exciting all the way through (don't have a little internal freak-out if a play-tester checks their phone a few times during the game). Especially if the game is long it is often better to have the occasional simple round, quick turn, or lull in action, to make the dramatic and tense moments bigger. Even the best action movies are not full-throttle all the way through, they need time for calm between the big intense scenes. The goal is to notice when specific responses are taking place so you can designer better for them.

Nevera Wars is now on Kickstarter, click to see the game, the art, and the rewards.

Great For Finding Issues But Not Necessarily Solutions

Board game players often have strong opinions, which is great for you as a designer looking for feedback. Players will often be forthcoming about what is un-intuitive, unsatisfying, redundant, and so on.

However, when a player offers you a particular solution to an issue, remember that you are the designer, and that you have a complete vision for your game which includes elements and facets that the player may not be aware of. Players are much better at identifying issues than fixes, and so their potential fixes should not be the focus of what you take away from the session. You may end up with over ten potential fixes to an issue, and giving them all equal weight will cause a paralysis in your project.

Also, when play testing with your audience, players may offer feedback and suggestions during the game or after the game. If players offer suggestions during the game do not ask them to hold their thoughts until the end, because they may forget their ideas or might want to get up and leave immediately after the game is concluded.  


If They Make Suggestions Always Ask Why

Following on from the previous point, and similarly with the previous post, politely ask why the player is offering their suggestion. If a play-tester says that your game "should include a bidding mechanic", it is important you know if they are saying it because:

1. They want more player interaction
2. They want more ways to use their resources
3. They just really like bidding mechanics and think every game should have them

Without this information you could possibly begin designing or altering your game based on feedback that is not relevant to your game or aligned with your vision. This extra probing also lets the player know you are really listening and value their feedback.


Ask For Their Rules Interpretation

If a player is unsure of the meaning of a rule, or text on the card, or how to resolve an action, it is occasionally fruitful to not assist them, and to ask them to do what they believe is best or appropriate.

For example during a game of Nevera Wars, a play-tester asked if a defensive ability could possibly be activated targeting an opponent. Although I had designed the ability to be defensive, in this specific circumstance it would have been a fine tactical option to target an opponent, but the wording on the card was ambiguous about whether this was possible. I let the player do what they thought was appropriate and they went ahead and activated the ability targeting the opponent, which resulted in some interesting mechanical flaws, and so I worded the card much more specifically to not target opponents.


Try not to do this too much, as it can easily become frustrating for the player to have their questions rebuffed and to make rules decisions themselves. If this is happening a  lot definitely spend some time rewriting the rules, the card text, and try to make the game more intuitive. But once or twice a game is acceptable and can lead to interesting discoveries or possibilities which had previously been taken for granted. 

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