What is Playtesting anyway?
On 24th May, the future Edition of D&D embarks on the next stage of its journey toward completion. This is when Wizards of The Coast begins the first Open Playtest of D&D Next. With that in mind, it’s worth looking at what playtesting involves. After all, if you are going to be playing a part in the future direction of D&D, perhaps it’s worth knowing what you are getting into ahead of time.
Technopedia defines playtesting as:
Playtesting is a method of quality control that takes place at many points during the video game design process. A selected group of users play unfinished versions of a game to work out flaws in gameplay, level design and other basic elements, as well as to discover and resolve bugs and glitches. In addition, the process mainly involves clarifying the vague points, adding fun elements or reducing boredom, balancing the victory situations, and so on.
When D&D Next launches, I expect blogs, forums and Twitter to erupt with people complaining that “this doesn’t work”, “it’s all broken”, “bring back 3rd Edition”, “5e sucks”, etc. Every single one of these people are entirely missing the point of playtesting. The objective is to find out what does and doesn’t work, not to give something for the interwebs to gripe about. Don’t be That Guy.
Playtesting is for the benefit of the designers
It’s not about you, dude. It’s about the game. The goal is to improve the game by getting as many eyeballs (see Linus’ Law) as possible on the rules so that the vast majority of issues are fixed ahead of time. This means actually playing the game rather than merely reading it (though that can be quite helpful too). All too often RPG rules can read just fine, but when it comes to playing the game there’s too much room for misinterpretation or confusion. If something isn’t clear or you think may be improved by wording it differently, say so through the correct channels.
One common goal of playtesting is to fine-tune the user experience. In a FPS computer game that may mean refining the heads-up display so that important information is clearly visible and in your eye-line at all times. In pencil-and-paper RPGs it’s more nebulous, but no less important. Is the character sheet easy to understand? Do the rules permit you to participate in every session or round of combat? Are you having fun or feeling frustrated, and if so, why?
Feeding back your positive user-experience is (I’m sure) very rewarding for the game designers to hear, because it means they’re doing something right – but it’s the negative user-experience they will want to hear about, even if it’ll give them headaches. These are the elements which need sorting, and that’s why you’re playtesting in the first place.
You help them by giving them more headaches. Trust me. They will thank you for it in the end.
Playtesting usually has a fixed purpose
Most (but not all) playtests come with a set of instructions or a request of which features the designers want to see if you can break. I suspect the Open Playtest for D&D Next will be no different (though I have no specific knowledge, and could be wrong).
It could be as simple as “run through this adventure and tell us what problems you had”, or as specific as “kill this roomful of goblins 20 times. Did combat speed up as you became familiar with the rules and what was the average time your last five combats lasted?”. Again, I dunno, but that’s how I would do it (disclaimer: I’m a business analyst. Testing things is what I do. I know this stuff).
Sometimes it is to the benefit of the designers not to state their purpose. This eliminates the problem where actually stating the goal causes the problem itself. For example, if the designers asked “Did the fight with the Ogre take too long?” they are more likely to get “Yes” replies than if they say nothing, but listen out for comments about the length of the Ogre fight. Asking the question sets a degree of anticipation in the players’ mind, which then increases the likelihood of the perceived issue occurring. Let’s call it Quantum Playtesting, or something.
The initial Open Playtest will contain pre-generated characters, and for good reason. This means every single playtesting group will be on exactly the same page, both literally and figuratively. Your Rogue will be the same as everyone else’s so if there’s a problem with a certain ability or feature, it should be widely reported. A single group having an issue may well just be a blip on the radar or a misreading of the rules, but if 500 groups find the same thing is a problem, that’s a whole different kettle of orcs.
As the playtest continues, I expect to see playtests of higher levels, character generation and all of the various subsystems which make up D&D Next. Fingers crossed, Open Playtesting will carry on after launch for future books and modules. That depends on you, willing playtester, and the success (or failure) of the Open Playtest itself.
Playtesting only works if you provide feedback through the established channels
The most important aspect of Playtesting is feedback, and this has to be through the communication channels stated by Wizards of The Coast. Putting your opinions and thoughts about the game on your blog, Twitter and forums is one thing, but before you do that PLEASE feed it back to the Coastal Wizards in the format they ask.
I doubt the designers have time to spend their days surfing the net looking for comments about D&D Next wherever they may be. If you are going to play by the rules, play by the rules. That will make the designers’ job so much easier, and guarantee that your feedback will be heard. Putting it up on your blog won’t.
Playtesting will make the game better, and that is to everyone’s benefit
If you care about D&D, regardless of Edition, play style or preference, please take part in the D&D Next Open Playtest and help to make it a game to be proud of.
This is your chance to shape the future of the hobby as a whole. Why not participate, and be a part of gaming history?
Thanks for listening.