What is Playtesting anyway?

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8 Responses

  1. Geoff Smith says:

    I would also expect that they would send out different variations of the rules to different people. That will let them see what works and what doesn’t in a faster (parallel) way than just iteratively changing it and re-testing. They should have plenty of testers to do that kind of thing. I would not expect that the playtest I’m doing would be exactly the same as yours. (this would have the added bonus of emphasizing to people that they’re not just going to do things whatever way they thought and playtesting is just marketing… )

  2. greywulf says:

    I would be surprised if any differentiated parallel testing takes place because of the delivery mechanism. I think they will keep things simple and offer the same downloads to all – but they might ask if different groups can focus on one area or another under the same rules set. That said, anything is possible :)

  3. Alphastream says:

    Excellent post. I playtest for companies and I also run playtests of adventures very often. There is a real art to both asking for and providing feedback. It is very easy for playtest feedback to be of very limited value. When I find a great playtest group I go to them time and time again, because it is so much better. This includes some of what that Borderland article mentions: it is less important to hear why something is wrong or a possible fix and far more important to get details around what took place. An adventure can seem way too hard for one group, way too easy for another, and perfect for the third (seen this many times). Any of those groups could react with pleasure or anger and miss the point. When they provide enough information I can find the issues (the party that was overwhelmed had 4 players and the domination effect from the statue was too strong; the table that had too easy a time took out the evil wizard in round 1 and without the wizard the combat becomes easy). Once the issues are identified, solutions can be found that don’t just please one group but will please most groups.

    Also, I cite my early 4E experience. When I first previewed it at D&DXP, I didn’t like it much at all. I had to play it a couple of more times to see its potential and then it slowly became really fantastic as I learned to work with it. Playtesting often requires staying level-headed despite initial reactions. Maybe the rules turn you off when reading them, but are great in practice. Maybe the reverse is true. If you want to contribute to a better game, that is best done via patience, good analysis, and reporting what you found in detail, without bias, and without trying to be overly prescriptive.

  4. Umbramancer says:

    Thanks for this article. For those of us who’ve never participated in a videogame playtest, it’s good, useful information on what to expect. Let’s hope playtesters can keep the criticism constructive and funneled through the proper channels.

  5. Elton Robb says:

    You forgot “Bring back 4E.”

  6. Good points, all. I’ve only hung on the peripheries of a couple of producer-sponsored playtests in the past and discovered that quite a bit of the “this sucks, bring back X” commentary floated around the groups I was with. Something I can’t say being very helpful.
    Now, that being said, my specific game group does a lot of playtesting of games just trying to decide if we want to run with a game or dump it. We found with our initial playtests of 4e years ago that running that with pregen characters just didn’t work for us: we hated the experience all around. Later, when we had the chance to actually design our own characters, we understood the design mechanics and 4e has since become our game of choice (though we have been working with a few comic book hero RPGs lately trying to decide which one we want to use as our go-to game for superhero action).
    Thanks for the post and a very clear set of guidelines for feedback.

  7. Norcross says:

    It’s not good if the instructions are _too_ specific, though. For example, if there were a version (let’s call it ErouF four now) where playesters are given a combat scenario to run and then asked about that miniatures battle, but not asked about, oh, let’s say roleplaying, you could get very positive feedback but still end up with a game that is unsatifying to most (potential) players even if there is a minority who really like it.

    A company I worked for previously for had a habit of unit testing features by people who knew exactly how things were supposed to work, and the testing showed that the features worked perfectly – but those features often failed miserably when they were deployed and normal users had to use them.

    Games Workshop was even more notorious for this kind of thing – the designers bragged about “playtesting” things themselves, often not even using the books because they knew in their head how they planned for things to work, including playing specific armies instead of seeing what would happen with different lists. Literally within hours of a new book being released the players would find dozens of ways in which the new rules were broken, to which the reply was usually “well, that’s not how we played it at the studio” – not exactly useful to the thousands of players who were stuck playing by how the rules were printed.

    For beta testing it’s often better to make it an open-ended test – give the users the tool, and let them use it however they want. That lets you see how it works in many different circumstances, and how well the features work together. The users as a group can always come up with more things to try than the developers can. With a roleplaying game, you could probably get better feedback by giving the full game to five groups (completely unrelated to the development effort!) and letting them run a series of adventures (at least some of them created by the DM instead of prepackaged modules) than you would by giving a hundred groups pieces of the game to try in isolation. And the “completely unrelated to the development effort” is essential – if they already know how things are “supposed” to work, that is going to influence the way they play and weaken the test.

  1. May 11, 2012

    […] the public playtest of D&D Next coming up on May 24th, Greywulf’s Lair tackled the issue of playtesting, and what it is (and […]

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