Norsfell is in the lucky position of being able to participate regularly at playtesting events hosted by GamePlay Space here in Montreal, meaning that we can consistently try out new features and updates with players and make the appropriate changes from their feedback before a game is fully released. Most standard playtests follow a similar pattern: meet your playtesters and explain what they’ll be doing, observe while they try out the game, and then collect data, sometimes through an interview or a survey form. We then read over the responses and analyse the data to see what patterns or common responses occur between players. From there, we can make more informed decisions about improving our games!
It can be a little intimidating to showcase a game that is still a work in progress, especially if you are almost at the end of the development cycle and happy with your work. But there are a lot of benefits to running playtesting sessions – whether hosting your own or participating in a fun event alongside other studios – and these are just a few that keep us going back:
To get immediate feedback. There’s nothing that compares to catching a player’s emotional reaction in person. When players can talk through their experience in real-time, it’s easier to understand their full impression of a game. It also gives them a chance to speak up about things that they might otherwise forget about by the time they are filling out a survey.
To get thought-out feedback. Of course, first impressions aren’t always what we’re looking for. By the time a player is fifteen minutes into a game, they will have a very different perspective of it than they did at minute one. Some elements that were confusing at the beginning may be explained by a tutorial or through gameplay further on. In this case, giving playtesters time to think through and reflect on their gaming experience can be useful for learning about what players find most memorable and what stands out the most.
To get non-verbal feedback. As a game developer, it’s easy to make assumptions about how our game will be received, especially when it comes to learning how to play the game. Being able to watch testers spend five minutes looking for the battle button or figure out how to switch characters tells us a lot about how we can improve our design! Even subtle frustrations like having to tap several times to get a character to do something is useful to know about, as something even as small as this could be the difference between a lifelong player and a bad review.
To see what’s working. Sometimes all you need to confirm a design change is to see your game in the hands of a new player. Seeing a player’s responses to your gameplay may make what was once a tough decision all the more clear, such as a new map being too long or too short. You may even come up with new ideas based what you see in the playthrough!
To learn what other players think. Developers generally have a target demographic in mind when they start making a game. When you open up playtesting to those who are not in your target demographic, however, you have an opportunity to learn how people unfamiliar with your genre respond to your game. They may be able to point out some ways your game might be closing itself off to new players, or make out-of-the-box suggestions that wouldn’t have occurred to your team until now.
Many of our most recent changes to All-Star Troopers (now available in the UK, Philippines and Australia, coming soon to iOS and Android all over the world!) came from playtesting feedback, and we are very thankful to our awesome testers who take the time to try it out. While it can be a little nerve-wracking to show off an unfinished project to a new player, the benefit of receiving useful feedback while the game is still in development makes it worth it. If you’re in the Montreal area and want to check out a playtesting session and give feedback on our latest projects, keep an eye on our Facebook page for upcoming events!