Good Day Internet!
Today, we’re going to continue our journey in board game design with internal playtesting.
We first dove into playtesting about three weeks ago with our discussion on solo playtesting. Internal playtesting is the next step on this long journey. We’ll start by going through the similarities of solo and internal playtesting, which will basically describe what playtesting is.
Playtesting is the process of playing through your game (multiple times) from start to finish in order to improve playability and enjoyment. During this time, you should be making notes to adjust your rules and/or components after playtesting (or in a lot of cases in between playtests). You should also take time after the playtest to record any final thoughts from your playtesters, which includes you. (Feedback is VERY important--always take feedback into consideration for future changes!)
So what makes internal playtesting different than solo playtesting?
With internal playtesting you play your game with family, friends, and/or colleagues instead of just by yourself. You can still play your game with the other playtesters at this point, but the key is that you’re not the only one playing. In terms of feedback, most of your feedback will probably come after the playtest instead of during. In solo playtesting it’s easy to stop the game and make notes. That becomes more difficult when you’re playing with others and it can interfere with the flow and speed of the game. Also, hopefully your playtesters will give your game a fair chance and not just give their first impressions as feedback. Therefore it’s natural that the majority of feedback comes at the end of the game.
But why are we just playing with friends, family, and colleagues? You’ve already done solo playtesting to fix up your game, so why aren’t we going to the public next?
The easy answer is that playing with your friends, family, and colleagues will be a safe environment to playtest your game with other people. It will allow you to hone your skills of presenting a (keyword) brief explanation of your game. Also, they hopefully won’t mind so much that the game isn’t exactly publish ready or still has flaws. In fact, usually they’ll be very willing to help out with the development. Plus, if you have friends like ours, the amount of friendly teasing you get will prepare you for external playtesting.
The other reason is: regardless of how well you believe you solo playtest, your game will not be ready for public playtesting. There will be problems and issues that still need to be fixed, and there will be things that you’ve missed. It’s always better to have another set of eyes to look at your work--because you may easily glaze over large errors. Some, but definitely not all, public/external playtesters want to see that you’ve done the work to improve your game before bringing it out to a public audience. They don’t want to point out simple things you should have seen on your own. So doing these tests with family, friends, and colleagues is useful to help find those problems you may have missed and to get them fixed.
Alright, so what are you looking for when you internally playtest?
One of the big advantages of playing with other players is you now get an understanding of what the personal experience of each player is like. It’s usually quite difficult when solo playtesting to get a feel of personal experiences. Most of the time you’re looking at your game as a whole and just making sure that it’s able to run start to finish without hiccups. However, your game is rarely experienced as a whole. It’s mostly experienced as individual players, with every detail being taken personally. This is because a regular player can’t just play with someone else’s hand, character, or whatever else it may be. They are stuck with what they are given, what they do, and what happens to them. This is definitely the biggest difference I’ve noticed between solo playtesting and playtesting with others.
With that in mind, some of the questions you want to have answered are: What does it feel like when things don’t seem to be going your way? What does it feel like to lose your game? What does it feel like to win? Is it fun regardless if you win or lose? You want to see where players may get frustrated from how the game played out for them. Part of this is finding out if players felt like the winner (this includes the winner) earned the victory. Of course you need to keep in mind what you’ve designed your game to be. If everyone feels like the winner just got lucky, but you designed a game that relies heavily on dice, then don’t be surprised or necessarily discouraged. However, the most important thing to find out is who did and did not enjoy your game and why. Find the things that people didn’t enjoy and fix them or get rid of them. Find the things they did enjoy and focus your game around them.
Additionally, you want to get rid of any other major hiccups in your game that you tried to get rid of in solo playtesting (unrealistic victory conditions, actions that give players unfair advantages, actions that prevent the game from progressing and can be done infinitely, etc.).
If you’re lucky, you may even get an idea from internal playtesting on who will enjoy your game. You should have a pretty good idea of who this will be beforehand, so see if those match up. Did your friend who always suggests Power Grid every game night enjoy your bidding game? If they don’t, then you need to find out why and what the differences are between Power Grid and your game that made it not as enjoyable. Then you need to determine if those differences are good things or just poor design, which sometimes is tough. But, if a player that always suggest bidding games every game night doesn’t want to play your bidding game, you probably have a problem you need to fix.
As a reminder, you should be writing all of those discussion points and feedback down so you can remember it, sort through it, and apply it to your game.
One last thing on internal playtesting. You need to keep in mind who you are playing with for internal playtesting. Chances are you get a lot of positive feedback for your game. This is because these are people who love and care for you. Don’t get caught thinking that your game is close to done, or you’ve made an awesome game (I’ve done that before). There’s still lots of work to do, and it has yet to be seen if your game is truly great.
That’s it for this week. Next week, we get to the scary world of external playtesting. Pro tip: it’s not that scary (though Allysha’s Anxiety thinks it is).
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.