Good Day Internet!
Today we’re going to discuss Lewis Pulsipher’s "Designer Effect" and how it relates to your external playtesting. We’ll go over both his thoughts and our own about what affects it has on the external development of your game.
The "Designer Effect" is a term coined by Lewis Pulsipher to describe the effect a designer has on playtesters by participating in the playtest (you can check out his video on it here). Pulsipher says that when playing with the designer playtesters tend to fall into one of two categories. They either: a) think they have to gang up on the designer (“he knows the game best and is going to win if we don’t do something”) or; b) they don’t think they can beat the designer at their own game and don’t play as hard.
In either case, Pulsipher’s view is that your game (assuming you plan to publish) is not going to be played with you there all the time and therefore these effects you have on the playtests are negatively impacting your results. Put simply: you should not playtest your own game.
We, on the other hand, think that the "Designer Effect" is a good reason you should playtest your own game.
When external playtesting, as with all playtesting, you want to test your game under as many different circumstances as possible. You want edge cases to come up whether it be in the game or because of a particular gameplay style. It helps to find out how your game operates under those situations and if your game breaks.
The “Designer Effect” is one of those edge cases we’ve experienced when playing games without the designer and therefore want to playtest with our own games.
Do you have one player in your group that seems to win every time they play “their game”? Have you ever had the rest of the group try to gang up on that player when “their game” comes out? I know we have (shout out to our amazing friends :D). Sometimes it can be because that player has already won a few games in a row that night and we need to end the winning streak. Or maybe it’s just because they got the first points of the game by backstabbing. Regardless the situation, ganging up on a player in game does happen.
Occasionally, the opposite happens and everyone gives up because they “know” who is going to win (usually denoted by the: “I knew you were going to win, you always win” comments after the game). Again, this is a replication of playtesters not trying their best against the designer because how could they possible beat them? Therefore, if these are situations in which your game may be played, you should be playtesting them.
If at the end of your playtest you think it fell into one of the categories described by the "Designer Effect", try to get answers to the below questions and any other pertinent questions for your game under those circumstances.
If everyone ganged up on you, did you still win? Was it is easy to win? Does that mean there’s a steep learning curve to your game? Is there supposed to be a steep learning curve? If you think the other situation happened where everyone else kind of just gave up; Did everyone else still have fun? Was it fun for you? Was the game still close? If it was, is there too much of a catch up mechanism?
It’s important to recognize that just because you play your own game doesn’t mean you’ll always experience the "Designer Effect". You should be aware that it can occur, but you shouldn’t be actively seeking it out when playing your own game (that would most likely negatively affect the playtest). Of course, even if you do experience the "Designer Effect", you’ll be testing an edge case and the feedback you’ll get is still valuable to the development of your game.
That's all for this week. Join us next week where we'll discuss when you know your game is ready for blind playtesting.
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.