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Today we’re going to discuss when you should and when you shouldn’t play your own game during external playtesting. We’ll also talk about how it can affect the game and the kind of feedback you’ll get.
When first starting out with external playtesting, it’s natural to want to play your own game: it’s what you’ve been doing so far for playtesting, so it feels comfortable. Initially, including yourself in your playtests will help transition you into external playtesting as it can sometimes be a little unnerving first presenting your game in front of strangers. Plus, playing your own game means you don’t need as many playtesters, and don’t have to put yourself out there as much to get your game up and running. Therefore, we personally recommend that for the first few run throughs of external playtesting you play your game with the playtesters to get yourself into the groove.
Additionally, by including yourself in the game you also get the personal player experience which is useful for seeing the game in another perspective. Board games are a very social experience, so it’s good to connect with your playtesters on a social level to get a true feeling of the emotions and level of fun. If you experience the same kind of frustration, joy, or other emotion based on a similar game situation as your playtesters, you’ll better understand how that situation needs to be dealt with (if at all). Depending on your learning style, and personal preferences, this may be very beneficial for you in order to understand some of the feedback you receive.
Another benefit of including yourself in playtesting is that you can try out different strategies/ways of playing to see how they “work” in game. , By doing so, you have control over when and how a play style is implemented into your game. You don’t have to hope that a playtester will play your game that way eventually. There are limitations to this however--if your game has direct conflict, playing as an aggressive player against new players (your playtesters) is probably not very beneficial to getting good feedback. The whole point of external playtesting is to get external feedback. If you crush your playtesters in game because they don’t know how to respond (or you’ve found out through being aggressive that your game favours aggressive play), that may negatively affect what kind of feedback you get.
There are however other potential downsides to playing your game with external playtesters.
One thing to take notice of is you may get caught between playing your game and monitoring the playtesters for nonverbal feedback. Signs such as playtesters who seem to be frustrated over a certain situation, or players who are only doing a select few of the available actions all game won’t be as evident when you’re in “game mode”. This is because as a player you’re usually busy reacting to other player tactics and strategies, and trying to create a dominant strategy. This means you usually miss exactly what all other players are doing and their feelings towards your game. If you miss these signs you may have to rely on the playtester naturally bringing this feedback up verbally at the end of the game. Otherwise, you’ve lost out on that feedback and analysis.
So what about not playing your game and just watching the action? What’s the benefit of that?
If you decide not to play your game with external playtesters, you will be able to better monitor the action more closely and pick up on nonverbal cues. In general, it’s going to be easier to pick up on the smaller things like player tactics and keep track of analytics such as play length and when certain events triggered. This should lead to more game specific and player experience specific questions at the end of the playtest, which hopefully lead to better insights into your game. This is the main benefit of not playing your own game; you get to focus solely on analyzing your game and how it plays.
Something else to consider is that removing yourself from playing your game sometimes helps with separating yourself from your game (as mentioned in Preparing For External Playtesting). By not playing your game and focusing on analyzing it, you too are looking at it in a similar way as your playtesters. You are only making judgements on the game, not you as a designer. Your goals are to improve the gameplay and make it fun, just like everyone else.
Lastly, not playing your game with playtesters helps you to transition into the final stage of playtesting: blind playtesting (which will be discussed further in a future blog post). In blind playtesting, you won’t have any interaction with the game. You’ll hand over the complete game and rules and let the players figure out everything themselves. This will be tough if you haven’t playtested a lot of times without playing your game. Even then, depending on how much control you exert over your playtests that you don’t participate in you may have a difficult time with blind playtesting. However, not playing your game is going to help at least a little in making that transition and “letting go” of your game.
So in general, you’re going to participate a lot more in your external playtests early on than later in external playtesting. In fact, perhaps you’re not playing your game at all near the end of external playtesting. There are, of course, exceptions.
One of the main ones is if you don’t have enough players, then you should definitely play your own game (even if you are nearing the end of external playtesting). It’s also usually a good idea to join in if you’re short on the number of players you want to test your game with. In the end, the type of feedback you get may vary, but it will still be valuable. You just need to figure out how important it is to test your game with that many players at that particular moment.
That’s it for this week. If you’d like to meetup, we’ll be at Snakes & Lattes on Monday night for the Game Designers Night. We’ve also been signing up for events at Gen Con this week. We’re completely overwhelmed by the number of events, so if there’s any event you think we’d be crazy to miss let us know!
Next week in the blog we’re going to look into the Designer Effect and how that can affect playtesting.
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.