Good Day Internet!
This week we’re going to take a look at places to find external playtesters (based on a comment we received on last week’s blog) and also discuss the topic of paying for playtesting.
The paid playtesting portion of this post is inspired by a recent lengthy discussion regarding the Coalition Game Studios’ blind playtesting services on the Card & Board Game Designers Guild Facebook page (which if you haven’t joined--you definitely should). For those of you who don’t know, I recently joined Coalition Game Studios as one of their Consultants--my technical title being “professional developer” (which sounds rather odd and incredibly cool all at the same time). I thought it may be good to try and give some insights from both sides of this topic and then see what the public thinks instead of having my thoughts lost amongst the plethora of Facebook comments. Let’s first start with where to find playtesters.
Searching for external playtesters for the first time can be daunting--especially if you don’t know where to look. Luckily, there are plenty of places and resources to find external playtesters: your friendly local game store (FLGS), local designer nights, gaming groups, conventions, and community events are all good places to start. The first place you should check is your FLGS or local board game cafe (if you have one) to see if they do designer nights (we’re fortunate enough to be able to attend the monthly Snakes & Lattes Desinger Nights). If you prefer smaller gaming groups but don’t know of any local ones, you can always search social media sites or check places like meetup.com (where we found Token Resistance) or the boardgamegeek game groups forums. If there’s nothing in your area, don’t be afraid to start something; chances are there is a community in your neighbourhood that would love to participate in a consistent gaming group, designer night, or even a small local convention.
With conventions, this is one place where size doesn’t matter. If you can, making it to conventions that focus specifically on playtesting and prototyping (or have an area for it) is probably best (FEPH at Gen Con, Protospiel, Unpub and Unpub Minis, Metatopia, Spielbany, ProtoTO, are all good examples), but you can always grab playtesters from any convention that has open gaming. Just two weekends ago at FMG CON (which may have had 50 people when I was there) my friend and I were both able to get in playtests with some great feedback on our prototypes.
Perhaps none of those options really appeal to you or aren’t available to you. For those of you in this situation there are a few more options that will allow to get your game in front of people without having to leave your home. You could digitally upload your game to sites like Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator and run scheduled playtests on those platforms. You’ll have to broadcast well to bring in playtesters, but this should help you reach a much larger audience. Print and plays are also an option (check out places like BoardGameGeek’s WIP forum to see some), but that usually requires a comprehensible rulebook. The last option is to pay for playtesting through sites like Coalition Game Studios. However, just like print and plays, these services would require a clear rulebook, so make sure you’ve put in time testing and editing it before paying for these kinds of services. The benefits to paying for playtesting is that you will receive additional analysis and development work beyond what you get from other playtesting methods. Before we get into that though, let’s take a look at the controversy around paying for playtesting.
The below list is a few of the most common concerns I’ve heard and seen (primarily from the aforementioned Facebook discussion) regarding paid playtesting:
Let’s take a look at these concerns one by one.
1) “Why would I pay for Something I Could get Done for Free?”
Before joining the Coalition, I felt this way too. As far as I could tell their proposition was to “pay us to play your game so you don’t have to be social and convince strangers to give it a chance”. That’s changed since I’ve actually started working for the Coalition and realizing the extra value that they are adding beyond simply telling you whether or not your game is any good. First though, I want to quickly touch on the experience of those who are in the Coalition for those who may think we’re all just hacks trying to take your money.
To join the Coalition I had to submit my “board gaming resume” along with a sample of my written work. The resume was to focus on my experience in playtesting, game design, and design theory among other things (you can see the desired qualifications here). Additionally, I can tell you that I personally was given an introductory case shortly after joining to make sure I was up to their standards. So we’re not just random people who like board games--we are experienced writers with vast knowledge, experience, and passion for testing and developing games.
In terms of the extra value added, Coalition Game Studios offers a wide variety of services depending on the client’s wants and needs. Beyond blind logged playtesting and thorough analysis, we also provide collaborative design consulting, where the consultant will actually join you in the creative process to take a more active role in guiding your game to its final iteration. It will allow you to keep in touch with your consultant throughout the progress of your game after receiving all the feedback and reports. Coalition consultants also play your game multiple times to determine its replayability, a trait that is usually difficult to test otherwise because getting someone to play your game over and over again is a hard sell. Basically, we are not only independent playtesters, but game developers.
2) “Money will Taint the Process”
As a consultant for the Coalition Game Studios, I get paid to playtest and develop games. As a happy paid worker I will do my job to the best of my abilities, knowing that it will be reviewed by my boss before being sent out. This means if the game is bad, I will tell you it is bad, and if it is good, I will tell you it is good. Either way, I am happy to tell you these things, along with further analysis and suggestions, in order to improve your game and hope to continue to do business in such a manner. In order for that to happen we as a business must do a great job with honest feedback. If we do anything else, we would no longer exist in the very near future. Furthermore, we are paid to do through analysis and development on games, not to review games. Designers know their own games better than anyone. If we can't engage them with intelligent discourse, they'll be the first to know. They will know whether or not we’ve done our job and they got their money’s worth. This is why having the consultants being paid will ensure the quality of the work instead of taint it.
3) “Proper Playtesting is the Designer’s Job”
First off, the services provided by people like Coalition Game Studios do not replace designers playtesting their own game and by no means are the two mutually exclusive. Coalition simply provides services to assist game designers with their playtesting and game development at various stages. From the earliest stages of a game’s design, we can provide light playtesting and input to get your game on the right track. We can also provide full-fledged game development to games in their later stages (which is not technicaly part of a designer’s job). Coalition Game Studios’ services could be used to help a designer put the final touches on their game before pitching to a publisher or launching their Kickstarter. Those final steps are difficult to do on your own without the proper personnel (ie. a publisher).
In the future the Coalition is looking to work with publishers and act as a kind of screening process for them. After providing our services to the designer, if we believe the game to be of superior quality and a good fit, we would suggest it to one of our member publishers to potentially sign. This is great for the designer, as they get access to publishers who are looking for their kind of game, and great for the publishers who don’t have to go looking through the hundreds of submissions they get for that one gem. Bottom line, the Coalition Game Studios provide much more than just playtesting and a game designer can’t always be expected to do (or be great at) everything. Especially, if they are restricted by other circumstances beyond their control.
Now that I’ve gone over my perspective as an employee of the Coalition Game Studios, what do you think of what we’re trying to do? Would you pay for playtesting? Is there only certain situations that you would be willing to do such a thing? Do you still think it’s a scam to separate the poor designer and their money? What concerns do you have that haven’t been addressed? Let us know below in the comments.
Also, if we’ve peaked your interest and you’d like to have a Coalition Game Studios Consultant take a look at on one of your games, you can receive a $10 discount off your final invoice by entering the promo code “dancinggiant” at checkout courtesy of Mike Mihealsick.
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.