Playtesting is critical if you want to publish your game, but it is one of the more difficult elements of games development. So how do you go about it?
Firstly, start with press ganging your friends and family into playing your game as many times and as regularly as possible, this will shake out a lot of the initial problems. Having a game with a solo mode is always helpful because you should be willing to play your own game without having to plead with someone else.
It’s good to have a group of play-testers beyond the people you can emotionally blackmail. We’re lucky enough to have a local club which play-tests all of our games, so they’ve gotten pretty good at it Since lock-down, the play-testing has moved online to Tabletop Simulator. This is great for working out kinks and problem solving. For example, if you have an alpha gamer or someone who always plays a certain way it can help see how your game will play with those players, highlighting if your game is broken.
Blind play-testing is the most valuable but often the most difficult form of testing to get. It will show you if your game is fun for strangers, without the slight social pressure of you standing behind them saying “do you like my baby?”; it’ll also show if your rules are clear without you standing there explaining where someone has gone wrong. So, how can you get playtesters?
Try joining a local gaming club or if there isn’t one, start one. Any fresh eyes on your game is helpful and if you have a local community, they are most likely to be the ones who support you.
Next go to conventions. These can be expensive but most (particularly in the UK) have inexpensive demo areas or free playtest zones and this is where you want to start. It’ll help later on to have been to conventions to know the organizers, see what sort of size and footfall the convention has and to start to have a bit of a presence there. Most people go to the same conventions year after year and they are likely to recognize you from playtest zone to small booth to selling a successful Kickstarter.
Also, try making your game into a print and play or put it on Tabletop Simulator. As stated in the first blog, this is a very cheap way of getting your game in front of as many people as possible and has become almost the only way of play-testing while social distancing. If you have a digital version of your game, going on social media can be a good way to find play-testers. Boardgame Geek has a play-test guild and game design forum where you can find play-testers, otherwise, talking about your game on Facebook can not only build a following but help play test.
Play-testing can be a stressful process, particularly if it’s your first or only game. It’s always disheartening to hear someone say that they just don’t like any part of your game or give you lists of things that are “wrong” which can sometimes amount to them saying that they want your pirate card drafter to be a Cthulhu RPG. Try not to be despondent or angry and remember that people are just trying to help. Work out which advice is helpful, again this can be tricky, and try to implement it. Remember your game’s soul (in Concept – The Perils of Picking a Game)? This is the time to be double checking it; don’t change your game beyond all recognition just because some people want you to.
Just a quick note on play-testers. Do not ask them to sign an Non-Disclosure Agreement. You don’t need to, no-one is going to steal from you, and it comes across as insulting as play-testers are helping you and you’re basically saying you don’t trust them. Play-testers might want a credit in your game but will often do it for the love of board games. If you have a group, you could offer a credit, but buying a pizza and a few beers will often be enough thanks. If you’re at a convention’s play-test zone, people are shepherded to your table and have come to play-test something. Mostly, be enthusiastic and grateful, and always say thank you no matter how unhelpful someone has been because they have taken time out to help you.
So how have you found playtesters? I’ll be speaking more about it in my next blog on the World Wide Web of Social Media!