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Off the Record: Playtest Your Game Until It Is Perfect!

Off the Record: Playtest Your Game Until It Is Perfect!

If you are serious about making your game idea into a reality, you absolutely must playtest first.

No matter how great you think your idea is, I guarantee it will not play out the way you have envisioned it in your head.

Our experience playtesting Toxic Potato was a process that took a rough idea and turned it into an actual game.

We made so many mistakes and had a lot of questions to resolve, but every playtest brought us closer to our finished product.

So here is a breakdown of what we learned as we playtested Toxic Potato (and several of our WIP games) that hopefully will help you get started on turning your idea into a finished product.

1. Take Notes – Write down your feedback during every playtesting phase.

Before we jump into the phases of playtesting that we use, let’s first talk about your note-taking system.

We specifically paid attention to two things while taking notes about our game: the feel and game mechanics.

The Feel

I personally believe that this is the most important aspect to any game. While playing, pay attention to what the players are doing during the game.

 Are they sitting bored?

Are the player interactions happy/angry/indifferent?

Are the players intensely focused on their strategy?

Your game should have a specific goal in mind. For us, Toxic Potato was meant to be a fun, fast-paced game with a lot of personal interaction.

Smiles, laughing, and jokes between players helped us to see whether we were accomplishing the goal of our game.

Whether you are looking for a more serious, strategic feel or an RPG with more team interactions, make mental notes of what the players are doing to see if your game is meeting its goal.

Be specific about the parts of the game that are keeping the group from getting the feel that you want and then make changes to those parts until you get the group vibe you set out to create.

Game Scenarios

While making Toxic Potato, we had so many scenarios come up where one card would cause issues for another card.

Some cards were really fun to play on their own, but when mixed in with the rest of the cards in the game they just didn’t work.

Other times we didn’t have the right mix of cards in the game. We would have too many of one and too little of another.

We wouldn’t have seen that coming if we hadn’t playtested the game so many times.

Take notes of situations like these that come up in the game.

I would write down in my phone notes the specific card that didn’t work, along with a little explanation as to what the issue was.

Later we would adjust and then playtest again to make sure our changes worked.

2. Three Playtesting Phases – Use the initial, observed, and blind playtests to perfect your game.

Now that you know what notes to be taking during your playtests, use the initial, observed, and blind playtests to perfect your gameplay.

Initial Playtesting

In the initial playtesting phase, use close family and friends. They will be willing to see your initial idea and still encourage you to keep working on it.

The first time playing the game can be especially brutal. You will run into a lot of issues that keep your game from having any flow to it.

But you will be able to see pretty quickly if the game has any potential.

Our first time playing Toxic Potato was especially brutal. There were so many mechanics to the game that didn’t work.

In fact, the whole objective of the game was awful. But we had close family that saw the general idea we were going for and helped us to see ways to improve it.

That is why you should play with those closest to you. They will help you get through the really rough early phases of the game.

Spend as much time as needed in this phase to make sure that the game mechanics work and that you have addressed the majority of concerns that ruin the flow of the gameplay.

Your goal at the end of this phase should be to play the full game without having to stop and make up new rules to address major issues.

You should also have a rough set of instructions that you can use for the next phase.

Observed Playtesting

In the observed playtesting phase, you will take your game to the public. Find a group of friends or hit up a local game shop to playtest your game with a group that hasn’t seen it before.

With Toxic Potato, we gave our rough instructions to the group and then had them try to play it as best as they could without help.

You will stay on the outside of the game and observe what issues they may have with the instructions as well as different mechanics to the game.

Take notes each time the players ask for clarification on the rules or mechanics so that you can address them before the next playtest.

By the time you are finished with this phase of playtesting, you should have a nearly finished product ready to send out for the next phase.

The instructions should be finalized to the point that you can send them out to someone, and they can play without you being present to clarify rules.

Blind Playtesting

The final test left to pass is blind playtesting.

You will be sending your game out to individuals that have never seen it before to playtest with only your instructions as a guide.

The follow up on these playtests is crucial so that you know whether the game was a success.

After giving the playtesters time to try out the game, follow up with a phone call (preferably) or email to find out more about the experience.

Here are some questions that we recommend asking:

  • Were the rules clear and easy to understand? Why or why not?
  • Did you have any trouble with the setup? If so, how could we have made it clearer?
  • Did you run into any issues during the game that were hard to understand?
  • Did your group enjoy playing the game?
    • If so, what made it so enjoyable?
    • If not, what kept you from enjoying the game?
  • Is there anything we could have done to make it easier to get started playing?
  • Is this a game you would recommend to other people? Why or why not?

This is just a sampling of questions that you might use to get feedback on your game.

If possible, talk with people over the phone (or face to face) to get a better feel for their reactions to the questions.

If you keep hearing a lot of the same issues with the game, address those issues and then send out another round of blind playtests.

Once you feel like the issues are minimal, you should be ready to produce your game!

Playtesting Your Game Until It Is Perfect Conclusion

Playtesting is the key to making your game work. You will receive a lot of feedback about the game that will tear it down but will also make it way better.

Each of the three phases of playtesting is crucial to building a better game. Don’t skip out on any of them because you fear criticism.

You will have to sort through the noise of the feedback to determine which things need to change versus those ideas that don’t help you achieve the goal of your game.

Remember that not every game will fit the personality of every person, so some feedback you can ignore. You will have a good idea of which recurring themes come up if you playtest enough.

Hopefully this helps you avoid some of the mistakes we made with Toxic Potato. Our playtesting has been much more efficient since we followed these three phases from the start.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions in the comments!

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