How Many Blind Play-Tests Does Your Board Game *Really* Need?

Posted on Posted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

In my quest to test Highways & Byways 100 more times before I release it to reviewers, I’ve found myself with relatively little to say. That’s a good thing! After all, I’m checking to make sure there are no serious balance issues that come out of repeated plays. I’ve already play-tested this game a ton. People like it, it’s been blind play-tested for over two months now. I even blind play-tested it at a game design convention.

In absence of a Byways-related update to inspire this week’s Dev Diary, I’m answering a question I got from a new game designer a few months back. “How many blind play-tests does your board game really need?”

 

“I wish I could Photoshop as good as Brandon the Game Dev,” said no one.

 

Predictably, my response to that is “it depends.” Blind play-testing has a set of very specific purposes in board game development. You need it for five reasons:

  1. It confirms that the core engine and mechanics of your game make intuitive sense.
  2. It confirms that your rules are not unnecessarily difficult to pick up.
  3. It can help you identify accessibility issues before you get farther along in development.
  4. It puts your game in a situation where people are less likely to protect your feelings, since you’re not directly involved.
  5. It’s great marketing.

 

It makes an intuitive sort of sense that more blind play-testing is always good. I’m not convinced. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had dozens of people blind play-test Highways & Byways, but there are diminishing returns once you hit a certain point. Let’s take this apart reason by reason.

 

It confirms that the core engine and mechanics of your game make intuitive sense.

If three or four different game groups all play your game and have no trouble understanding the strategy and tactics of the game, you’re probably good to go here. Granted, it might take you a long time to get to this point, but if your first three or four blind play-tests go well in this regard, you’re probably fine.

 

It confirms that your rules are not unnecessarily difficult to pick up.

Again, if the same three of four different game groups understand the rules just fine, you’re probably good to go here as well. That means no misunderstandings, no deer-in-headlights looks when reading the rules, and no major suggestions. They might find a typo or two, but that’s different.

 

It can help you identify accessibility issues before you get farther along in development.

If your game is blind play-tested by lots of different people, the most common visual, physical, a cognitive inaccessibilities should become clear to the perceptive game developer. If you don’t find any after a while, you’re probably good to go here as well.

 

It puts your game in a situation where people are less likely to protect your feelings, since you’re not directly involved.

If your game is loved or even merely liked with a few minor suggestions for changes, you’re in a good place with blind play-testing. If your game can get a consensus of 7/10 on feedback surveys with some consistent and easy-to-implement suggestions for improvement, you may not need additional blind play-testing.

 

It’s great marketing.

Of all the reasons to keep blind play-testing once you confirm your game is clear, accessible, and likable, this is the most compelling. People who play a game in its early stages are more likely to buy it later on. This is a simple fact. However, blind play-testing can be time-consuming and difficult to arrange. I would argue it is more effective to use your time and money generating email leads online through social media or going to conventions to mingle.

 

You don’t need hundreds of blind play-tests. You don’t need hundreds of blind play-testers. All you need is enough to confirm that your game is clear, accessible, and likable. That might take 10 games. It might take 200. There is no hard and fast answer here.

Every once in a while, a fresh project will try to wow everybody by posting astronomical numbers showing how much a game has been play-tested. I’m sure there is a benefit to blind play-testing on a massive scale, but it’s not so great that the new game developer working on a very tight budget with limited time should feel the need to pursue. My approach to blind play-testing is one based on lean business process design: figure out exactly what I need and how to get it efficiently.

To conclude, let’s flip these five reasons into a five-prong test you can use to tell if you’ve done enough blind play-testing.

 

Your Game Has Been Blind Play-Tested Enough If…

  1. Your game is intuitive.
  2. Your game has clear rules.
  3. Your game has no major accessibility issues.
  4. People like your game or you have consistent and easy-to-implement feedback that would resolve outstanding issues.
  5. You have played with enough people to spread the word OR you have a good marketing plan.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • With the physical prototype in my home right now, play-testing is going much, much, much faster.
  • I’m still aiming for 100 play-tests.
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