Playtesting and Record Keeping

Posted on Posted in Know-How

Game development is iterative. Making a great game requires soliciting and intelligently processing feedback. It seems easy enough from the outside. Write down what people say, update your game, and save a new copy. While that method will work, I’d argue it’s not ideal.

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Our world is awash in an amazing amount of data, but we’re still pretty bad at processing it. When you playtest a game, alone or with other people, you’re going to be creating a lot of data. Who played? What was the outcome? Were there any problems that stopped the game in its tracks? And so on and so on…

How do you keep track of all this information?

There’s a lot of different ways, but first start by doing two things:

  1. Give each iteration of your game a version number. Every time you make a change that is not minor and superficial, up your game’s version number by one.
  2. Log every single playtest with the game and make sure your playtest matches with a game version number.

Suggestion 1 is pretty straightforward, but suggestion 2 is a little more complex. First, I discourage the use of BoardGameGeek for playtest record keeping. I recommend that you use a spreadsheet. When logging your playtests, you want to capture all of the following information:

  • Who played?
  • How many people played?
  • Who won?
  • How long did the game take?
  • Describe each player’s strategy.
  • Were there any game-breaking flaws? If so, describe them.
  • Did you catch any minor errors? If so, describe them.
  • Were there any ambiguities in the rules? If so, describe them.
  • Did you catch any typos, graphic issues, or small errors? If so, describe them.

The last four items give you specific data to correct your game after playtesting. Take action on these as soon as you can and create a new version of the game. Then you can focus on information that you can extrapolate from the first five pieces of data.

Who played

Regular players are less likely to stumble on rules. Repeat players are better at helping you develop nuanced strategy. Newbies are better for sussing out communication issues and confusing parts.

Number of people played

Compare with game length and figure out how much gameplay time is affected by number of players. Combine with strategy to figure which strategy works best with each number of players.

Who won

Find the best strategy, ideally with the intention to create a game which has no “one perfect strategy.” Find out how much advantage repeat players have over new players.

Game length

This can help you find conditions under which the game ends prematurely or drags on.

Game strategy

This can help you identify which strategies work and which don’t.

The framework above gives you a lot of data to collect. How you use it is another matter entirely, and there’s no perfect answer to the question of “what’s the best way to use this data?” You’re going to have to make judgement calls and experiment over and over again until you make your perfect game.

It’s a lot easier to pursue perfection when you stay organized.

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