Playtesting: lessons learned

An important part of creating any game system is playtesting it.

So far Leaves of Chiaroscuro has been playtested by 2 groups, with 3 different GMs. Both playtesting groups were comprised primarily of people whom I knew prior to them joining the playtests.

As a new game designer, it’s been an incredibly educational experience and has led to many hours of great fun, as well as hard work.

The game now looks quite different than when I started working on it, however, some of what I have learned are things about the nature of playtesting itself.

Being a part of the group playtesting a game you are designing is useful; I recommend it.  There’s nothing quite like playing and running the game you are making and seeing how it handles for yourself.  However, this approach is flawed.

If at all possible make sure that you take a more hands-off approach with some of your playtesting. What this means is, at a certain point you need to get a group to run your game with you strictly as an observer, or even with you not actually being there while the game is going on at all.  An important element of this is to not answer questions about how a given rule is supposed to be handled, or to help with any issues which come up in gameplay.  If you plan to release your game to the public at some point you aren’t going to be around every session to help with rules interpretations after all.  It is important to know how various rules will tend to get interpreted and to find any that people just plain can’t figure out on their own for one reason or another.

If you take a hands off approach then you have a better chance of seeing how other people are likely to approach your game, which of course you want them to be able to do without any intervention from you, the designer.

If you’ve run playtests before, or are a game designer what are your thoughts and experiences with this process?

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