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The do’s and don’ts of playtesting your mobile game

Posted by on 04/12/2016

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Testing anything is a challenge by itself, let alone a mobile game.

Playtesters are hard to find because they have to have many rare traits at the same time. They have to let their feelings guide them when playing your game, but at the same time, they have to base their assessment and opinion on real hard facts. They should be experienced enough to be able to scrutinize a game and find the weaknesses and potential pitfalls, but they shouldn’t be so technical that they get into unnecessary details (after all, that’s the developer’s job).

They should be able to see behind the appealing visual details and go deep into the gameplay, but they should be careful enough to avoid going off course and expecting your game to be something it’s not.

All in all, playtesting is a fine line, like walking a tightrope. You have to strike the perfect balance. So how do you find the perfect playtester?

You don’t: it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Instead, you find relatively-ideal people, and ask them the right questions.

In this post, I’ll offer you some tips on the do’s and don’ts of working with playtesters.

let THEM DO IT AT THEIR OWN PACE

One of the biggest mistakes in dealing with playtesters  trying to teach them how to play and test your game based on your standards, and badgering them based on your own perceptions of the game. When you discuss the game with your playtesters and go over the mechanics again and again, you’re effectively rubbing down their sensibilities, removing the element of newness, and treating them as you would a fellow game designer.

This way they will end up giving you feedback that is good from a designer perspective, but not from a player’s point of view. You don’t teach a player how to play your game. You let them learn and get used to it at their own pace. And if they’re having trouble getting the feel of it, there’s probably something wrong with your game, not with them, so don’t try to fix them. Fix the game.


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It ALL COMES DOWN TO EMOTIONS

There are a lot of different elements involved in defining the quality of a game, but at their core, games are a form of art and gaming is an experience. And as with anything that is experience-based, emotions will account for a large and definitive part of a playtester’s final opinion about your mobile game.

So instead of asking about mechanics and intricate features, you should simply ask playtesters how they felt about the game. This can help players zero in on their experience and give you the feedback you need to see how close you are to getting it right, find what’s wrong with the game, and tailor it to meet its objective.

For instance, if you intended a game to be fast-paced, but the player found it boring and slow, you know that you’ve failed in that domain and need to apply changes.

Players always know how they feel about a game, although they might not know why they feel that way. As designers and developers, we need to find out what caused the negative emotion or how it can be altered. Playtesters shouldn’t need to concern themselves with that.

One point of consideration about emotions: Players’ emotions are never wrong. Hear them out and don’t get defensive when getting emotional feedback from players. That is something that happens a lot, since emotions are not necessarily tangible and objective, and they may collide with your own feelings about your game.

value feedback and dig deeper

It’s easy to become convinced when a player says “I enjoyed the game,” and slip into the pitfall of believing that everything is perfect about it. This doesn’t answer the question you should be asking players, which is essentially how they felt about the game, not whether they liked it or not.

If your game is meant to be scary, then your players should feel afraid. If it’s an action adventure, it should make them feel excited to find out the next turn and twist. So if players tell you they liked the game (or didn’t like it), thank them for their feedback and ask them to dig deeper and tell you how they felt while playing the game.

After that you can start asking the right questions. So if a player says they felt bored or tense while playing your game, you should ask them about the timing (when did they start feeling that way, or how long after playing the game did the feeling come) and the dynamics (what part of the game triggered that feeling) that caused the emotion.

I would emphasize again that you should definitely avoid closed questions that lead to specific answers, or questions with a yes or no answer.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Eventually, after having the game playtested by several users, you’ll get a bunch of feedback that are in line with the game’s general context and goal, and a bunch of others that are totally irrelevant.

You should know that some of those answers are coming from people who do not necessarily fit into the audience of your game. For instance, a player who feels a car-racing game is too fast is probably not the right person to test that game. Try to divide your players into separate segments, from novices to gurus of the genre, or people who are totally uninterested about the topic, and then address the answers and feedback of each group separately.

Clustering can help you better understand the feedback and look for patterns between users that share characteristics.

OVER TO YOU

Getting at players’ emotions is hard, but when you actually get there, the results are rewarding.

What tips do you have for getting great feedback from gamtesters? Share your experience in the comments section.

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