Playtesting Shenanigans – Episode 1

Ever since I quit to make games on my own, I’ve been trying to follow the principles for Lean Startups. What I like best is the concept of testing as early as you possibly can. Got a new feature in your product? Well, test it out on real people! Got different varieties of how a user can experience the app, well… test it out on real people!! Having worked on some feedback, do you want to see if it’s effective… well… you get the drift.

And so… I began my playtests with people I knew. Two weeks after quitting from my last job, I had a very rough prototype on my hands. I go back to meet my now-former colleagues, who greet me with wide smiles and ask about tales from beyond the the Wall – you’re pretty much treated like a rockstar. You quit to pursue your dreams, didn’t you? Now that I’d done a playtest once, it started getting easier. I’d go to my alma mater, and when I’d catch up with old friends.. they’d invariably ask ‘Hows it going?’ and I’d say ‘Would you like to see for yourself?’.

The most important thing to know here, is that you should always carry a notebook with a pen/pencil, just in case you’re able to convince/trick/harass someone into playing your under-developed game. Scribble down every last interesting thing you see. You might connect some dots later.

You’ll find players in every place under the sun – entrepreneur meetups, game dev conferences/meetups, outside eateries, heck.. even a friend’s wedding! You may be branded the attention hog for whipping out your game wherever you go, and this happens even though you were ASKED how you were doing! Most people have very convenient memory spans, but you can’t really blame them for it. At the end of the day, you’re still the one who brought something unexpected to a meet which may have been for a different purpose altogether.

But the most important thing is not to get discouraged… atleast not enough to consider stopping playtesting. If anything like this happens, immediately call on a fellow game developer or a trusted friend, and vent your sorrows unto them. The hazard with testing early prototypes is – People don’t understand what’s happening or why something’s happening in the game. You’d be using stock or dummy visuals and sounds, your gameplay is probably just one level put together in a barely-functioning manner. So be prepared to get more brick bats than bouquets! But the rare occasion when someone gets your game within a minute of playing it, and continues to play it… feels worth more than all the disappointment you’ve faced before this in playtests.

In a later post, I’ll talk about the rules of thumb I follow while play testing.