Game testing is hard!

Testing games is a chore. It is, truly, and a tiresome one too. Oh sure, we usually pull through with a smile plastered on our faces because no matter the feedback we get , we know it is for the betterment of the game in general. But let’s face it – testing games is an ordeal, hard, tedious and often frustrating, for many reasons really…

Firstly, because it really require us to walk out of our comfort zone. It is still valuable to test our game concept with family and friends! We still will manage to squeeze some info out of such games on our own… Measure the game duration, see if the mechanics stutter, observe the frustration and joy moments through the gameplay and so on, but verbal feedback from people close to us will generally be lacking in the sweetness of harsh and unyielding honesty. I mean, not all the time, but it is quite expected that family and friends would not like to hurt us and mangle our feelings, and so will usually try their best to find something good even in a colossal flop of a game, or at least soften the punches!

Which is not something we can afford when testing a game.

I know it’s not easy. I mean, whenever I come up with an idea of a game the initial phase of it is just pure excitement! I feel like the idea is nouvelle and fresh, I believe I managed to take the pieces and arrange them in a pleasant experience… It is not always pretty to face reality and see how something that sounded neat on paper and worked smoothly in our imagination crashes in flames. But it’s important to learn to cope brilliantly with it and truly open up for brutal and direct criticism.
It still itch me the wrong way, when during testing someone just throw the cards and proclaim “This sucks.” There are more dignified and elegant way to offer good criticism, but even in such cases I swallow the pride and nod in agreement, trying to fish out what exactly does not work if it is not evident to me.

That’s what I meant by ‘walking out of your comfort zone’. You need to test your product on people, who do not owe you anything, who do not feel the need to somehow placate your creative burst, who do not see sense in sugar coating things for your own benefit. You need to test your game, most preferably, on total strangers. Why? Well, your goal is to find people who will be most objective. People who obviously want to have fun playing a game, but won’t go an extra mile to find it, because they expect game itself to provide it in spades. Only these people will be honest enough to crush your mechanics and concepts with proper ruthlessness and trust me on that, it’s very good if they do so!
Because only good feedback can make your project progress. Never lock yourself up in the cage of your own idea, never get upset and huff and puff and nay-sayers, never look for empty praise and shut off any negative comments, because if you will do all that, your game will most likely be bad in every way, and its existence will just serve to tickle your ego, which is hardly the point in making games, is it?

Now, let’s not get crazy about it though. Game testing is not a session in BDSM and you don’t really go there to smile in glee as players bash your game in some imaginative way. Gathering feedback truly is an art, and you really need to know with sharp focus what you’re looking for.

Simple example given our own games. MonsterBuffet is a simple, quick game about reflex. It’s a party game, a light and quick filler and nothing more. Now if I bring this game to fans of monstrous wargames or admirers of brain-burning eurogames, I can quite rightfully expect the game to get bashed hard. Does it mean the game is bad? Yes, it is – for this specific target groups, since the game is not made for them, as much as Through the Ages was not made for Sunday casual player who want a round of Carcassonne or Catan. And no, it is not – for folks who just want to enjoy a swift and easy game to accompany their drinking session or to have rapid fun without a need to read a thick booklet of rules, it just might be the best game they played lately, right?

You see what I mean by having a good idea what you want to test? It will require different approach to pretty much every aspect of the game to be tested. Different people and test routine to tighten the mechanic, different group to see how fun it is, different to ensure the look and feel of it clicks with your target audience…

Truly, testing is a chore. A fun chore none the less!

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