Game Design Hour: How to Run a Play Test

Posted by on May 9, 2017
By greensefa

By greensefa

This is part of a multi-post series about the practicalities of designing a game. Today I’m going to look at the practical actions you need to take while actually running a playtest.

First, choose a classic scenario. Avoid the temptation to test an unusual setting for your system, like a James Bond action scenario using wushu rules. This will skew your playtesters’ feedback, and you won’t be able to separate problems with the game from problems with the game’s applicability to the scenario. Stay basic.

Second, run the game as if you were the DM, not the designer. As the designer, it’s easy to answer a question about a rule by explaining the reason why you designed that rule. This information will skew your playtest. It gives your playtesters more information than your audience will have. Other potential problems with the game won’t surface, because your playtesters will understand your reasoning behind them. Don’t give them more information than a DM who read your rules would know. That can be hard to do, but it’s important that you do your best.

Third, bring lots of paper and take copious notes. Many small moments occur during a playtest that you want to capture and will slip from your mind once the session’s over. You will notice a pause when a particular rule is introduced, or a conversation about a rule interaction that you will want to capture immediately.

Also: I know, you probably want to use your laptop or tablet to take notes. But people react differently to a person writing on a piece of paper compared to a person typing on a screen. The latter feels impersonal to people, and they’ll feel more like they’re in a doctor’s office than a playtest. It will shut them down emotionally a little bit, which you do not want in your playtest.

Fourth, run the game. Meaning, other than taking notes, run the game like a normal session. Ensure the players are having fun. A playtest involves play, and playtesters who’ve had a good time with your game will give you more feedback than players in a session where you paid less attention to the game itself.

How should you ask for feedback and incorporate it into your game? We’ll cover that next.

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