Outside Playtesting

October 23, 2008

Cross-posted from Story Games, where lately I’ve been trying to “post less, but post better,” which this is a good example of.

Outside playtesting is a tough egg to crack, in all honesty. You can have a really great game (Thou Art But a Warrior, How We Came to Live Here) and still have almost nobody playtest it, aside from groups your organize yourself. However, once you get a few people playtesting and posting about your game, you can usually get a few more, and then a few more. It’ll sometimes peter out, though. For example, when the GoPlayNW folks started playing Geiger Counter, there were a few weeks where I got 60% of all the outside play AP the game has ever had. Since then, I’ve gotten a few one-line notes that people have played and enjoyed it (which is awesome, don’t get me wrong), but only a few isolated AP posts. Those are still super useful and I’ll read over them like a hawk when I get around to writing the final version of the game, but it just goes to show that playtesting is a seesaw.

From my perspective, anything a creator can do to make it more likely that people will playtest their game is a good choice. And this means releasing it in as many different formats as they have the time and energy to do. PDFs are great, but if they don’t get people to sit down and actually play your game, you may have to try something else. Sometimes selling or giving away free print copies, even ones made on a photocopier like the Geiger Betas I gave away at GenCon, might help you with that… but, then again, they might not. I’m not sure if I’ve received ANY posts from people who picked up one of those hardcopies. That doesn’t mean they were a bad idea, necessarily, but that I’m not sure they worked in this particular case, at that particular venue, without me running the game and helping get folks excited about it (since I had to bail on actually going to GenCon at the last minute).

Another issue is that… who is your playtesting audience really? People have to be fairly committed to helping you with your game in order to playtest something, which usually means they have to be so excited about playing your game that they want to play it even when it isn’t complete. Honestly, folks who are really into indie games — especially other indie game creator-publishers, the folks whose attention you might think you need to get for your game to be vetted / successful / etc. — are probably less likely to do independent playtesting for you. They already have a bunch of games they’ve been wanting to play for a while, in addition to their own game projects that they need to playtest. If you can sit down with them at a housecon (frex. JiffyCon) or a larger convention (Dreamation, GenCon), you’ll probably find they’re more than happy to play your game and offer feedback, but getting folks to independently commit their own time is harder.

All that of which is to say: finding independent playtesters is hard. You want really smart, thoughtful people who aren’t already strongly committed to other projects and games, so they can take the time and attention to get excited about yours and actually play it, ideally more than once. Honestly, you may be more likely to find those 1) locally, among people you’ve talked to in person about your game, 2) on a general site like RPGnet, or 3) from among the lurkers on SG more than from among the people who post a lot or have published one or more games. How do you find those people? Really, it’s anybody’s guess.

5 Responses to “Outside Playtesting”

  1. Jmstar Says:

    I’ve had really good luck with this. I think the small, informal mini-cons are fertile ground for internal and external playtesting. You’re right that the people who are best and most able to implement external playtests are the serious and excellent players, as opposed to other people in the design head-space. I would have thought that there’d be more reciprocity, but it’s difficult for a variety of reasons. My group has a solemn “no playtesting” vow as well.

    There’s such a saturation of people making games that people interested in nurturing a project have an embarrassment of riches to choose from.


  2. Jason: Have you had good luck having other people playtest your game without you rather than just playtesting your game with other people? I find the former much, much harder than the latter. Even at mini-cons, getting someone else to run it can sometimes be a pain. And you have to deal with people potentially having a less-good time with your baby so you can learn from their unhappiness and make it better. Not easy.

  3. Judd Says:

    Going out and playtesting other people’s games is really the way to go.

  4. Judd Says:

    I am sorry, the above was a fragment of a larger post that I was composing. I pushed SUBMIT COMMENT by mistake.

    I will expand on that in a bit.

  5. Jmstar Says:

    Yes, I’ve had considerable luck with disparate people playtesting my game without me being involved. I had three groups play through Grey Ranks in playtest that had no physical contact with me (I still haven’t met some of those guys). A friend in DC has already run a game I’m working on three times, and it’s a wonky alpha right now.

    I agree with whatever Judd is about to write, too.


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