YTN Episode 004

The 4th episode of Your Turn Next has just gone live!

Join the YTN team and a special guest as we wrap up the playtest discussion using the Forming First-Rate Feedback blog post from June 19th and then discuss world building in games, books, and movies.

Let us know in the comments or via email if you have any topics, questions, or ideas you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast. The email address is:

And if you’re looking for links to some of the things we discussed this episode, here’s where to find more about:

Forming First-Rate Feedback

You may not hear it very often, but I firmly believe that many folks currently in game development are there at least in part because they knew how to give great playtest feedback. Playtesters work closely with game developers to help create a superior finished game and are, in essence, junior developers on the project. So when a game developer position is available, it’s only natural to think of these junior developers and consider the best among them for a full-time position.

Creating great playtest feedback ties into the playtest practices I talked about in The Science of Playtest article, but that’s really just the beginning. A playtester could have truly impressive playtest practices and an amazingly insightful mind for game development yet still provide very little to the playtest process unless they know how to communicate their playtest feedback effectively.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to give great playtest feedback is that the gaming culture is often rooted in knee-jerk reactions and hyperbole. When visiting forums or social media groups, how often have you read extreme commentary about how good or bad a game (or card or model or whatever) is based on little to no actual experience with the product? Unless you don’t go on gaming forums or social media groups, I’m guessing you’ve seen such feedback quite a bit.

Good playtest feedback is basically the opposite of that. You want a good understanding of the game (or card or model) before expressing anything more than your first impressions, and you want to avoid hyperbole since it’s a barrier to clear communication. Consider, for example, how much clearer it is to say you think something “should cost 1 more point (or mana, gem, etc.)” versus saying you think it “is ridiculously overpowered.” In one case, the game developer knows exactly what you think. In the other, it would be very easy to overcompensate when attempting to correct the game balance.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

Always present a potential solution. The number one tip for effective feedback is to always include your thoughts on how to fix the problems you’ve identified. The game developer might not use your solution exactly as written, but it gives a clear picture of the direction you think the change should go and the scope of the change. “Based on the past several playtest games, we think this card should cost 1 more gem” is a good example of showcasing the direction and scope of a recommended change.

Balance being clear with being concise. There’s no perfect formula for finding this balance, but feedback that is too verbose has the potential for your message to get lost in the noise while feedback that is too terse won’t sufficiently explain how or why you’ve reached your playtest conclusions. When you reach the end of a section of playtest feedback, reread it and ask, “Did I sufficiently explain how I reached my conclusion?” and add some detail as necessary. Then ask, “Did I talk about things that have nothing to do with my conclusion?” and trim those out as necessary.

Prioritize your feedback. Sometimes, you’ll have quite a bit of playtest feedback, and that’s great! But you’ll also want to prioritize playtest feedback. Whether you use a numbered list or a color code or a “high, medium, low” system is up to you, but some sort of priority system is super helpful. There’s a lot of playtest feedback to consider, and a way to quickly identify the most important problems your group identified will help make those a priority for potential changes.

YTN Episode 003

The 3rd episode of Your Turn Next has just gone live!

Join the YTN team and a special guest as we discuss The Science of Playtest blog post from June 1st.

Let us know in the comments or via email if you have any topics, questions, or ideas you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast. The email address is:

And if you’re looking for links to some of the games we discussed this episode, well… it was mostly just Werewolf:

The Science of Playtest

I’m pretty passionate about playtesting. More specifically, I’m passionate about establishing and maintaining good playtest practices. I’ve had the opportunity to playtest many different products over the years for a number of different game companies. I’ve participated in playtest sessions as a playtester, as a playtesting coordinator, and as a game developer, giving me a broad perspective on playtesting and plenty of opportunities to see what works most effectively.

When I sat down to write this article, one of the article names that appealed to me for a moment was “The Art of Playtest.” The other side of my brain, however, immediately rebelled at the thought. I’ve mentioned in blogs and podcasts in the past that I love how game development merges analytical and creative pursuits. That’s true of playtesting just as it’s true of game development, but playtesting requires far more objectivity and critical thinking than people might realize.

It’s easy to think of a playtest session like a normal gaming session – you hang out with friends, and you play a game. Then, because it’s a playtest session, you talk a bit about how you felt the game went and what aspects of it you feel could be a bit different. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of playtesting, but that’s not enough.

Playtest games are essentially experiments. I’ve often said that “playtesting is light on play and heaving on testing.” The goal of players is to compete for victory in a game. The goal of testers, however, is to help create a better finished product. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. You’re not testing player skill. It doesn’t even matter if you finish the game. What matters is what you learn and how effectively you communicate that information to the game developer. Shifting your mindset from working against other players as competitors to working with other players as fellow scientists performing an experiment will go a long, long way toward increasing the value and impact of your playtest feedback.

Thinking about your playtest session as an experiment will help in all sorts of ways beyond that first step of working with your opponents rather than against them. Taken to heart, it helps alleviate some of the following playtest pitfalls in a way that comes as second nature.

1. Don’t play favorites. When performing experiments, you need to test a variety of outcomes. Even after you find your favorite character, faction, play style, etc. in a playtest game, don’t get hung up there. There’s a ton more variables to consider, and you should take this opportunity to experiment. Your goal should be the balance and fun of the game as a whole, not one specific element of the game.

2. Expect change. It’s very easy to form opinions about a game mechanic or a character or a rule and then stick to that opinion. As gamers, we do it all the time. As playtesters, however, it’s a trap! Playtest games are constantly changing, and it’s absolutely critical to look at the current version of the game rather than relying on outdated impressions.

3. Consider the big picture. It’s easy to get hung up in the current revision of the game and your own playtest group’s experiences. After all, your feedback is the piece of the picture you see. In the big picture, however, lots of other folks are submitting playtest feedback, and the current revision of the game is changing all the time. Your feedback will be heard and considered, but it won’t always result in immediate and visible change.

So those are some of my thoughts on the science of playtest. In the next blog, I’ll be continuing the topic of playtesting to talk about how to maximize your playtest feedback. Being an effective playtester not only helps to make great games, but working smoothly with game developers can frequently lead to additional opportunities in the gaming industry.