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.

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