Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
But suggestions aren't what balance designers need the most out of
playtests. We can come up with ideas for how to change the game by our-
selves. What we can't do is experience the game the way another player
does. We're so close to the design that we lack the perspective of other
people. That's why the real purpose of playtests is not to gather suggestions—
it is to understand the experiences other players have with the game.
A designer can often understand someone's experience just by watch-
ing the person play. I've run many playtests without even needing to ask
any questions afterward. It's obvious from watching when players succeed
and fail, how quickly they proceed, and what decisions they make. Their
internal perceptions are written on their choices of where to look and what
to do. You can even watch their faces to see how they're feeling.
But sometimes just watching play isn't enough. In these situations,
you have to ask carefully designed questions to ferret out the knowledge
you need. For example, if you want to understand what seemed important
to them, ask them to tell you the story of what happened, and they'll report
the parts that were most salient in their mind. If you're wondering about
whether they perceived something, ask them a question that tests their
knowledge: “How many men arrived in the helicopter?” If they seem con-
fused, they didn't notice the helicopter. If you want to understand one of
their decisions, ask them to walk you through their thought process.
Stay open, neutral, and professional. Ask questions in a wondering
way, not an accusatory way. Try to avoid any personal interaction or emo-
tion that might distort or hide the tester's experience. Don't encourage or
reward positive or “right” answers.
If the tester starts making suggestions, try to work backward and
figure out what experience motivated the suggestion. Sometimes this
means asking the tester why he is making the suggestion. Other times,
you can simply guess what happened. If he's asking you to remove the
rifle, it's probably because he had a bad experience with the rifle—but you
might want to drill in with further questions to dig out the precise bad
experience he had. Did he miss a shot he thought should have hit? There
might be a problem in the aiming system. Did he feel like he ran out of
ammo too often? The game's economy might be imbalanced. Did he not
understand a feature of the rifle? Maybe it needs a better tutorial or clearer
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