Game Development Reference
In over-the-shoulder playtesting, the designer watches other players. This
can be as informal as grabbing a coworker and putting them in front of
your computer. Or it might mean bringing outsiders into a fake living
room with drinks, a game system, and hidden cameras.
Over-the-shoulder playtesting is better than self-testing because the
players can vary and don't have the designer's complete knowledge of the
game. You can playtest with the old, the young, men, women, aggressive
people, passive people, and everyone in between. And none of them will
know everything about the game the way you do, so all of them will re-
spond to it more like real players than you will.
The greatest danger in over-the-shoulder playtesting is corrupting
the test by giving players information they shouldn't have. This is why, in
nearly all cases, the designer should remain completely silent through the
test. Do not talk. Do not laugh. Do not groan. Do not signal your thoughts
in any way. If the playtester asks you something, say in a neutral tone,
“Sorry, I can't answer that.”
This rule is socially awkward. When a player is confused or frustrated,
it can be downright painful. Every experienced designer has watched a
player get stuck for 15 minutes searching for a door or button. You desper-
ately want to tell the player, “It's right there! Just push the blue button!”
But telling the playtester what he's missing would corrupt the whole test
by giving him information that real players won't have. You would no
longer be testing your game, but a strange version of your game where
the designer comes in the box and gives tips. The tests might go more
smoothly, but only because flaws are being hidden.
Occasionally, it's necessary to give the player information to fill in for
missing pieces of the game. In these cases, the extra information should
be planned beforehand as part of the test protocol.
The choice of playtester affects the kind of data you'll get. The main varia-
tion among playtesters is in their knowledge of the game.
In so-called Kleenex testing , the designer brings in playtesters who
have never played the game. This kind of testing reveals how players will
react during the critical first few moments of play. But these testers can
only be used once, hence the name Kleenex testers.
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