Dealing with playtesters

Creating a game involves having others play it. Unless you’re a weird, smelly hermit who doesn’t like people or the Internet (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this), you’ll eventually want an audience for your masterpiece.

These guys are totally checking your game out.
These guys are totally checking your game out.

Of course, it’s this same audience who will be providing you with feedback while the game is in development: after all, how else will you figure out that your game is way too hard/easy/filled with unicorns? So here are a few points to consider when you’re on that all-important quest for player responses:


As a rule of thumb, it’s best to approach fellow game developers when you’re looking for initial feedback. Not only will criticisms generally be fairer and more constructive, but you’ll be addressing people who are used to analysing games on a deeper level than the average gamer. What you’ll effectively have is a two-in-one bundle: people who can put themselves in the shoes of your audience while still relating to you as a developer.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use “ordinary gamers” for your feedback process: in later stages of the game testing process, their input will actually become the most valuable. It’s just a lot easier to get input from people who are in the same merry boat as you.


You don’t have to go cuddle the playtesters in a corner (unless that really is your thing), but it’s a good idea to grab willing participants, sit them down in front of your PC and ask them to play the game in front of you. Watching players fumble through your game can offer pointers that you wouldn’t find anywhere else: you can watch them struggle, excel, or otherwise deviate from your “intended game plan” with greater precision than their own understanding would offer.

There are drawbacks to this method, of course. Your very presence can potentially interfere with a game session, either through intimidation or spoilers. Make yourself inconspicuous, whip out a notebook in some darkened corner, and learn to shut up. Every bit of information that you volunteer during game time will reduce the play session’s integrity: if you warn testers about a boss character before it arrives, don’t expect them to react naturally when it bursts out of the wall.


Finally, bear in mind that not everyone’s feedback is valuable. On the most obvious level, there will be people who either slander your game outright (“I HAD MOVE BUG UR GAME SUX KTHXBAAI”) or praise it unnecessarily (which is kinda nice, but not exactly helpful). But you have to be picky about constructive feedback, too. On occasion, people will make suggestions that won’t fit with your game’s ethos, or may even just be plain ol’ bad. Sometimes, one group of people will like a certain feature while others don’t, and then it gets really tricky.

In the end, no matter what feedback rituals you follow, it’s important to remember that any given piece of advice isn’t the Word of God™: it’s just a springboard, and the big decisions ultimately have to be made by you.

Approach the matter critically. If you can properly balance faith in your own design with respect for your audience, your game will be far better for it.