So You Want to be a Playtester?

Playtesting games, regardless of the type, takes a special person. I claim to be one of those special people. Though I am not sure if I am truly a person gifted with the ability read, dare I say wade, through rough written rules and under developed game mechanics in an attempt to make a viable game! For the record, I do enjoy the playtesting process, but damn it can be hard on the brain!

Playtesting set up for a new Richard Berg Game. The specific battle set up here is Plains of Abraham. This battle was fought on the Plains of Abraham which is located to the West of Quebec.
Playtesting set up for a new Richard Berg Game. The specific battle set up here is Plains of Abraham. This battle was fought on the Plains of Abraham which is located to the West of Quebec.

Want to be a playtester? Here’s a little of what you can expect, but understand that every playtest experience will be different and will not necessarily encompass everything listed below and for that matter, might include things not covered here.

1. Rough draft rules – Will need proofreading, fact checking and layout recommendations. <– Can you say brain drain?

2. Game Assembly:
a. Wargames – You may or may not need to create a Print & Play game. You may get lucky and there will be a Vassal module.
b. RPGs – Most likely you will have a PDF of the rules to read and work with.
c. Boardgames – You may or may not need to create a Print & Play game.

3. Breaking the game – Every designer or author is going to want you to try and break his or her game. By that I mean, you need to determine if the rules/mechanics as written work or if there are issues with them, what can you propose to the designer that will fix the rule/mechanic to make it work better and provide a smoother game play. The harder you are on the mechanics of the game the better the designer’s end result will be.

4. Be prepared to butt heads with the designer or author. People by their nature do not like to be told that there idea is not perfect and needs work. By submitting their work to the riggers of the playtest process they want feedback, but most are not prepared to hear their idea is a smoking turd!

5. Be prepared to  communicate to the designer in a succinct and concise manner. They need to be able to easily understand your issues, concerns, questions and suggestions. Do NOT sugar coat your comments. A designer needs to hear the real truth to make their product better. Every designer and author will have a different mode of communication that they prefer, pay attention to how they want your feedback submitted to them.

6. Wear your creativity hat! You will, by virtue of playtesting, be an integral part of the end result. Refer to #5!

7. From the beginning you need to have a good grasp of the time frame and/or specific requirements set out by the designer/author/publisher. If you accept a position as a playtester, meet your deadlines! We all work on deadlines and you should not be the one to hold up a project because you have poor time management skills.

8. You may be required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). I haven’t run into this much, but it does come up from time to time. Be prepare for it and read it thoroughly before signing and agreeing to it. It is a legally binding document if prepared correctly. You are most likely to run into this if the playtesting process is being initiated by the publisher and there are intellectual property concerns with the game itself.

If you are interested in being an integral part of the game development process, think long and hard about the projects you participate in. You will find the experience much more rewarding if you involve yourself in projects that truly interest you. Playtesting is a necessary process within the larger framework of game development. Playtesters are to development as oil is to engines. One can’t run smoothly without the other!

~Modoc

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