The surprising joy of play testing

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 28, 2022, 8:46 PM | comments: 0

A few days ago I mentioned that I was building a word game. As I said, I'm doing this for the joy of it, and don't care that much if it's widely accepted or played. I'm also not saying that I buy into the hipster bullshit about game "purity" and not wanting to monetize it. You bet your ass I'd be happy to give it to someone for a million dollars. But just because it's a leisure project doesn't mean that I don't want it to have some craftsmanship and quality to it. To that end, I invited some friends to check it out, and that has been an education.

What I'm after isn't QA, not in the technical sense. I wanted to validate that there was something fun about the game, that people would actually want to play it. It turns out that all of my assumptions about the original rules to the game were wrong. I mean, the rules just didn't work at all. It was clear after just two people tried it. This turned out to be a good thing, because it immediately sparked conversations about what might be fun, and I started iterating from there. I still don't think it's there yet, but I'm collecting data to see how it goes.

To be sure, there are technical and mechanical things, too. I have to figure out how to accommodate color blindness, because one of my testers can't really see the difference between button colors. We found a case today where a tester expected that there should be a button to do something that's rare, but still valid. Again, my assumptions were wrong. And the average time to complete a game is 50 seconds, which seems too short.

Play testing is a huge topic and it's staggering how much there is about it out there. The fundamentals of it aren't that different between testing a Halo level and a board game, though the latter can involve a lot of research about the feel of the objects in the box. It's all a completely new world to me, and it's super fascinating. The coding part was "easy" by comparison.


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