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In game design, “Playtesting” is a method for testing a game prior to release. Interactive and participatory theater productions have taken this method for “rehearsing” their work with live audiences (very) early on in their process in order to observe how people play/interact with and experience their piece.

Depending on the setup being tested, there will be different means of gathering feedback during or after a Playtest.

Here some tips based on personal experience as well as reading up on playtesting in game design:

Decide what aspects of your idea/concept/work you want to test. Then plan what kind of a Playtest will allow you to observe and gather input about these aspects.

“Playtests force game development to center around the players instead of the hopes of the development team.”

Who are your playtesters? They should be representative of your final audience. Often we ask colleagues and friends to come playtest our work, this is only helpful to an extent.

“Playtests allow the identification of gameplay or level design flaws that could elude the grasp of normal testers.”

Early on in your process you will likely you will not be testing the whole piece, but rather individual aspects, such as how do people react to a certain setting, interact with a certain interface element (see also Wizard-of-Ozz Prototyping method) or character, take to a certain assigned role, how much they are able to grasp/understand of your story/narrative….

In order to test an individual aspect you may need to provide an introduction to create some (greater) context. But consider how little you may need to provide. In the end you likely also aren’t planning on providing the audience with a user manual for the piece, but rather want to build off their existing knowledge and assumptions. No better way to test what these are then to provide as little extra information as necessary for them to get started.

Consider if you can create a setup where you provide no introduction or guide. Because this will allow you to observe more truly how people react to your creation.

Stay professional, help your audience enter your playtest in a professional audience attitude. Do not apologize for things that are not (yet) working because that is not relevant information.

Force yourself to silently observe the people as they play, do not interrupt or help them in any way. Take notes and/or discuss right after while your impressions are fresh.

If you are a team of people developing the piece make sure that everybody can observe. If some have to be behind the scenes pulling strings, get your audience’s permission to take video footage and re-watch it together in the team later.

“Playtests fulfill a moderator role in situations of disagreement or controversy within the design team.”

Make time as a team to analyze what you observed/experienced during the Playtest, because you likely see some things the same and others differently.

If you plan to gather feedback/impressions from your playtesters during or after the Playtest, prepare your questions/strategy in advance and be prepared to deviate from your plan if things don’t go to plan. See also: Feedback methods

Formulate first questions that allow the playtesters to speak their minds and get into more detailed questions later. Avoid formulating questions that already direct the answer in a certain direction. Do ask: how do you feel? Don’t ask: do you feel good?