Playtesting is hard work

by Derek Turner

Playtesting is one of the most crucial points in the design process.  It is where a design is truly tested and refined and the hard work of fixing problems bubbles to the surface. You would think I would be prepared for the intensity of the process, but it often catches me by surprise, as I always seem to forget just how exhausting playtesting really is until I’m in the midst of it.

I ran a blind playtest for a fellow designer’s game earlier this week. and I was bushed by the end of it. Then again, including an hour of reviewing the rules, setting up the game, playing the game, and evaluating it during and afterward, it was a fairly intensive four-hour process from start to finish, which I suppose I should have expected.

It did get me thinking, however, about the nature of playtesting as part of the design process and just why it is so tiring. Sure, it is hard work, but I wondered if there was something more to why it is so intense. Here’s what I came up with.

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The calm before the storm

Reflections on the period between prototype and playtest

Derek Turner

There’s a strange sort of calm resting over my design process right now, as I am in the period between having a functional prototype and its first playtest. I completed the prototype of my second game – First Past the Post, a game based on the Canadian Electoral System – last week, but it will have been a week and a half from when I finished assembling it until when I have a chance to play it, and I find myself in an interesting emotional state in the tension of the intervening time.

I understand, at least conceptually, that this period may be foreign to some game designers. I have heard stories of designers for whom this time is almost non-existent, as they make very early and very rough prototypes and are constantly trying new things. But it seems like my style is a little different, as both of my designs have had extended periods of idea incubation and design manipulation before they have been put out to others to playtest.

I had the idea for this particular game in May 2015, but it was not for another year that I started actually doing the work of designing it. I have worked intermittently on this game over the past year, so its gestation period to get to this point is much longer than the actual time it took to develop it this far.

So, perhaps as a result of my process on this game and perhaps because of my relative newness in the field of game design, I have a number of emotions that I am experiencing in this transitional time, and I thought I would take the time to explore some of those thoughts as part of the (my) design process.

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