Design Journal 3 – Testing Sessions

I had three test sessions for my board game so far. As I stated before, the first two sessions proved the potential for a good game but for some reason the third play session was a real catastrophe. I'll look into those reasons and try to bring out some useful lessons.

What happened?
For my third prototype, I decided to simplify the game a lot as it was involving much micro management and a mental maths. I reduced the number of fields the player had to manage from 10 to 6 and removed the player-actions that were not or almost not used. I focused on the more interesting player-actions involving ressource sacrifices as these actions brought interesting choices and strategies to the game. However, the maths were still too overwhelming for the players, which brings me to a first rule:

Choose the right moment to play test
The maths were simple but were recurring every turn the player took. I play tested the game with my family members, which play lots of card games but not much complex board games, let alone space adventure ones. It was late in the evening and the testers were beginning to get tired even before we started, which made the maths even harder to cope with. One of the players even abandoned the game altogether in the middle of the session due to sheer fatigue. I'll simplify the rules again but it's clear that the moment influenced my observations of the game. For better or for worst? I cannot tell yet.

Choose the right players
My first play session was with students who were accustomed to computer games and they got the concept fairly quickly. They did not have any difficulty coping with the recurring mental calculations and even showed possibilities for complex strategies within the game. However, the last two sessions were with my close family who have less experience with those games and they had difficulty grasping what they had to do to reach the game objective. But the biggest problem I had with the third session was that, even if the game was simplified, I used the same players as the previous session and they had expectations about the game rules. While some of the rules were changed, they tried to play according to the rules they previously learned and it caused some confusion. Unless I had experienced players, it would have been a better idea to use different peoples for my new version.

Don't play your own game, observe
Another thing I did wrong for the third test session was that I joined the game as a player. Being a player, I concentrated on my part of the board and did not observed the other players as much as I should have. It's important to keep a larger view of the game if you want to see the inherent strategies and the way the players actually engage in the game. The game also being competitive, I got caught in the feeling of wanting to win. I mean, I was the creator of the game, I should have had no problem winning the game! This was such a wrong attitude!! First of all I did not win, which does not matter at all. More importantly, the feeling was keeping me focused away from were I should have been; trying to find the fun for the OTHER players.

Let your pride at the door
Some testers are going to tell you how to do your job and what changes you should make to improve the game. It happened to me and it is not fun. While there can be good ideas, most of the time they miss the larger picture and are just small tweeking that won't necessarily improve the game. You know best how to change the game and nobody likes to be told how to do their own job so it can be very frustrating. Yet, it's important to keep a cool head and to listen to your player. Even if the changes they suggest don't make sense, just shut up and listen, everyone will feel better. There is no use in telling them why it won't work. You don't have to do what they tell you, but listen! The most useful comments the players will make are the ones where they tell you what they actually like or don't like. You can put more focus on what they like and remove or change what they don't. Being more general about the game, these comments are stimulating, in opposition to the frustrating precises suggestions.

Don't give up
I took a lot of time before writing up this third entry of my design journal. First I wanted to finish my Flash game HyperSpace Shooter, but also I had a lot of ressentment from the bad test session. After thinking much about how it went and what I should do, I decided not to let myself be brought down and learn from it instead. It's good that I waited some time before writing it. Getting some time away from helped me cool down and see it with a clearer eye. I'm not giving up on it and have tons of new ideas for making it more enjoyable (in particular, I'd really like to make it a cooperative game). So if you encounter some bad experience while testing one of your games, by all mean, don't give up. You can learn a lot of things from a bad experience, maybe even more than from a good one, but you have to step over the bad feeling and think about it. If it's necessary, let the game sleep for a while and come back to it later. It will be much easier than trying to change it with your head still hot.

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