Lessons from Shootouts: How To Play-Test

What does it take for an small indie company to turn an idea into a game like 6d6 Shootouts? This is the second of three articles [the first] looking at what lessons new game designers can learn from the development of 6d6 Shootouts. In this article, we look at how to get the best out of play-test sessions.

1) Ignore What People Like or Dislike About The Game

Play-testers will often say “I like this bit” or “I dislike that part” and as a game designer, you should ignore them. Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one. Lots of people may like dislike your game about drowning kittens but that doesn’t make it a bad game. The only opinion that matters in the design process is that of the game designer.

2) Know The Difference Between Opinion and Fact

There is a world of difference between someone saying “I don’t like this game” and someone saying “I could not win because the mechanics prevent me for scoring enough points”. The first is an opinion, the second (assuming it is right) is a fact about the game.

Play-testers who give you facts about the game, who highlight problems with how the rules work, are worth their weight in gold. Listen to them and understand the facts they are telling you. This can be hard when someone is demolishing your new innovative idea but this is what play-testing is about.

3) You Are Not Just Testing The Game

As you test a game, especially with new players, you are not only testing the rules but the way you communicate the game’s ideas. Rules that are badly explained and hard to comprehend are just as broken as rules that allow players to kill everything on their first turn. Just as small tweak in a rule can fix major problems, often small changes in the way the rules are explained make a hard concept easy to grasp.

This is not just about the rules but about how you sell the game. Through repeated play-testing and demo games the designer can develop their spiel and coin those slogans. These will be invaluable when it comes to selling the game.

4) Know What You Want

A test implies that something is being tested for. A game designer must know what they want out of their play-test sessions otherwise they are wasting everyone’s time. This is not as simple as saying as “I want the rules to work”. A set of rules can work perfectly but still produce a lousy game because it takes too long or the outcomes are too random. Game designers must know the parameters of the game they wish to create: How long it takes to play; the size and shape of the learning curve; whether it will be cheap to produce; what sort of emotions should the players experience; what skills do the player’s need to develop to the play the game? Unless you know what you are testing for, it is impossible to know if you have succeed or failed.

With 6d6 Shootouts, I wanted a game that was quick to learn so in play-testing, I paid a lot of attention to what player’s asked questions about. If the same question came up repeatedly, I would invest time into making that part of the game simpler. Now, one of the most common bits of feedback we get from new players is how easy it is to learn.