Tentacle Zone x Playtest kit

Interview with Steve Bromley, Playtest Kit
(Incubator Partner)

Steve Bromley

User Researcher, Playtest Kit
Tentacle Zone Incubator Partner

Steve Bromley Pic - Larger Quality

Q1. We’re a small studio with limited time and resources. Is playtesting really for us?

When working with small studios, one of the biggest challenges they face is a lack of time – there is always more marketing, more polishing, and more community building that could be done. It can be hard amongst that to find time to dedicate to playtesting.

The problem that studios run into is that not playtesting becomes increasingly risky. Your design decisions have made assumptions about how players will react, what they will understand, and what they will be able to do. Testing your assumptions with players early will allow you to react, to find and fix the usability and UX problems hidden within your game.

If ignored, you will discover these problems eventually (and will definitely hear about them on launch!). However the longer that you go without testing your assumptions, the harder it will be to fix them. 

Ultimately playtesting can speed up development. Finding problems earlier gives you more options for how to fix them, stops you from having to re-do work, or throw away code & assets. The most successful teams start playtesting from the first prototype, and continue throughout development. 

Playtesting doesn’t have to be a big deal. Regular small informal sessions, as little as a morning a month, will generate a continual stream of feedback and player data. Techniques such as building a participant panel, and following a speedy analysis process can make playtesting a low-commitment activity. Regular pulse checking with players will help indicate whether you are still on the right path, and move you closer to releasing a game that is understood and enjoyed.


Q2. We already know what needs fixing in our game. Do we need to playtest?

When making a game, every developer ends up with a list of things that are broken with their game, or design decisions they are not certain about. That list grows throughout development, and will never be completed. 

When making the game it’s impossible to forget what you already know and experience the game as a new player does. This makes it hard to work out which problems are real problems, and which you can safely ignore.

One benefit of playtesting is allowing you to prioritise the list of known problems, and work out where is the most appropriate place to spend your development time and effort. It also reveals other, often more significant problems, you didn’t anticipate. Then you can make informed decisions about where best to spend your development time, and attention – and anticipate issues earlier, before they turn up in steam reviews!

Q3. It’s hard to find people to playtest our game. Can we just use players from our Discord channel?

Any playtesting is better than none, so players from your Discord community are a great place to start. However I recommend that teams move beyond their existing community as soon as possible – your Discord community is made up of your biggest fans, whose behaviour and opinions are different from the typical person who is going to buy your game. Taken to extremes, this can lead to balancing your game for a very hardcore audience, and making it inaccessible for the vast majority of potential players. 

Define your ‘target’ players by what other games they play and buy, and then go and find them. Reddit, other game’s discords and other player communities are great places to look. Find a meaningful incentive that will convince them to join your playtest mailing list, and call on them for future playtests.  

By accessing a much wider range of players, you start to gather more realistic feedback from more genuine players, and gather more relevant data to inform your game design decisions. Creating a ‘playtest panel’ can make recruiting playtesters quick and easy.

Q4. We don’t want to mess up. How do we make sure we get accurate data from our playtests?

A process for playtesting can help. Start by deciding ‘what do we need to know from this playtest’, by having a chat in the team about your biggest priorities and uncertainties about the game. This can then be used to decide which method is most appropriate to answer those questions – is it watching people play? Interviewing people about why they abandon games? Getting players to rate the difficulty of each encounter?

A very common playtest mistake is to jump straight to the method (“we’re going to run a survey”) without first deciding ‘what is the most important thing for our team to learn today’. I recommend that teams create and follow a process for playtesting that takes them from identifying ‘what do we need to learn’ through ‘how should we collect that data’ to ‘what are the exact questions I should ask’.

Q5. Playtesting has given us loads of data! How do we manage and interpret all this correctly?

Playtests do generate a lot of data. Depending on your method you might have videos of people playing your game, survey responses, unstructured text responses in a chat room, analytics from the game, things the players said in an interview, or did while playing. This can feel quite overwhelming! 

A structured approach to dealing with playtest data helps. Start by reviewing your goals from the playtest – what did we want to learn from it. Then theme the evidence you have gathered against each of the goals, and draw conclusions – this works great as a workshop activity with other team members. Similar individual or workshop activities can be used to prioritise issues once discovered. 

A speedy structured analysis process can help you identify what are the most important findings quickly, so that you can focus on the biggest issues within your game and take action fast.  

Q6. How can Playtest Kit help us?

The Playtest Kit reduces the barriers to playtesting for indie development teams. I know you have no time, and have done all the hard work up front to create a quick, targeted playtest process, with all of the templates you need to get started immediately.

The toolkit will provide you with quick, repeatable playtester recruitment methods, a clear process for identifying when & what you need to playtest, a library of playtest methods at your disposal, from in-person tests, to remote tests, to writing surveys. It will help you establish a reliablable, robust tech setup for playtesting, and ultimately cut through the noise of opinions to make data informed game design decisions.

Created in collaboration with game designers, producers, community managers, UX designers, QA managers and solo game devs it makes the complete playtesting process efficient and simple.

If you think playtesting is important, but find it hard to dedicate time to it, this toolkit is for you.

Q7. We’d like to give Playtest Kit a try. Where can we find out more?

Come and see what some of my favourite developers have said about the Playtest Toolkit at playtestkit.com 

When you’re ready to purchase the Playtest Kit, use the code “tentacle” to get $20 off the price of the full kit.