Mattis Delerud is a BAFTA-winning game developer and CEO of Dos Studios. He and his team survived the rigorous test and pitch ordeals of the Dare To Be Digital program which gave them a lot of experience with playtesting and how to receive feedback. We asked him to write about playtesting and how important it is for developers.
Games don’t develop themselves. Developing a game requires resources. To develop a game is something I consider a very personal and empathic activity. Therefore, for someone, it is very difficult to show their games to others. This especially, applies in the cases where the game is not “done”, whatever that means. I believe this is because the games we develop often have a tendency to become a reflection of ourselves.
Most of the time we are not afraid of the action of “showing the game” to other people, but I think we are more afraid of the feedback itself which we receive from the people. Make no mistake, this fear is completely natural and I consider it a fear that is important to be aware of. Optimally, one overcomes this fear.
To be asked to write this article is something I consider an honor. That another person wants me to share the experiences and knowledge I have gained through the years, is to me a touching thought. And even though I think there are many others who have wiser things to say on the subject, I will with pleasure write this article. The reason why I’m writing it with such a sense of pleasure is because I would have appreciated it if someone told me similar things some years ago, when I was sitting in front of my keyboard with little to no experience.
In the past, I have been in a position myself where I experienced the extreme discomfort of displaying my game during development, so to write an article on the importance of external play testing of games in development is amusing to me. With garnered experience and an open mind, the fear and discomfort has slowly vanished. I want the same, or something similar to occur with more developers in this country. This is something I think we as individuals and as a unified game developer community could benefit from.
Norwegian game developers have been told that we can become better at seeking and receiving feedback, and actually reflecting over it. I’m not well enough informed on the production cycles of Norwegian game companies to agree or disagree to this statement. But I can definitely see the tendency considering that the industry is still very young in this country. For simplicity’s sake, I have chosen to split the following experiences, opinions and reflections with a beautiful bold font.
This is a form of playtesting I personally appreciate immensely. A person plays your unfinished game while you are present in silence. The times where I have organized these kinds of testing sessions, I am prepared for the worst. I have a notepad with me, I am an observer, nothing more. You have one mouth, but two ears for a very good reason. If one has ambitions of releasing a video game, one has to put oneself in the mindset of a game player. As a game developer you’re not able to sit next to the player when he or she plays your game after its release. During a formal playtest this is exactly what you are able to do. Formal playtesting is crucial to your game because of this fact. You can easily see what goes according to plan, what doesn’t go according to plan, and often you experience things you couldn’t possibly have foreseen.
To showcase your game at a game conference is a fantastic activity. It has the potential to provide completely unexpected results. Informal showcasing may give the same type of results as a formal playtest, the difference is that the surrounding atmosphere in this environment is much more informal. In my experience I have discovered two clear aspects of informal showcasing. One aspect is the sheer value of finding out what works and doesn’t work with your game on actual game players, much like results one can expect from a formal playtest.
The other aspect is the improvement of your own mental health (which is pretty darn important). Motivation, inspiration, determination and self-confidence has a tendency to increase by showcasing your game this way. I think it’s because at certain times this situation forces you to act and explain things in a different way than you normally are used to. People tend to ask questions regarding the design of the game, in which you have given little to no thought. They may ask questions regarding aspects of your game you know you have 100% control of, and this in turn may strengthen your sense of your own design.
To You Testers
There is also something to be said to the testers themselves out there, whoever you are and what your relation to the game developer is. Honesty is the best policy, and it is your responsibility to act upon that. The goal is usually to get feedback from you that may increase the quality of the game experience when a game developer lets you play his or her unfinished game. Imagine a scenario where this feedback is dishonest, the game developer may then base enormous design decisions based on nothing more than a lie. This dishonesty is very easy to express, since testers often don’t want to hurt the feelings of the game developer. It’s the easy way out, which is exactly why most people choose it. Respect the game developer, tell the truth, think of the future of the game.
“It’s not ready to be showed to anyone yet”
..is a sentence I hear often. It is also a sentence I would like to hear less. The second time you say this sentence, it becomes way easier to say the exactly same thing next time someone asks to see the game in development. I sincerely mean that one should show ones game at any given time if the situation allows it. This action may of course be restricted by contracts and Non-Disclosure Agreements that are in effect. But if one has the opportunity to showcase ones game, then one should do it. You never know what you may have overlooked or have put way too much thought into early in the development process. In resemblance to our own personal emotional life, the act of sharing our internal situation is healthier than what most people think before doing so. It’s easy for game developers to think that they have the answers to everything regarding their own games, but this can’t be further away from the truth. There are unimaginable and potentially fantastic results to be obtained, as long as we are willing to step outside our own comfort zones.
More Eyes are Better Eyes
All human beings possess amazing and valuable knowledge. All human beings observe the world with their own eyes. The world is being experienced with a huge amount of different eyes. A game is experienced differently based on who is playing the game. In resemblance to a larger group of individuals, whether it be a society, an organization or a group of friends, there is one thing they have in common: diversity creates wellbeing. To me, this translates perfectly into game development and testing. No matter the amount of knowledge or experience a person has with games, that person has something to say about games. There is always knowledge to absorb, no matter what it is. Let your grandmother play your game, let your pro gamer buddy play your game, let the most experienced game developer you know play your video game. They have all something to say, but often completely different things. I see a lot of game developers focus way too much on their target audience. This is of course important as well since these are the people who optimally will end up playing your game the most when it’s time. But the view of others has the potential to alter your view in a direction that is healthy for your own game.