How To Create In-Person Playtest Tasks [TATT #48]

the acagamic tip tuesday Jan 24, 2023
Person sitting in front of computer monitor in a dark lab. Shot from behind over shoulder. The monitor shows survey questions. Setting is a gaming room.

In today's issue, I will explain to you how to to create in-person playtests with clear research questions, turn them into tasks, and put them in a way that makes sense for the game.

How To Create In-Person Playtest Tasks: Create research questions, turn them into tasks, and put them in an order that makes sense for the game.

Once you've created a new feature, level, or mechanic in your game, in-person playtests ensure your players understand how it works. They can monitor how people use and interact with a new feature, level, or game mechanic. Collecting comments from players can assist you in identifying any points of uncertainty or difficulty. You may even want to use analytics to see how people are interacting with the new feature, level, or function, as well as to track any modifications or improvements made over time. Take the time to find out how your players are using and reacting to your part of the game.

Some people might argue that in-person playtests have downsides like being difficult to coordinate with many players, having limited geographic reach, costing to much travel expenses, making replicating settings and environments difficult, or the limited ability for remote participation. However, I believe that the benefits of in-person playtesting outweigh this. They allow for direct feedback from the players, create a more natural environment for the playtest, facilitate the development of a better understanding of the game, enhance the ability to observe players' reactions, and create a more immersive environment to play and interact in. They are also the safest in case game information gets out.

The best method to test a new part of your game is in person. Direct observation and interviews provide insights that Internet surveys and analytics cannot. It is really well suited to answer questions like:

  • Do players like the new game mechanic, or does it make them mad?
  • How easy is it for players to get around in the new level, or are they getting lost?
  • How do players figure out what strategy to use to beat the boss?
  • Is the new feature fair, meaning that it is neither too hard nor too easy?
  • How much time are players spending in the new level?
  • Does this maze give me the kind of challenge I want?
  • Are players interested and having fun with the new feature or mechanic?
  • Why doesn't anyone finish level 5?
  • Can players understand what's going on in the new feature or level and what it means?

Unfortunately, many people don't know how to set up an in-person playtest. Here is a step-by-step guide that shows you how.

Specify your research questions

Make sure you know what your playtest is for before you start your research. Write down what you hope to learn from this playtest as a research question. For instance, do the players know how a game mechanic works? How long does it take for them to craft armour? Are there any particular parts that make them confused or mad? During your playtest, when you ask questions, focus on how and why players do things instead of just getting yes/no answers. This will help you get better information about how they played the game. Remember that in-depth mixed-method analysis is often more helpful than simple observations because it can help you figure out what might be wrong with the game's design.

Translate questions into tasks

We must decide what tasks the players need to perform to achieve each goal. This can be done by telling them how to solve a problem or finish an activity, like a puzzle. For example, if we want to see if players can solve a quest, then we would tell them that they need to solve this particular quest for us to measure their progress and check whether they are successful in achieving our desired outcome. Also, these tasks must be tailored to fit our research questions so that we can measure how well the players do and learn helpful information about how they act.

Once you have gone over your questions again, it is vital to put them in an order that makes sense for the game. For example, if one of your research questions is about how to collect coins, this should be first on the list because this will likely be one of the first tasks a player needs to complete when playing. Also, think about any levels of difficulty or progression in your game, and make sure that each question follows logically from the one before it.

For each research question, tie it to a game goal and break it down into concrete tasks. These critical tasks should be doable and measurable, so you can see if players can reach the goal. It may help to think of these tasks as milestones on the path from start to finish—what must a player do for them to progress? What challenges will they have to tackle along the way? Once you have identified 1–5 core tasks that will lead towards your overall goal, you will better understand how to best design your test level around those objectives.

At least one task should be connected to each research question. You'll arrange each of these tasks later. If you end up with too many tasks for your playtest session time, try to prioritize the tasks based on which are essential for players to be able to do and which you know the least about currently.

Revise your core tasks with background information so users can understand and follow them based on their context. Basically, you want to tell them what's happening before they play and give them a clear goal. Fix your wording to avoid unintentional or misleading tips for players. Tighten your writing so that everything you say is intentional and bias-free (in simple language). An easy trick for this is to feed your writing to ChatGPT and tell it to rewrite it at a 5th-grade level. Finally, collect feedback from your peers to ensure everything you've written in your task descriptions makes sense.

Determine what information to collect

Find out from your participants what kind of information you should gather. Iteration helps you put your attention on the parts that need more work. You can figure out how people play your game by watching how they do the task. This lets you see how they solve problems and if any problems could be fixed by making changes to the design.

If your research question is about what players do, the best way to answer it would be just to watch them. You can learn more about how they act in certain places or situations by watching what they do. You will understand how they make certain decisions in certain situations and also get an overall look at how players act in any given situation. You can look for patterns worth following up on when asking why some behaviours happen more often than others.

If your research question is "why do players do something," you should ask them, "what motivates them?" When you ask clear and specific questions, you can learn more about specific issues related to your research goals and objectives.

To ensure your research is complete and correct, you need to know the what and why of player behaviour. This information also helps you focus on what's crucial, so you don't waste time on irrelevant facts or side topics. This knowledge can help guide your data collection and ensure that all essential points are covered on time.

After creating your research tasks, be specific about what information you're looking for and the questions you will be asking players. This guides your data collection, so tasks capture the type of information you need. For example, if one of your research questions is about understanding how players interact with a particular in-game feature, some follow-up questions to ask yourself could include: "What do they say about this feature?", "How often do they use it, and do they know how to use it successfully?" or "Do they make any suggestions on how this feature could be improved?"

Arrange test tasks in order

Consider your test tasks' order of completion. You should make a clear order for the players to follow so that the task sequence is logical and easy to follow. For example, if you are assessing game levels, don’t ask players to complete a quest in level four before they have completed level two (and possibly trained a game mechanic there). Instead, arrange the tasks so that they progress from easy to challenging or vice versa, depending on what you are aiming to assess. Also, keep each task short and easy so players stay interested throughout the testing session.



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