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GDC Canada: Ubisoft's Boisvert On Efficient Game PlayTesting

Talking at GDC Canada last week, Andree-Anne Boisvert of Ubisoft Quebec discussed game developers' "love-hate relationship" with playtesting, explaining how game creators can use them best.
Talking at GDC Canada last week, Andree-Anne Boisvert of Ubisoft Quebec discussed game developers' 'love-hate relationship' with playtesting, explaining how game creators can get the most out of playtests. Boisvert works at Ubisoft, where there are more than 400 playtests every year across the whole company, including detailed analysis of 3200 players yearly. She talked about the difficulty of older video game designers who like more "core" shooter titles knowing how to make games for 6-10 year old girls. The need to use playtests is obvious here. The Ubisoft specialist then cited a quote from a fellow designer at Ubisoft working on the Petz franchise: "We needed help. We were 35-year-old hardcore gamers trying to see the game through the eyes of third-grade unicorn lovers. And then help came in the form of playtesting." Even a separate quote from Assassin's Creed II's Patrick Plourde lauded the use of playtests, though. And for those markets where you feel like you still know your target market, Boisvert noted: "It's all about user satisfaction in the end" -- and the only way to really know how players enjoy the game is constant playtesting. Early experiments with paper and cube-based playtests can really help sort out usability problems early, too. But Boisvert noted that you shouldn't shy away from playtests, especially if you feel like it's "interference," because it will show what problems really exist in your titles. Boisvert joked: "It can be frustrating to see players stuck in some level that you thought was too easy to be even included in the game in the first place," but it's necessary to check it out in order to understand what's really going on. Citing examples from Assassin's Creed 2, Boisvert pointed out that it was playtesting that caused Ezio's climbing speed to increase, because players would not want to freerun across levels in case they fell down and took ages to climb back up to the roof of the building again. Talking about Prince Of Persia: Forgotten Sands (pictured) on Wii, playtesting revealed that the users' rhythm was broken when you had to select special powers using the D-Pad, looking down at the controller to do so. (Boisvert joked that "The Wii remote is kind of ergonomically horrible".) As a result, the designers changed special powers to use the Wiimote pointer, and players' flow radically improved. Concluding, Boisvert cited a Gamasutra interview with Valve's Chet Faliszek entitled "Playtesters Aren't Idiots, It's You," cautioning: "Stuff will happen [during playtesting] which will maybe get you to rethink your design." Being open-minded -- and admitting that these early testers can make a major difference to your game -- is absolutely key. Unfortunately "some designers see playtests as the enemy", Boisvert said. But the constant feedback can be a major positive impact in the quality of your title.

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