As the sole developer of Jobchanger Brigade, I'm in a difficult position as far as playtesting goes, especially since I live in a far-off town and most of my friends are quite a few miles of distance away. Before starting to use this method, I believe I had subpar results from playtesting which has made my previous game suffer. What I'm about to say is likely obvious for most people and many will only think I'm stupid for not doing this before, but still, if a dev's in the same position as I'm, I'm sure this information will be useful.
Here is another article on playtesting that can be quite useful if you're more resourceful than me. Or even if you're not, since their questionnaire commentaries rock.
Now let's talk about why playtesting is important.
- Finding bugs
- Improving accessibility
- Balancing difficulty
- Player preferences
Finding bugs is a given, small indies may not have access to an quality & assurance team and nobody wants a game with bugs.
Improving accessibility is important because the game has to clearly transmit how it works to the player, this helps making tutorials better or making things more intuitive.
Balancing difficulty is a bit similar to improving accessibility, but there are other points. Keeping the difficulty "just right" is the key to providing a great experience to the player, which is something that can be achieved through constant tweaking from receiving feedback.
By player preferences I mean how much they liked or disliked specific features. It helps to answer questions like "is enemy X too annoying, is power Y too popular? Do we need to make certain enemies easier or tone down certain skills?". It can also offer some light in to what direction to take future content of the game.
Can't you do it yourself?
Yes, the creator can playtest it himself. And he often will many, many times through development. This playtesting has a lot of benefits and it's also the easiest to do, but it also has major shortcomings. Mainly because the creators have a certain personality and they also know exactly how the game works. So you'll find a lot of bugs, but there are specific bugs the creators might never reveal that another person could reveal very fast. Also, by playtesting a lot, they'll be good at the game, so balancing difficulty will be harder. Player preferences may be able to offer good feedback, but this sort of test is often best on bigger player bases.
How I did it before Skype
I would upload a build to the internet, send it to the person, he would play it on his home and often type out some commentary, either during his playthrough or afterwards. Mainly commenting on bugs, asking things, stating things that pleased him or things he thought were weird. I'll call this "the text method".
The Skype Method
I send the build to the person but I request that the person does not open the game until we're all set up. We use mics to communicate on a Skype call and I ask for the person to share his screen with me, then he opens up the game. Sure, the transmission is often not perfect, there may be lag or video and audio desync. But still, I get to see what he's doing, similar to how I would be able to in person. We can talk during the playthrough, where the player may comment things that he never would have if he was typing out his thoughts on the game. This takes more time to setup, but the benefits are great.
One example that comes to my mind was one time where a player got attacked from above and he thought "If I duck my head I can dodge this!" so he tried to duck but that's not a game feature so it didn't work. Still, the attack didn't hit him because of the hitbox, which didn't include the player's hair, and I asked him "oh, so you wanted to duck there?" and he said "yeah, but it's fine, it didn't hit me so I don't care". I highly doubt this conversation would have come up on regular text feedback.
Seeing the person play will offer clearer feedback on where people get stuck, how they get stuck, what they don't understand and how do they do not understand it.
In person method
This is basically watching the person playing in front of you. This shares a lot of benefits with the Skype Method, but it can be much harder to setup, depending on your circumstances. the advantages over Skype is that you can see the player's face, which may get you some extra emotion feedback. One possible shortcoming over the skype method could be that the player might be less comfortable with you watching him closely.
How playtesting is being done on Jobchanger Brigade these days
I have not abandoned the "text method". I still receive text feedback from sources like IndieDB and Reddit, mainly from strangers. They do give out great feedback. I mainly do Skype feedback before launching a new build, mainly to test out the new features and to try and catch some bugs. I'll then fix what I can without delaying the build too much and save up the rest of the feedback for after I've released the build.
Idea to improve the Skype Method
I've never tried it, but, if players also shared webcam images of their faces you would be able to get that extra emotion feedback from the comfort of your skype screen. There could be a issue of the internet making the quality of the transmission horrible though. Another problem could be you may have trouble focusing on two things at once, which is something that will be addressed in my next point.
If you're doing it in person, over Skype or if the player is by himself, you could always benefit from recording the playtest session, especially if you also record his voice and his visual expressions. This is easier to setup over a "in person" playtesting session, since you'll be able to setup the recording environment yourself, instead of having to rely on the player, which often won't do it for you. This will make it easier for you to analyze the sessions in greater details and get some great insight on how the game makes the player feel. I have never tried this, but I just might on the next change I get.
So that's it guys, thanks for reading! Lemme know your thoughts on playtesting in the comments!