playtesting gamified experiences

Image by Daria Nepriakhina from Pixabay 

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 7 minutes

What you should know about playtesting in gamification

When designing and developing a gamified experience, one of the aspects that doesn’t get given enough attention usually is that of playtesting. Playtesting really is something that every designer must and needs to do with what they’ve developed. And the earlier you can begin with testing, the better it is. But it can be a tough process to go through and it can be hard to find the people to help you playtest.

For that reason, I wanted to have this short piece focus purely on the playtest step of designing and developing something like a gamified experience. Thus when you are playtesting there are three main objectives of why you should playtest early and often:

  • Did the experience work as intended?
  • Was the experience easy to understand?
  • Did people enjoy the experience or not?

These are the three main objectives that you as a designer should always focus on. There are likely more objectives, and you may know a few of them. But in general, these are the main three, and many others are also dependent on the type of experience you’ve created and are testing.

The over-arching goal of a playtests though is to always gain enough information and data in order for you to refine the experience to a point where it’s going to get as good as it gets and the players are engaged and learning from it.

 

Preparing to playtest

Before you even begin to playtest you need to know what it is you wish to achieve with your gamified experience. This may seem an obvious concept, but many people believe they know what they want, but never actually really know. They start to playtest with a vague concept. To refine your own vague concept, ask and answer for yourself these three questions:

  • What do you want the experience to accomplish?
  • What kind of experience do you want to create?
  • What is it that you wish to communicate with the players?

You must have an answer to these three questions before you even present your experience to an audience. In essence, this step is the first step to playtesting, it is the self-test of your gamified experience. Are you able to go through it without issue and have adequate answers as to why you want others to go through it as well?

Unlike a traditional game and its inherent playtesting, a gamified experience may often have a facilitation aspect to it. As a designer, you will likely then have to take into account that the experience may need to be correctly positioned for your playtesters through an introductory briefing. This can involve contextualising the intention and theme of the experience, at least if it isn’t directly evident from a written material, aesthetics and/or tone.

Playtesting is an iterative process, so do try to not overwhelm your playtesters straight away. And don’t be afraid to have your questions for your playtesters be broad to begin with. You can slowly refine and narrow them down as you do more tests. This narrowing may even mean focusing on very specific aspects of your experience, perhaps even to the point of only focusing on a single feature and ignoring everything else.

What to do during the playtest

Your main duty during a playtest is to observe! For the most part you will be leaving your playtesters alone, so observe intently and make a lot of notes. But be careful not disengage from what occurs with the players while you are making notes. A good idea may be to use audio or video recordings if you find yourself becoming too distracted when making notes during a playtest session.

It is important that you leave your players to get on with the experience, with as little interference as possible. Do not try to interrupt them by asking any questions, encourage them to ask you questions if they become confused. The purpose of the whole test is to see if the experience works with your presence at an absolute minimum. Even if you are facilitating, at a certain point you will simply need to let the players find their own way through what you’ve given them.

 

Debriefing the playtest

Your goal with a playtest is naturally to see if the gamified experience you developed worked and what the pros and cons are of it. For this we return to the three main goals objectives we listed earlier:

  • Did the experience work as intended?
  • Was the experience easy to understand?
  • Did people enjoy the experience or not?

 

As you question your players after the experience, along with your observations and notes of what they asked you during the playtest, you will slowly begin to form a fuller picture of what the pain points are for them. What confused them, what they liked and disliked, and how the viewed the experience as a whole, from beginning to end. And one of the most important pieces of feedback that you should extract from a debriefing is whether their impressions and feelings of the experience aligned with what your intentions were for it. This will indicate whether you were indeed successful, or not.

One word of advice when doing a debriefing session, people tend to enjoy going into discussions around problems, considering likely solutions, alternatives, and so on…eventually you enter into a brainstorming session. Such a session may be useful later after you have gained the feedback, but during a feedback session, I would recommend making it clear to the everyone involved that you only wish to know the problems for now. Obviously, suggestions are always welcome, but you want the session to keep moving forward, so that every person has an opportunity to give their feedback, and you do not end up dwelling on a single point to the point of nausea.

Advice for playtesters

I do want to briefly give some advice to playtesters as well, not to make this too one-sided for the designer. If you are a playtester yourself, then do not be afraid to continually ask questions of the designers, developers and facilitators. As the old axiom goes; there are no dumb questions.

If something isn’t clear, or something is confusing, it isn’t because of you. You need to be bringing the designers attention to it, and the only way you can do this is by Asking. This helps the designer to become aware of the pain point and will help them in improving for the next run through.

 

Final thoughts

So in summary, when you are playtesting, remember to always test the experience on your own first. Run it through a few times mentally and with the actual work you require a player to do. Only after you’ve done this a couple of times do you bring in people that you know, and then after that, you start testing with complete strangers.

Depending on the experience that you have developed, you can either drop your players into the deep end and hope they can swim/figure it out on their own, which gives you more material and data to observe and record. Or you can give them a short introduction to better contextualise your gamified experience.

Do encourage your players to think out loud. And by this, I don’t mean just asking you questions, but also that they discuss with each other and talk about the various aspects for what they are going through. Be mindful to keep your own mouth closed so as not to influence them unnecessarily.

And the final point: when playtesting aim to recruit your target audience as early as possible for your experience. What I mean by this is that if you made an experience designed for marketers, be sure to have these as your players, it’s no use bringing HR professional if they are not your target audience. This will likely be the ‘bring in complete strangers’ stage of your playtest, and it will give you the most valuable feedback.

For additional information, I can recommend Ann Coppens slide-pack on playtesting from Gamification Europe 2018, found in the references below.

References:

Schell, J. (2014). The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses. CRC Press.

Boller, S. (2013) Final Step in Learning Game Design: Playtest, playtest, playtest. [online] The Knowledge Guru. Available at: http://www.theknowledgeguru.com/final-step-learning-game-design-playtest-playtest-playtest/ (Accessed 10 Feb. 2020)

Coppens, A. (2018) Playtesting [online] Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/an_coppens/playtesting-presentation-for-gamification-europe-by-an-coppens (Accessed 10 Feb. 2020)

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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