So during a playtest, I’m an Observer more than a Poller. I find 95% of the feedback I get from looking at players’ engagement, listening to the questions they ask, spotting the mistakes they make. Usually, at the end of a playtest, I’ll mostly share my observations so they can either be confirmed or nuanced by the testers.
That being said, I have 5 questions I love to ask in playtests, and thought to share them with you with a quick rationale. Overall, you’ll notice a pattern: I rarely ask the question I want the answer to. I was a Research Assistant in Psyc in college, and learned quickly that people get in their own way a lot, especially when you ask them to analyze their own experience. By asking related questions, they tend to overanalyze a part I’m less interested in, and share truer reactions about what I care for.
How long did you feel like the game lasted? If their impression differs from the actual length, it gives you a great amount of insight in how engaged they were. Of course, it’s important too ask this one before people look at their phones and watches, or you lose that subjectivity–which is exactly what you’re asking for!
I also like to follow it up with “how long would you like a game like this to last?” I’m not really asking for the number I should aim for, but there are two types of comments that can come out of this: (1) The game finished a turn too early/too late to feel satisfying; or (2) This has too little depth / too much complexity for its length. Asking follow-up questions is how you can make the difference between the two, although sometimes the vocabulary used is a hint on its own: “It could have ended a round early” vs “I feel like this is a 30 min game”.
How well do you think the final scores represent your performance? This is my favorite question because of how much can come out of it: perceived balance issues, frustrations, actions that players really enjoy doing but are not incentivized. I’ve before that balance is not as important as the feeling of balance, and that is exactly what this question addresses.
I’m trying to add variability to the game: do you have any suggestions for special powers or special goals? Hint: I rarely actually am thinking about those things, but it’s the best way I’ve found to get players to talk about other stuff they’d have liked to do, or do more of, or limits they found frustrating. And sometimes, you even get an idea for a little bit of variability! It’s how, for With A Smile & A Gun, I got a lot of players saying they wanted to move the police around more, send it out of their ways and into their opponents’, and that became a core part of the game.
Can you rank these in order of power? It can be actions, strategies, special abilities, goal cards. Usually, a table will be able to come to a consensus (sort of), because of social dynamics and the impact it had in that one game. That being said, you’re keeping that info handy to compare over multiple groups: if you see a consensus across groups, then there is a problem.
What do you think should happen? This is more of a question during games, but it still is one of my favorite tools: if players run into a corner case and ask “so what happens now?”, even if I know what the official answer is, I ask them what seems intuitive to them. If they come to the right conclusion, great! If not, that’s okay… unless it happens all the time. And if you didn’t have an answer yet, it gives you (1) a proposition, and (2) some time to think about it. In that case, you know you’ll have to figure it out, and you just want to make sure it doesn’t break the rest of the test.
So these are my go-to questions, and aside from asking for confirmation or explanations, they’re almost the only ones I ask. What are your go-to’s after a playtest?