How to Build a Game #38 Levels of Play Testing

When we work our way thorough the play testing process, we use different levels in different ways. We can be looking for general feedback, we could be looking for systemic problems or we could just be looking to see if the concept is fun/interesting. The following are the different levels (at least how we identify them) and how we approach each level.


Right out of the gate, Aidan and I will start testing the viability of an idea. If it seems like we can make a decent framework for a game, we will test the game ourselves to make the largest changes to the game. This early in the process, we are happy to make complete overhaul changes to mechanics and we will test theoretical extremes against the mechanics we have in place. Our goal before we move to Alpha testing is to have the core mechanics set. We generally don’t have an end to our games in mind at this point.


Our Alpha group of testers are our buddies we are willing to play whatever index card and card sleeve game we put in front of them. When we test with this group, we will give them an idea of what we are thinking and unleash them on the mechanics. The main thing we are looking for is if they like the idea of the game. We will play the game with them at this point so we are able to figure out the problems as we go along. We will make changes on the fly with the rules and get a good idea of what we need to do to make the core mechanics solid and get the game ready for the next round of testing. Our buddies will give us feedback as we go along and they will give us feedback at the end of the game, but what we really want at this point of proof of concept.


The next group we test the game with is what we call our beta group. This is not a set group of people but they all have something in common. Almost all of our beta testers are fellow designers or a few of our beta testers are gamers who have tested many prototypes. Depending on the number of players we have in the test, we will or will not play as well. What we want from this group is the first shot at unfiltered feedback. We like using other designers for this because other designers will never give feedback in regards to the artwork or the components. Designers are more interested in the mechanics of the thematic justification for why the game does what it does. What I really like about this part of testing the the kind of thinking that our beta testers force us to do. Since the game has made it past the proof of concept phase, what we really want from this phase of testing are the changes that will make this game optimal. We hope that there will be no systemic problems with the game and the feedback is limited to tweaks, rather than overhauls.


Once the game is through the our buddies and our designer friends, we will take the game to anyone who is interested and have them play the game with guided help. but we won’t participate in the game. We will get people from out local game store, game night, local conventions etc. and we will use them for guided testing. The hope is that we can teach the game to everyone playing and as the game goes by, we will talk less and less to the point where we are really only answering one off questions. What we really want to do is watch the people play the game and gauge body language and the way they interact with the game and each other. We still want feedback at this point but we really think that by time the game gets this far, there should be no systemic changes to the game. There are times when the feedback is to make a major change, but that feedback has always fallen into the one-off category, at least so far it has.


Now that we have the game this far, we have a written rule set, place holder art, and the complete game. This is where we will give the gale to people so they can take a copy home and play it with their groups. We will also send copies out to people who want to play the game. At this point, we know what the feedback will be. What we really want to know is if people could learn the game from the rules, feel like they could teach it to someone else, would they want to buy it, did they have fun.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We are thinking about starting a regular Google hangout with other designers. We can try to design a game together, we can talk about designers we are working on, you can ask us questions. We can make it whatever we want. What we really want to do is get to know the people that are willing to read all the way to the bottom of our posts. Please contact Chris on Twitter or send him an email and if we are able to get a minimal amount of interest, we can work on putting something together.

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