How to Build a Game #70 Does Your Game Have a Design or Player Problem?

Please give me a moment to set the table.

Finding a way to get your game design to work properly can be really complicated.  People are really complicated.

When you get feedback about your game, you sometimes need to ask yourself if your game has a design problem or a player problem.

Now….before the angry mobs bring pitchforks and run me over, I am not saying the people are wrong. What I am saying is, they might be the wrong playtesters.

That might sound like I am telling you to keep playtesting until you find enough people to say a broken game is good and you are done. What I am saying is that people come into games with their own biases about the games they like and dislike. This will affect your game and there are times when you need to recognize this and ask yourself if the problem is with the game or the people testing the game?

If you receive feedback saying a part of your game is broken and all the testing you did on your own says it isn’t, don’t throw out the mechanic just because 10 people in a row said it doesn’t work. Sit down with your game and think about your own conclusions. Share the feedback you have from testers with other designers and see what they say. It is possible that the mechanic needs to be changed, but there are times when your game is fine.

The reason the game can be ok and the playtesters are still right is because people bring their own point of view to a game. Playtesters have their own ways of looking at a particular part of a game. They have their own history and their own reasons for what makes them want to sit down to a game and play. One of the jobs a designer has is to know this and take this into account. Your game might be fine, you just need to know why it is ok and continue testing.

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5 thoughts on “How to Build a Game #70 Does Your Game Have a Design or Player Problem?

  1. Respectfully, I think is a huge oversimplification.

    If your game tests well with some people and very poorly with other kinds of people and you heed the above advice, you are releasing a game you know some people are going to hate – all for the same reason. How many people need to hate a game for the same reason before it is a design problem?

    If 1 person tells you it doesn’t work, they might be mistaken. If 5 do, they might just not be your audience. If “10 in a row” do? You should likely look for a solution to the most visceral of those reactions.

    How many playtesters did you have?
    50? That’s 20% – that’s a huge problem.
    100? That’s 10% – that’s a big problem
    1000? That’s only 1% – that probably not a problem.

    Their responses need to be weighed against the other feedback you are getting.
    If 10% of playtesters hate your game and 90% love it, maybe you are fine.
    If 10% of playtesters hate your game and 90% like it, you’ve definitely got a problem.

    People don’t buy games that are “fine” – especailly when there are some (no matter hwo few) people who are shouting about how bad it is.

    Example – When I worked on development of Captains Wager for Grey Fox Games and when we tested it, we had some people who loved it. People who got the poker core, played like poker, paid attention to pot size and folded agressively.

    Then we tested with people who didn’t play it like poker, never folded, bet agressively, and then hated the game blaming the luck factor. We could have released a game that we knew some people would like and some people would hate. A game that we knew some people would get and some wouldn’t. A game that people might play poorly on their first couple of plays and then begin to grok – if they came back after not enjoying it once. But we didn’t – we continued to develop until we have a game that gave players more options than playing completely optimally. The people who loved it before, still loved it. The people who were on the fence liked it much better. The people who hated it, hated it less.

    The game was fine before the changes.
    The game is better now.

    So even if the above is true, even if enough people like your game that you are comfortable ignoring 10 people who hate it, you shouldn’t – because chances are you can still make it better and possibly based on the feedback you received from those who had the worst experiences.

    The best feedback for developing a game is always the harshest.
    The mechanics people love are easy – all you have to do is keep them.
    The mechanics people hate are harder – they need to be fixed – sometimes removed.
    And before you ignore the people who have a problem with your game, you should consider whenther they hate a part that other players love or whether they hate a part other players failed to mention.
    Games are rarely a single mechanic. If several players have a specific problem, and many others cite no problems, you don’t have no problems. You have a problem that part of your audience cares about and part doesn’t, but I bet if you fix that – you see both audiences agreeing that the game got better.

    Design and development is a neverending process and games, like other works of art, are never really done (that’s where expansions come from).

    But as much as you like a design, and as much as you have people telling you it is okay, I think you ignore criticism at your peril – espeically when its “10 in a row”


    • Hey Josh, Thanks for the comment.
      I agree with what you are saying and I think I may have left out some important points in the original post. I was thinking about the designers testing a specific style of game, like a speed or dexterity games and for whatever reason they come across a string of testers who are wargamers or euro style games. I see this every week with my meetup group. My weekly meetup is a euro preferred group and I would never test my games with my weekly group because I know they are not my target audience. I am also thinking about the tester who comes along, and for whatever reason does not understand the core mechanic who then proceeds to trash the game. While that does fall on the designer to make the mechanic as clear as possible, that is not the fault of the game.

      All that said, this kind of situation is probably rare, but we have experienced it (the inspiration for the OP in fact) where we had a group of what I would consider wargamers sit at our game and one guy was in a lousy mood and the other two could not absorb the ping pong combat mechanic essential to the fun of the game. Their collective assessment was “there is a game here but the game is still far away.” Being that it was one of our first public playtests, it is very possible that we did a poor job of explaining the game. But what we did do was talk about it after the test and we agreed that they were not our target audience and we left the mechanic as is. We had 20ish more testers that say and everyone enjoyed the main mechanic and everyone we have tested with in the last year has enjoyed it as well. We have changed almost nothing in the game as far as main mechanics go and only made fine tuning updates in the last year.

      So yes, I think the original post is both an oversimplification and I left out some important points. Because I agree with you, the best feedback is the harshest feedback and the testing process should go on for as long as possible and with as many tests as you can get before the game is released.

      In light of your comment (thank you, btw), I plan to make an update to the original addressing some of the nuance I left out.


      • I understand the situation a bit better now – sounds linke a frustrating day for testing.

        There may be multiple “how to build a game”s here. What I am reading here is “know your playtesters” and also “know how to listen to what they are really saying.”

        “This game is bad” or even “the game is far away” is not good criticism – leaves out th emost important “beacause…” – It’s especially unhelpful if it comes from a group that is soured on gaming for the day and known to prefer games of a type that yours isn’t.

        Appreciate the response and I’m glad you appreciate the comment – I’ll stop hijacking your thread now and look forward to reading the next one. 🙂


  2. Pingback: Updated:How to Build a Game #70 Does Your Game Have a Design or Player Problem? | TGIK Games Blog

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