Building out an Incomplete Game with your Alpha Play Testers
There will be times when you have an incomplete game that you can still play test. There are various reasons why you might have in incomplete game that is still worthy of testing. The most common reason for us is a game we have not figured out a proper ending. The game could be about collecting money, but the idea of ending a game when player X have Y amount of money feels like a last resort for an end game condition. It might be the case that the game ends when a player reaches a certain threshold, but we like to turn to our alpha testers and give them a chance to play the game as it is to give us feedback on what makes sense as a reasonable end game condition.
Test Proof of Concept
Along side trying to figure out the end game situations that make the most sense, we can use a partial game to test out proof on concept. In the cases where we have radically altered a standard mechanic, we will give it to our alpha testers just to see if the changes we have made still make for a fun and interesting experience. In some cases, there may be nothing more than the mechanic, no theme, no real point, just a thing to try out where we need more than one or two people to properly test. Use your alpha testers as a method to test proof of concept ideas, but I would say, spring the proof of concept ideas on them after they have played a full play test of something else. I feel like we owe it to our alpha testers to give them a full game to try and ask them if they are willing to try out a concept…we have never been told no.
Example: Built Game and Prototype without an End
When we were working on Priests of Olympus, we had no idea how we wanted to end the game. After a lost couple hours trying to figure out how to finish the game, we called our alpha testers, set up a test and played until it felt like the game was done. We asked everyone how much “money” (the game was financial in its first iteration) they had and how many characters they had defeated. We asked how much of other players companies players owned and we ask the players what they felt like was a reasonable finish. In this case, the first player to reach “X” dollars felt like a reasonable ending. I personally feel like that is an uninspired ending to any game. The larger problem is that it is such a natural ending it just makes sense and trying to get more complicated with the ending seemed to take away from a game that was more about the nuance of the rounds and less about the end game.
In a previous post about early testing we talked about the benefits of getting the early protos in front of people to get your protos played. What I left out was that those protos don’t need to be completed to work. Be clear with your testers that they are about to try an incomplete game and they will be primed to help you out when you get to the part of the game that needs that last little bit of inspiration to get to the completed alpha prototype landmark.
If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.