When designers play test their games, it is standard procedure to ask your testers what they thought of the game when the game is over. One testing technique we have started usign is to ask players how they feel at certain points during the game. When we started this method we wanted to be smart about the way to go about asking players about the game during the game.
Designers should consider where in the flow of the game would make for good break points to ask questions. This is important because you don’t want to remove your players from the game and cause them to lose the potential strategy they are trying to put together. Designers also need to take into account the timeline of their game and know when a game that is part building economy in order to build a city or an army. This is a great time to ask if everyone at the table knows what is going on. If you know that everyone at the table knows what is going on for the first half of the game, and you get feedback later saying that a player was not sure what was going on, you know that the clarification needs to be made during the second half of the game. This assumes of course that the feedback does not give specifics about what was unclear, but I have seen all kinds of feedback that is both specific and not specific.
Something else for a designer to think about is the way players are feeling as the game progresses. Ask your players during the game if they feel like they are out of the game in disinterested, excited because they are in control, mentally checked out because they feel like they can’t win the game. Using this approach you can map where players are mentally as the progress through the game. Maybe the player that feels like they can win early in the game will turn around and start to understand the deeper strategy. By the end of the game, they might change their tune. This is an opportunity to ask better questions when the game is over and everyone is debriefing about the game.
Ultimately, that is the major benefit of using this approach. The more information you have about in game feelings and understandings, will allow you to ask better and richer questions when it comes to a post game debrief. Keep in mind that this is a very game specific approach. There are some games that have natural spots to ask questions and some game where breaking the flow is really dangerous. With that in mind, what are some questions you would want to ask your play testers during the game(s) you are working on now?
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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.