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I am currently working on an iPhone game and am having trouble playtesting to find out which parts of the game are fun and which need to be reworked. As I sit down to play the various iterations, my feeling towards the gameplay and mechanics shift as I work through the same parts of the game over and over... and over. Some parts that I think are super fun might be tedious to someone new to the game and vice versa. My goal would be to create a game that maintains good pacing, advancement and skill progression for someone who just picked up the game, but I'm not sure how to test for that.

I try to keep an objective mindset and I do have one quality assurance technician (my wife), but she is playing the game almost as much as me and thus loses that "newbie" mindset. I don't have the resources to find and use third party testers (yet) and I would like to have my game be in a more completed state before I have even a closed beta test.

Does anybody have any tips or ideas on how to find out if my game really is fun or if it's just my mind playing tricks on me after the 1000th round?

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4  
Play the game upside down. See if that tricks your brain into thinking it´s a new experience =D PS: I´m only half joking. –  Nailer Mar 14 '12 at 15:15
    
I don't have the resources to find and use third party testers I recently co-founded a business that tackles that exact problem: [www.playtestcloud.com](). All you have to do is to upload your .ipa archive and specify which questions you want to ask, and we'll distribute your game to a group of our own testers and get your their feedback within about 24 hours. We're still in private beta. If you're interested trying it out just drop me a line at [marvin@playtestcloud.com](mailto:marvin@playtestcloud.com). –  Marvin Killing May 6 '13 at 21:48
    
get really really drunk, then play while recovering from a hangover. That way even things you are used to can still be annoying, also you are more sensitive to irritating lights and sounds, not to mention you might have forgotten how certain things work as a side effect of your play test preparation... also joking... only slightly... –  Benjamin Danger Johnson May 6 '13 at 22:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You can't be objective in playtesting your own game. Do play your own game frequently to make sure features work, but to test "fun" you should be recruiting new people.

I don't have the resources to find and use third party testers

You are probably stuck thinking that playtesting requires some elaborate setup (eg. a testing lab with a two-way mirror and cameras) but that isn't really the case.* Honestly, even if I had that kind of a setup at my disposal I would prefer to just hand my phone to someone and then take notes while they play the game. Don't stress out about who you're getting to play the game, because in the early stages you'll get lots of useful info from anyone at all playing your game. Seriously, anyone at all.

Once past the initial testing and onto beta testing, look at a service like TestFlight. That makes it really easy to find people who will beta test an iPhone game for free.

*refer to the book "Don't Make Me Think" for the section about low-difficulty user testing

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I understand that would be the best way to go. However, I'm looking for ways that I can improve playtesting my own game at my current state in which I'm not recruiting new people. –  hspain Mar 14 '12 at 14:58
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@hspain You really can't. Take your game to a meetup or usergroup or other local gathering and recruit people there to play it to get feedback on how fun/easy/hard the game is. It's free, and quite easy to do. –  thedaian Mar 14 '12 at 15:02
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@hspain Writing a game is like writing a book. You need to get over what people COULD think about your creation and let others help you. Friends and family will be good resources at first because they will give slightly sugar coated answers at zero cost to you. –  Eric Fossum Mar 14 '12 at 15:57
    
Both of you are right. I just need to get it in front of people. –  hspain Mar 14 '12 at 19:53

You can't, not because you ain't honest to yourself, but because your experience playing the game is completely different from everyone else's. By the time you can do gameplay testing you are an expert in your own, nothing is going to surprise you or amuse you, 'cause you know everything that is going to happen, you know how to beat every part of it, and you probably ain't going to have a lot of fun. Your experience will be more like replaying the game for the 20th time.

You ain't going to find that the interface is bad, 'cause it's second nature to you. You ain't going to find that the game doesn't give you a vital piece of information, 'cause you know everything you need to know as a player, and a lot more. You ain't going to find out where the game is too hard, 'cause you are so good at it that it's hard for you to tell the difference between easy and normal difficulty level, they are both off-the-scale easy to a master.

The best testers are people who know nothing about your game, and do remember not to spoil this property of your testers. If you at the least sign of doubt tell them what to do you will never know if they would have figured themselves in 5 seconds or if they were genuinely stuck.

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I find the other answers odd, not because they are necessarily wrong, but that they ignore that any developer is (or at least should be) playtesting their own game far more than they would ever have the time or resources to find testers. Clearly, finding individuals completely unfamiliar with the game is necessary, and should never be overlooked. However, no matter what the situation, no matter what your resources, you-as-developer should be playing your own game constantly, so any way to decrease familiarity with the systems would be useful.

To answer how one might decrease familiarity, I would utilize a game-specific version of the classic art method Nailer mentions in his comment. Turning a work of art upside down decreases familiarity, which is the reason one's mind has difficulty thinking critically about a work. Game-specific methods would entail ways to change or alter the game so your mind cannot utilize conditioned responses and thoughts.

Ideas to start out:

  • Create a mirrored GUI.
  • Utilize different random textures
  • Utilize no textures
  • Isolate systems from the game as a whole
  • Create "caricatures" of mechanics, exaggerate them (larger, smaller, single actions made repetitive, repetitive actions performed only once)
  • Play without aspects of typical input methods (play with no mouse, with no keyboard, with only one hand)

In other words, metaphorically "turn the game upside down" by looking at every facet of the game you can in different ways, in different directions. While testers are invaluable, you mustn't assume that your own playtesting should be ignored or undervalued.

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eh, most of these suggestions seem to be either too much work or defeating the purpose of playtesting. For example, randomizing all the textures: for the amount of effort that would take, you could do a lot of playtesting with others and get much better information. The one idea I like is exaggerating game mechanics, and even then for a different reason than you suggest; you should be playtesting variations on your game in order to see what's best. –  jhocking May 7 '13 at 12:08
    
fwiw, my second sentence did say "Do play your own game frequently" but with caveats. I don't ignore it, I say it'll never be objective. –  jhocking May 7 '13 at 12:12
    
Sorry if I was unclear. I meant the other answers ignore how much a developer will play test and how important self play is. Simply being unable to be truly objective is no reason not to strive to lessen the problem. As for your criticism, what would be hard about any of the methods? Using different textures is simply replacing file names in your lookup table/list, using no textures is having an empty list, you should always isolate systems for testing, and playing handicapped is very trivial. The hardest one is the one you point out has other benefits, the exaggeration –  Attackfarm May 7 '13 at 17:27
    
To add a bit, I don't think any of these methods do or even could defeat the purpose of play testing, as in my mind, the purpose is to understand the game with as much depth and breadth as possible. You can, of course, do traditional play testing in parallel, but occasionally using methods to decrease familiarity could only help sharpen contrasts, highlight bugs or imbalances, and otherwise change your perspective, which is a process that is invaluable, since our perspectives are the delimiting factor in our ability to be creative. –  Attackfarm May 7 '13 at 17:43
    
Playing with modified input methods could totally defeat the purpose for a lot of playtesting, although I suppose it depends on both the game and what you're testing (eg. testing the difficulty in an FPS level while playing with one hand would be pretty pointless.) –  jhocking May 8 '13 at 2:49

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