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I've heard that large game studios often run playtests where they pull in people with no association to the project, have them play the game (usually under NDA), either with designers watching or the session recorded, and sometimes have them fill out a survey afterward to quantify the data.

Is this actually a thing? If so, how are those people recruited? Is it something that can be replicated on the scale of an indie dev or small team?


I see that a question like this one has been asked before, however, the dupe-chains all seem to wind up at a deleted question. I do not think this would be a dupe regardless, as the questions that get duped to that one tend to be about finding users for a large scale "open beta," and be about building an initial user-base (or, more frequently, trying to recruit users from this stack) rather than finding one-time test players for an NDA playtest.

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Is this actually a thing?

Yes.

If so, how are those people recruited?

When I was at Ubisoft, we'd use a sign-up portal playtest.ubisoft.com/, where players could fill out a short survey about themselves and the games they play.

When planning a playtest, we'd consult that database to find players similar to the target audience of the game being tested (say, having played competing games in a similar niche, or previous games in the same franchise) and invite them to come to our playtest lab, typically for full-day play sessions over the course of a week.

(Since the COVID-19 pandemic, these playtests are now often conducted remotely, with players playing on their own PCs at home via game streaming software like Parsec, so the game code/assets never leave the studio to limit leaks)

As you say, these players would sign an NDA. Most often they're compensated for their time using free copies of games or gift cards, rather than cash payment as an employee or contractor. (There may be legal reasons for this, but not being a lawyer I can't share any particular expertise here)

Is it something that can be replicated on the scale of an indie dev or small team?

I think other answers can speak to this in more detail, since my direct experience for the past decade has been limited to AAA. You're unlikely to be able to build up the kind of general-purpose playtester database that a big-name studio would have amassed over the years, but you do have options. From what I hear from Indies:

  • A Discord server is a great way to cultivate a community around your game and gather early feedback. You'd promote the server on your game website and social media posts to attract folks interested in what you're making.

    You can assign roles to users who have signed NDAs and give them access to "insider" channels for playtests and feedback. I've even heard of teams setting up Discord bots to automatically import posts from a Bug Report channel into their task-tracking software.

    At the smaller end of the indie scale, you might not need to be too draconian about NDAs like the mega-corps trying to limit all leaks/cracks — just make sure there's a clear written agreement that the playtesters are not to redistribute in-development builds you provide, and that sharing/discussion of unreleased content shall be limited to the provided feedback channels. Talk to a lawyer for specifics related to your needs in your legal jurisdiction.

  • You can advertise your game's playtest in dedicated promotion channels of other gaming Discords and social media communities, or dedicated playtester-recruiting spaces like r/playmygame.

    Just be sure to check the community's moderation guidelines first, so you're not treated as a spammer for self-promotion beyond the community norms.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! The existence of "dedicated playtester-recruiting spaces like r/playmygame" more-or-less answers the indie side of the question. I had no idea communities like that existed! I'll leave this open for another day in case other answers show up, but this looks like a checkmark-able answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim C
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 15:48

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