Advice for the Playtest Hangover


This morning I woke up with a pretty killer playtest hangover. It's that mixed feeling of excitement, self-doubt, enthusiasm and despair after a playtest with less than steller results. In this particular case, I playtested Monsoon Market [Prototype B] and Espionage [Prototype E].

Monsoon Market went pretty well, with positive response from the small sample size and only some minor streamlining changes to the core gameplay.  I'm eager to test this again with different groups to get a more well-rounded sense of direction.

Espionage remains a cypher, as microgames tend to be. A good microgame is a sharp, multifaceted jewel. Alas, Espionage is still a rough lump of ore. Tactics were unclear, overall goals were muddled, and I was perhaps too eager about making it a six player game.  Playtests offered a lot of ideas though, which is very helpful. Once I've had a chance to polish off the rough spots again, I think I'll go public with Prototype F.

Games Need Sun to Grow

The key thing to remember about being a game designer is that your craft requires public input, and it's better done sooner than later. If your game is broken and you know it's broken, that is all the more reason to take it out of the lab. Don't hide it away. Explore the emergent behaviors. What tactics do people try? What wording is misunderstood?

The Genius Myth Doesn't Help

It is tough. You're asking generous strangers to offer their time on what amounts to work, when they came expecting play. On top of all that, you could come away with really negative feedback. You're often making a first impression with your ugliest babies. I still find myself buying into the idea of a mystical genius releasing a perfectly realized game fully formed, which I'm sure sometimes happens, but that ain't how I work and I bet it's not how you work either.

Step Back, Come Back

"What if my baby is uglier than most? That playtest feedback was so negative! I'm a fraud! I'm never going to make it!" Okay, that stuff? I know how that feels, believe me. It can be overwhelming at times, crippling even. You gotta deal with it as best you can. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I do it by stepping away completely, but temporarily. Take a walk, go see a movie, or hang out with some non-gaming friends. The important thing is to get back to work not too long after. Stepping back is easy, coming back is the hard part.

Kevin Kulp once called game design and the business surrounding the game industry "worthy work." I still believe that to be the case. It is worthy, but it is also work. So I gotta get back to it!
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.