Kind Fortress: Blind Remote Playtesting In 10 Easy Steps
Blind playtesting, where players encounter your game as a consumer might, and must learn how to play from the written rules, is a critical part of the game design process. Some designers reserve blind testing towards the end of their process, and primarily use it to refine rules. Others start much earlier, sometimes relying on video rulebooks to help get playtesters started, so that they can observe how players react during play. Blind playtesting can be tough to do frequently, especially among your local groups, because each group can only be blind once. Many designers turn to the internet, and work with blind remote playtesters.
Want to get started with blind remote playtesting? Here’s are ten easy steps!
- Have a fully playable game!
Don’t ask for blind playtesters for a game that might still fall apart in mid-air. Your game should be able to take off and land, to go from start-to-scoring without issues. Playtesters want to play a game, not an idea!
- Pretty gets played
A lot of advice is out there about how you don’t need great artwork to get published, and that functional graphic design is more important. All that is true – my first commercially published game, Ravenous River, had black-and-white icons from game-icons.net on some white cards and literally nothing more. But the reality is that a game that looks pretty will get more traction. More people will sign up for it, more people will print it and more people will play it.
My approach is to select an art style for the game and stick to it. I don’t need to fully illustrate the game, but at least the art and design have some cohesion to them. Yes, that means I spend more time scrolling through images online to find images that hang together. But it’s worth it when playtesters routinely come back and are willing to play my prototypes. As one tester put it “your prototypes don’t make me feel like I’m giving up playing a real game to play them.” The artwork isn’t close to what the published game will be, but the art does support the experience of play, not just the mechanics.
- Write thorough rules
You won’t be around to answer questions, so your rules need to do it for you. Pictures and examples really help, so don’t skimp.
- Make a video or powerpoint, especially for complex games
If you have a simple or familiar game this may not be necessary, but if your game is of medium weight or heavier, or does something unusual, teach it. If you’re primarily playtesting your rules you should probably skip this step – unless you’re playtesting the how-to-play video!
- Provide Print-and-Play Instructions
Mailing out prototypes may be required in some cases, but so long as your game isn’t too complicated, many people will be willing to print it out. Generally, the hardest thing to get people to print is a large board. You’ll also want to indicate what additional components will be required, with some advice for what might work well.
- Make it accessible
I use Google Drive to distribute my PnPs. I use a shareable link that allows anyone to view the files, and I send out the link to playtesters who express interest. I also keep PnP links up right here on the site.
- Track your playtesters
Make a spreadsheet to track who is playtesting your game. Your spreadsheet should track names, twitter handles, email addresses, the date you’re going to reach out for feedback, and a field for general notes.
- Make a feedback form
I use Google forms for this, and I keep the form in the PnP folder so playtesters can find it easily. Your feedback form might vary quite a bit from game to game, depending on what types of feedback you’re looking for. At a minimum, you should ask for contact info, # of players, and play time. I like to structure my feedback questions to ask for a favorite aspect of the game and one thing the player might change about the game. Sometimes it’s important to also collect final scores, or to ask about specific layout issues. If you’re mainly testing rules, asking about the rulebook and teaching experience is great. But remember! People will have only so much patience. Don’t ask all your questions, ask only the most important ones. You can allow people to check a box if they’re willing to talk more, and then reach out to them directly to follow up.
- Ask for help!
This one may sound kind of obvious, but it’s amazing how many designers stress about not having enough playtesters without reaching out very far for them. Post on Twitter, in relevant Facebook and Reddit groups, on Boardgame Geek, and in your email newsletter (if you have one). You may be part of a Discord or Slack group too. Here’s the thing: don’t limit yourself just to groups dedicated to designers and playtesting. Those groups are filled with designers looking for playtesters. Post to places where you have a following. Don’t have a following yet? Invest more in the community and you will.
- Follow up
More people will say yes to your request than will playtest your game. That’s ok. A gentle follow-up a few weeks after sending out a link is fine, but don’t nudge more than once or twice. Don’t be discouraged by low play rates either. Be sure to follow up with anyone who expresses an interest in a longer conversation.
- Be Grateful
You knew there’d be a bonus 11th step! It’s really step 0, and steps 1-10 too. In every part of the process, be grateful, generous and considerate of others. Make the PnP nice so players have a good experience. Solicit feedback out of respect for the time and opinions of others. Try and reward your playtesters too. You can thank them publicly, include their names in published games, offer them perks or promos, and spend some personal time with them. Treat your playtesters like your top Patreon or Kickstarter backers. They’re investing time into your success, and there’s nothing more valuable.
Want to test some of my games? Check out the PnP page! Have a different approach to blind testing? Use the comments and tell us all about it!