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The Silent Revolution Of Playtests, Part 1
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The Silent Revolution Of Playtests, Part 1

March 17, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Major names in the industry understand this quite well, such as Ubisoft, which possesses qualified teams and invest lot of resources in this aspect of game development.

What kind of problems might we fix or prevent with playtests? Some examples include:

- Accessibility and ease of use (interface, navigation within the game, etc.).

- Identification of sure-fire-wins, i.e. strategies allowing a player to easily overcome any challenge created by the designers and therefore remove any interest in the game or the current mission. This issue is especially sensitive for multiplayer maps.

- Fine-tuning of the game system: experience has shown me that the intensity of use of game features (weapons, equipment, actions, etc.) tends to vary considerably according to a number of factors.

These include player profiles, the time a given player spends on familiarizing himself with the game, and of course the game tuning itself.

Only through long-term playtests with relevant samples of players can we ensure that the game tuning maintains its balance and relevance even after long hours of gaming.

- Analysis of the early reactions of different categories of players during their first session. This will highlight their first impressions and initial frustrations. Some game demos have probably had a negative effect on the marketing of games they were meant to promote because of accessibility and tuning issues that could have easily been spotted during playtesting.

- For multiplayer games, the robustness of the game system and the potential of maps.

I have had several opportunities to delve deeply into playtest management. I built the playtest structure from scratch at the Ubisoft Annecy studio, where the successful multi-player "versus" modes of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory were developed.

I set up the recruiting methods, playtest protocols, and the debriefing methods employed in this program. I also set up a playtest cell at the Ubisoft Bucarest office and led playtests there myself. Playtests have changed the way I perceive my job as creative director, so I feel the need to share my experience with everyone.

Let us start with a definition. Playtests consist in analyzing the reactions of a representative pool of players toward gameplay in order to improve the final game and to make sure it matches their expectations.

Some will argue that game testing is nothing new. True, but real playtests have nothing to do with the debug testing executed at the end of the development cycle.

Traditionally, game designers ask testers for their opinions. Testers are often excellent players and are therefore not always representative of the targeted demographic which is often made up of mainstream gamers.

Moreover, testers generally get to know a game so deeply that their knowledge of it strengths and weaknesses profoundly influences the way they play. Therefore, they do not play as someone who discovers the game for the first time.

Well-executed playtests allow us to evaluate gameplay strengths and weaknesses with great accuracy since they rely on two solid principles:

- The careful selection of playtesters.

- The use of ad-hoc protocols.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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