Play testing is a sometimes-overlooked aspect of video game development, which is usually managed by the game designer when it happens at all. Bruno Urbain of 10Tacle Studios Belgium is a firm believer in the power of play testing, having used it on David Douillet Judo
and on his current project, the recently announced Totems
He's come up with 10 tips for conducting play testing for video games, which he shares in a new article called "Pro Game Dev Tips: Play Testing"
on GameCareerGuide.com, Gamasutra's sister web site for educational information for game developers and students,
"Play testing video games is similar to focus testing other products," he explains in the article. "The basic goal of play testing is to improve the game by watching new users play it and recording data about what works and doesn't. Play testing is not the same as bug testing or functional testing."
He calls play tests "a matter of people and psychology." One of his tips is to record as much data as you can, and he goes into intricate detail about how to record the data and what equipment to use to do so, as this excerpt shows:
"If you have video cameras, use them; if you have money to buy cameras, get them. Filmed documentation will save you a ton of time later when you're presenting problems to the team. Being able to 'show' a problem can be worth more than statistics and explanations.
In my case, we didn't have much money to buy expensive cameras, so I came up with a cheaper option. I set up a few RJ45 web cams to record the players' movements. One recorded the players' hands and the joypad, while another recorded the players' facial expressions. Web cams on the market today have a higher resolution than they did a few years ago, and they're much cheaper than high-end digital video cameras.
Video makes for a very interesting way to see how players behave with the controller and how they feel when they play the game. For example, you can spot frustration when a player cannot trigger a combo, and you can tell whether he's frightened in a particular scene when he should be.
Most of today's web cams have a web server embedded, so you can monitor everything on a single screen. That way, you don't have to be close to the players, which may influence them. You can even invite team members to watch the session on their computer using a simple internet browser.
I also setup another device, the most expensive in my case, which was an output video stream converter to record what was being rendered on the graphics card. Again, the stream can be watched from any browser using a special ActiveX."
To read more of Urbain's tips for play testing, including how to manage all the data collected during play test sessions, read his article "Pro Game Dev Tips: Play Testing"