I was going to write my final post about making a card game today, but I’m still full of ideas and adrenaline, despite being exhausted, from Protospiel Notts yesterday. It was a genuinely fantastic event, big thanks to Chris Kingsnorth for organising it, and Alex for telling me about it (numerous times, weirdly sometimes I need persuading for obviously fantastic ideas). So I just wanted to praise it, and post some tips for myself when going to the next (there has to be a next).
The event itself seemed to be a huge success, definitely from my experience, but I didn’t speak to a single person there who was disappointed in any way. I’ve been to my fair share of playtesting focused events, meetups, and helped run and been on the playtesting stand at conventions, but the atmosphere when an entire day is devoted to it, and everybody is there ready to reciprocate all testing, was very different indeed. Whilst I was initially unsure on reciprocating play, given how game lengths vary so much, it worked perfectly. We played shorter games multiple times, and had snapshots or vertical slices of the longer games.
Also a big shout out to all the people there. Really nice to see a bunch of familiar faces, and everyone was incredibly friendly. Also polite to a fault, always offering to try out somebody else’s game before asking to playtest there’s. There was a real sense of community and working together to make these games the best they can be. And it worked- we’ve managed to improve our next game*, through playing, talking and, mainly, simplifying. Always simplifying.
Some thoughts and tips for my future self and anybody else going to a protospiel:
- Take a bottle of water. There was free water there, but I still didn’t drink enough. And you’ll end up talking a lot. Also a snack.
- Remember your book for taking notes. Obvious, but easily forgettable.
- If you’ve got a game longer than an hour (by a fair margin), work out which part of the game you want playtested. Come up with a consistent setup for the mid-game or end-game if necessary. Otherwise put a time-limit on it and make sure everyone is aware of it.
- If playing a shorter game, offer to play it multiple times. Especially if yours is twice the length.
- Listen to all feedback, good or bad, and accept all comments. You might not agree with them, but take them on board. A player’s suggestions might not work, but their feelings are their feelings.
- Try to find where the fun in the game is. If it’s heavy, choosing the options should be fun, if there’s combat it should be fun for both players, more casual, make sure the fun is clouded by rules.
- Understand your audience and make it clear to the playtesters. It’s still worth getting all ranges of players to try your prototype, but don’t feel you need to eliminate randomness from your game just because your playtesters were very deep eurogamers. Just make sure they know what they’re playtesting first.
- Don’t focus on the singular negative feedback! When playtesting Forks I’d have 9/10 people love the game, but my worrying mind would always go back to the 1 who didn’t. No game is universially loved, even Agricola is disliked by someone.
- However, if multiple people dislike something, it probably needs changing. A question came up, “How do you know if a game is bad, or just not to the players’ tastes?” And the simple answer is the numbers of players feeling each way.
- Watch people playing, and think about what to record beforehand. Time of game is the obvious one, but also see what people do and what choices they make. It’s good to have hard data, rather than ask them how many times they took a particular action.
- When playing, try to think about how you are feeling- what are you finding fun, what is preventing you from having more fun, how much are you having to think.
- When feeding back, don’t suggest changes you’d make without explaining why you’d make them. Some designers don’t want suggestions at all, some do, but the important thing is why you feel that change ought to be made.
- Be honest but fair with your feedback. Don’t sugar coat anything, but remember that a designer has poured their love into the game before going to town on it.
- When asking for feedback, try to be specific with your questions. The more specific you are, the better you can hone in on what improvements could be made.
- Stay in touch with the designer! Share twitter handles or email addresses. Not only is this just a nice way of building the community, it means if an idea pops into your head later on you can let them know.
*Something beautiful coming this way soon
Nice to see you there, Mark, and very useful tips all round. I was quite fortunate ‘cos the comments on my own designs were universally positive, but I’m not complacent, and at least 2-3 of the suggestions I got are well worth a second look… Glad you enjoyed the day. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait a whole year for a second UK-based Protospiel…
That’s great to hear Alex! I’m also hoping we have another protospiel in under a year, closer as well…