How to conduct a playtest

How to Conduct a PlaytestIn this post (which is a part of our game development blog theme for October-November 2015; check out 9 stages in mobile game development) I would like to focus on the term “playtest” and elaborate what options are available out there to game developers for testing their games.

It is a proven fact that focusing on creating an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of your startup project is the right way to go in order to not spend a lot of money on development costs for something that may never be used by the projected target audience. Collecting the user feedback as early as possible and as often as possible is essential for getting the product (a game in our case) to the state when it becomes popular and receives an overwhelming amount of installs.

A playtest is a process that allows to test the game design/logic as well as identify bugs before bringing the game to market. Playtests can be “open”, “closed” or “beta.”

  • An open playtest is when a game designer selects those game testers from outside who are willing to join
  • A closed playtest is the internal testing process which is not open to the public
  • A beta playtest normally comes closer to the launch of the game to the market and usually involves users from the public who may be the target audience of the game


Before I cover some of the options that we can use for gathering users’ feedback, let me share the following statistics with you prepared by the EEDAR:

  • 96% of mobile games will not be paid off
  • 60% of budget is spent on reworks/corrections

So, in order to make your game successful, we should engage into ongoing user feedback sessions which can reduce the money spent on reworks by introducing relevant suggestions at early stages. Ideally, game studios should run a playtest and ask their target audience about the game idea prior to even creating a prototype of the game.

When to run a playtest

The first time a game designer can run a playtest is when a prototype version of the game is being worked on. During the prototype stage, we can gather users’ feedback about the game idea, mechanics and overall goals. Also some of the initial comments we can also receive from users can be focused around the feedback on the game name and icon.

As the game develops, playtests should take place every 2-3 weeks.

What information to collect

It is recommended to have game testers engage into a 2 minute, 30 minute and 60 minute gameplay. The reason I’ve set a 2 minute gameplay as the initial interval is because after 2 minutes is normally when a user gives up playing because he is not sure what the game is all about.


One of the options for your playtest feedback is to ask players to fill out surveys after each round of gaming. The surveys that game testers receive should not have open-ended questions (e.g. what you liked/disliked, etc); rather, they should have closed-ended questions – multiple choice questions (e.g. choose one or all of the options that you think are appropriate…) or yes/no questions. The reason we should focus on the closed-ended questions is that it is faster to answer these questions and we can get more relevant feedback from our responders.

Third-party observation

Besides surveys, a very effective technique is to collect feedback by observing people who are testing the game. Basically when a person is observing other players playing the game, he can collect the info about the device position, body posture, what players are saying during the play, etc. Usually, a gameplay which is high on player emotions is paid a lot of attention to. Game designers can use all negative emotions in order to extract certain game logic from the game.

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Another option for a playtest is to interview players without asking to fill out any surveys. We can also ask gamers to express their thoughts out loud when  they play the game, and then record this on a video to associate players emotions with their position in the game screen.


“Rating” is another option that can be used for playtests. Usually players get cards and are asked to rank a certain character, music or game play. This feedback can  then be aggregated and a certain decision can be made.

Now you should be ready to do your playtest. Use the options above to make your game a success. Keep in mind that usually a playtest:

  • Will not bring new game ideas
  • Should not last for more than 2 hours
  • Should receive feedback on only what has been shown to testers

And remember: never say to players whom you plan to use for your playtest that you have been developing this game, because if you say so, the players’ feedback will be biased and not objective!

Author: John Miller

John oftentimes takes the lead as the Agile Project Manager and SEO expert, which allows him to be hands-on with the latest trends.