Play testing is not the same as market testing. I have heard people bemoan the overly-thorough play-testing of games that AAA companies like Valve inflict upon their games. “Tsk Tsk”, they say, “I want a game that captures the designer’s vision and hasn’t been mellowed out by generic review boards that soften games and polish out the individual humanity of the developer.” However, what they are complaining about is market testing in which a product, such as blockbuster movies, are shown to an audience and that audience’s reaction can determine whether the boy gets the girl or if he dies in the final scene. Yes that sucks. But it is not the same as play testing. The best analogy I have heard for game play testing is a standup comic who tests his jokes in front of a smaller audience (sometimes even on twitter). You need to do this because games, like jokes, have most of their impact in the audience’s mind. Similarly a game must be propelled by the audience.
I have been thinking about play testing because last Wednesday I went up to the monthly Phoenix International Game Developers Association meeting to show a build of City Tuesday. Boy was it a surprise. I was able to get two folks to try the game. In both cases I saw my game in a completely new way.
The controls were troubling in ways that I hadn’t seen before. One tester followed a vehicle that looked too similar to another vehicle. I got to see the confusion first hand. It was a really great experience. I wanted to feel mad and frustrated. However, I know that I would rather find these problems now than after I released the game. There will be more testing to come and more improvements.
Oh, by the way I went up to IGDA phoenix with a couple other Tucson developers. They are making a game that was just published to the itunes ap store named Baby Monkey (going backwards on a pig)