优秀的游戏是通过试玩创造出来的。这不是我的一面之词，而是著名游戏设计师Jesse Schell在他的绝妙书籍《The Art of Game Design》中提出来的。他甚至还进一步说明，试玩不仅对游戏有益，而且是制作优秀游戏的必要做法。
Opinion: Better games through playtesting
Good games are created through playtesting. These are not my words but those of legendary game designer Jesse Schell, as stated in his excellent book, The Art of Game Design. He goes even further by saying that playtesting is not only good for a game, it’s necessary in order to make a good game.
It’s always surprising for me to discover that some game developers only conduct quite scant playtesting, or none at all. Perhaps this is understandable, after all – they’re video game professionals with years of experience in designing and developing games. What could an ordinary consumer possibly tell them about their game that they don’t already know? Quite a lot, it turns out.
The key reason why playtests are conducted is to understand players’ real behaviour and gameplay experience (note, not to get their opinions). Each player will have an internal understanding of how the game works – their mental model – and this is likely to vary widely between them. Even when we see a range of players who on paper share the same demographics, we observe a wide spectrum in how they understand and experience the game. So even in the best possible case, where the designer is creating games for players just like themselves, there is still massive scope for misunderstanding. It’s not just difficult to put yourself into the minds of others, it’s also practically impossible to do so for the potential range of gamers you are designing for.
So knowing that playtesting leads to good games, why wouldn’t some studios do it? The most common reasons stem from, unsurprisingly, time and money. Studios are often reluctant to test a game until it has reached a certain level of production. The danger here is that they leave it too late to playtest at all. There are also debates over where the budget should come from, the studio or the publisher?
There are also many myths out there, such as the one that says playtesting can quash creative design. In all the playtests we’ve run, we’ve never seen this happen. In fact we see quite the opposite. By presenting evidence from analysis of player behaviour, we have seen design decisions iterated and improved upon. In these cases, it’s most likely that the underlying concepts behind novel game mechanics are solid – it’s just the current implementations that don’t not mesh well with players’ expectations or understanding.
The stress of testing
Although Schell states that he is a huge advocate for playtesting, he also confesses that he hates it. He even tries to find reasons for not being present when the playtests are scheduled. Not that he shares the same fears as studios which don’t playtest. He’s simply afraid that people won’t like his game.
When designers and developers come in to watch the playtest sessions on their game, Schell says they typically follow one of two paths. There are those creatives whose skin is impenetrable to the harsh words and reactions of users and they’re immediately sketching out improved designs to problems encountered. But for those on the other path, playtest sessions can be a sobering experience. It’s a completely normal and rational reaction – designing and developing games is a massive commitment, not only in time but also in emotional energy. Having a player who has only briefly played your game dismiss it as confusing and difficult (or worse), can be difficult to accept.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed a five-stage model of how people cope with grief. In many ways this is comparable to what a game designer may go through when sitting in a playtest session:
Denial: “It’s OK, this user is stupid. Everyone else will get it.”
Anger: “Why on earth are they doing that? Don’t they understand basic game concepts?”
Bargaining: “If the next user gets it I promise I’ll be happy with a 60 per cent on Metacritic.”
Depression: “I give up, perhaps I’m not as good a designer as I thought I was.”
Acceptance: “OK, I can see how they might think that, I’ve an idea on how to improve my design.”
In effect, every time a designer experiences this five-stage process during a playtest, their game has just got better. It’s not often that one should ask for more anguish, but when there is a tangible reward associated, it may be worth it.
And besides, ultimately this series of emotions are not optional. Given the game will be released, sooner or later, people will play and express their opinions about it. The key thing is that as a game creator you do have control over whether these emotions have a positive impact on your game, because you experience them during a playtest and have a chance to correct the issues, or a negative one, because you experience them when reading a review and therefore never get to act on them.
I recently asked a leading game designer whether he perceives playtesting as a weakness in his ability as a designer. His reply was instant. He said that any good designer should not only want player feedback, but they should also be actively seeking it in order to make their game better. “Why wouldn’t they want a good game?” (Source: Edge)