Pitching an idea for a game is relatively easy, as is creating a prototype of said game. The harder part, and probably the most confronting from my own experience, is having people play the game you designed and put your creativity into. Play-testing provides game designers with the important feedback they need to make changes to their game, and often these changes are minuscule details they failed to pick up in the first stages of design. As John P. Davis, Keith Steury and Randy Pagualayan (2005) note, “Consumers can provide valuable information about various aspects of a game to help make it more fun to play.” Without this initial interaction, how could one gauge the success of their game?
Play-testing my own game, Gradu-late, was quite literally an eye opening experience. I was presented with many suggestions from my gamers that hinted at problems with rules, game design flaws and was also presented with some great ideas for expanding the game from what it once was to what it is now. My game, which places focus on players getting from their first year at university to the final stage of graduation, was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek look at the challenges university students face throughout their tertiary education. After play-testing and sharing the game with people other than myself, I think that this perspective was communicated well.
The first play-test I conducted provided some great insight into what aspects of Gradu-late translated well in game play and also highlighted a few issues that could be easily fixed. The initial play-test with three players revealed that further detail was required in the rule book — which at this point was just a rough draft to test the mechanics of gameplay. The players all agreed that once clarity had been established — by consulting me throughout the course of the game, — the game was much easier to understand and that the wording of the rules should reflect this going further.
My initial Gradu-late prototype had only required players to obtain a total of 24 subject credits and once this total was reached, the game would be over and those playing would have reached graduation (at last!). The players in my play-test suggested that increasing this objective to a total of 36 subject credits would help in lengthening the game play — perhaps adding a sense of authenticity to the game too as it takes students quite some time to get to that grad ceremony at the end of the tunnel. They also recommended that each tier of Gradu-late — the tiers being the first, second and third year subjects — should have a prerequisite total of credits so that it would make the game more challenging. This was implemented and the Gradu-late rules indicate that before a player can move onto the next tier they must first have collected eight first year subject credits and twelve second year subject credits.
It was also indicated in the first play-test that the predictability of the game play was something that players disliked — they particularly felt that the rounds which saw each player take a turn in the same clockwise rotation was ineffective and monotonous. One player specifically stated that the player who rolled first would have the “advantage” throughout the course of the game play. I decided that creating a ‘reverse’ card for the chance deck, with a similar function to the reverse card in Uno, would help to counteract this problem.
The first play-test also sought the implementation of a rule which prevented players from purchasing or ‘completing’ more than one subject credit per turn. By putting a cap on this, it not only limited players from hoarding all their skills discs and then purging them all at once to try and win, but it also added an element of fairness to the overall gameplay.
With these suggestions and a few others, I revised the deck of cards I had created, altered the rules to make them more transparent and prepared for another two play-tests.
Play-Test Two & Three
The second and third play-tests both saw a two-player game take place. They didn’t reveal as much as the initial play-test did, but I would like to think this is because a lot of the faults had been worked through. The player involved in the second play-test indicated that the numbers on the die — which are a one, two, three and a chance, — should have been higher. They suggested that by doing this it would speed up the game play. In my own opinion, this would change the incentive of the game and would reward players far too easily, which is why I decided to keep this element constant in the following play-test.
Play-test three revealed that an explanation of the subject credit system in the rules would have been beneficial as this was a more confusing aspect of the game which required my clarification. The player from this third session also stated that they particularly liked the chance cards, and the fact that this incorporated both positive and negative outcomes for the players of Gradu-late.
By play-testing Gradu-late a number of times, I think that a lot of the kinks which were hindering the overall experience of the game have been eliminated. Whilst I know that nothing is perfect, I am quite pleased with the outcome I have obtained. The feedback provided made the concept behind Gradu-late less ambiguous and enhanced the mechanics employed to make the game a little more entertaining.
Davis, J.P., Steury, K., & Pagulayan, R., 2005, ‘A Survey Method for Assessing Perceptions of a Game: The Consumer Playtest in Game Design’, Game Studies, Volume 5, Issue 1, October, Accessed 16 May 2017.