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Old 08-31-2007, 10:24 AM   #8
After a brisk nap
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If it works for you, then that's great. It won't get you published at CHI, but user testing should be a pragmatic activity.

I think that playtesters should absolutely also report bugs, and that you can get useful information about the gameplay from bugtesters. In principle, I can think of a few potential problems with combining the two activities:

- User testing (in various forms) should ideally go on throughout the design process. OK, so bug testing should also start as soon as you have any code, but beta testing usually take place near the end of development. Make sure you don't leave play testing until it's too late to fix fundamental problems in the design.

- The people who are good at bug testing are not always/usually the same people who are best for play testing. Play testers should resemble your audience as much as possible, while good bug testers are people who exhaustively try everything, no matter how strange. In particular, professional testers (who work on commercial games, playing every build again and again) do not make good play testers, because they are far more expert than regular players.

- Similarly, when bug testing a game, the experience is not necessarily the same as just playing it.

- Asking your play testers about bugs, especially when the game is in an early stage, runs a high risk of distracting them from the essential elements that you're trying to gather feedback on. For instance, they may complain about missing animations and placeholder graphics when you're just trying to find out what they think about the puzzles.

- You get far more useful play testing data in person, by direct observation. This is not as important for bug testing, so there's an argument for using different methods to collect each type of information.

In general, you have to consider your return on investment. For a major game, especially a commercial effort, you should probably spend some time on proper play testing. For a one-person, Underground title developed in your spare time, informal feedback is likely to get you some of the same benefits while taking a lot less effort. (A big part of the reason for this is that the audience for Underground titles are pretty savvy: mostly experienced adventure gamers, and many involved in the Underground scene themselves. That means they can provide good feedback by inspection. Also, they're easy to get in touch with online, but relatively hard to reach in real life, unless you attend the various AGS meetups. It's not like you can just stop people on the street and expect to find Trilby fans.)

However, there is really no substitute for seeing people actually play your game. If you have friends or family who play adventure games, you should exploit them mercilessly for the sake of your art. Failing that, developers who are still at university (or have university contacts) have access to a large population of cheaply bribed subjects. Just make sure to screen for the kind of players you want (probably people familiar with adventures).
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