Playtest Everything.

Topic: Gaming   |   26 February 2024

Playtest Everything.
Senior Insight Consultant Robert John Downer discusses the importance of playtesting throughout the game development cycle and what we offer here at Bryter. 
Introduction

We find ourselves in a period of significant change within the gaming landscape, an industry in perpetual motion, constantly evolving and undergoing disruption. From the North American video game crash to the ascension of Sony, the decline of Sega hardware, and the motion-controlled phenomenon of the Wii, one thing remains certain: everything is always changing.

The current shifts are mainly centered on the behind-the-scenes, as indicated by recent layoffs, suggesting that game developers are fundamentally rethinking how games are created. This is not to mention the player's shift towards larger online experiences or even the world of streaming.

It is becoming more and more difficult to know which games will become hits, like the recent success of Palworld from the relatively unknown Pocket Pair, and which will miss the mark, despite investment and a solid studio track record, such as Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.

Among these unpredictable times, one thing is for certain: there is no substitute for placing your game directly into the hands of players. The best way to make sure a title is primed for launch and ready to put its best foot forward is through playtesting – and that’s where we step in.

As an industry leader in all forms of gaming insights here at Bryter, we see playtesting as one of the most important tools available to video gaming makers. We recommend playtesting everything.

Slide1-1A Bryter in-person playtest in action

So, what is playtesting?

For the unfamiliar, playtesting is all about gathering groups of real players to try a game out. By giving gamers a slice of the game or even a few days' worth of playtime, we can efficiently and effectively gather valuable insights into player preferences, identify potential issues, and assess the overall appeal of a title. This allows us to make clear strategic recommendations to inform decisions about how to improve the game and tailor them to meet the needs and desires of players better. 

Ultimately, with added layers of analysis from our senior, experienced team, we contribute to the success of new games in this increasingly uncertain and competitive gaming market.

Slide2Enjoy a view of the Savoy Chapel while playtesting

When does playtesting work best?

We test games all the way through the development cycle, from the earliest of playable levels, in which we can make recommendations around the direction of development, all the way to the final build, in which we can make recommendations around marketing or some final finessing and polish.

As you might imagine, the lucky people we choose for such tests depend on what we are trying to uncover. All the way from the most hardcore fans of the series being played – to people who may have never played a game before.

VR playtesting

While we work with the world's top gaming brands, we also conduct our own research. By bringing together a team of smart, passionate, and curious researchers, we naturally find ourselves asking questions that might not come directly from our clients. That is what led us to our VR playtesting sessions – we wanted to know more about VR gaming, why it wasn’t hitting the mainstream, what appeals, and what the barriers are – these were just a few of the questions we had. So, we conducted a series of after-hours VR playtests with non-VR gamers just up the road from the Bryter offices at The Insight Rooms.

We invited our participants to the research facility, where they were greeted by a smaller team of researchers and a VR headset – the Meta Quest 2, to be specific. We used our expert qualitative interview techniques to understand their perceptions, expectations and overall feelings towards VR, all following a unique discussion guide to ensure we gathered themes across different interviews. We then invited the participants to try out a few games on the device. Following the virtual experience, we conducted a post-game interview. From here, we put our heads together in a series of analysis sessions to get a deeper understanding of the VR experience.

Slide5A prime example of a post-playtest qualitative interview

Playtesting tips

If you want to know more about the outputs from this series of playtests, check out our articles VR hasn't entered the mainstream, now what? here and VR Playtesting - Immersion or Isolation, and if you want some quick tips for conducting playtesting, look no further:

 

  1. Think about your audience – The target audience is important; they might know the series or genre best and give valuable feedback based on their experiences. But it’s important to think beyond these players to adjacent audiences to understand what they are looking for in the game.
  2. Keep it relaxed – Playing a game in a viewing facility is a little different from the natural gaming environment of the living room, so keep things as informal as possible, with relaxed seating, informal clothes, and casual language.
  3. Know your games – While becoming a hardcore gamer in the name of insights is not essential, it’s important to understand the gamer audience to understand the language, idioms and references that come with the pastime.
  4. Mix your methodologies –while gameplay recordings and surveys are the must-haves, it is the qualitative interviews with players that really uncover the whys and add layers of depth that are brought together to great effect in the analysis stage.
  5. Be consistent in frameworks and benchmarking – When it comes to rating, use consistent metrics and frameworks not only to give a holistic view of game performance but also the ability to compare against future game tests.

 

To conclude, playtesting is an essential part of the development cycle and provides unmatched value at every stage. In these tough times for the gaming industry, it's important that every launch is able to shine and stand out from the crowd. We are proud to note that our tried and tested playtesting methodology enables our clients to get the best from their games.

 

Additional Information 

For further information about our VR study, conduct your own playtesting or anything else mentioned in this article. Please get in touch with the author, Robert John Downer (robert.downer@bryter-global.com), or our Head of Gaming, Jenny McBean (jenny.mcbean@bryter-global.com); we’d love to hear from you.

Our work provides strategic, evidence-based guidance from the initial concept and market sizing through to post-launch assessments.

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