Applying Feedback

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This article was originally published here and is re-published in Ludogogy by permission of the author.

Applying feedback from play testing games, table top games, and educational games is incredibly important. It’s important for multiple reasons. Those reasons extend from shaping the player experience; to connecting learning outcomes; to making sure that the experience stays “fun.”

But how exactly do you collect feedback? How should you interpret it? How should it be used to shape your game design? How can feedback from play testing be used to improve serious games?

This article will review different areas of player feedback from play testing. It includes the steps for collecting feedback as well as how to specifically ask for actionable feedback from your playtesters. It includes the top three questions that I ask from all of my playtesters as well as common interpretations for the kinds of feedback that you’ll receive. The article will cover how to consolidate your feedback from playtesters as well as how to apply it. Review of the feedback process will be provided along with limitations of the entire feedback process.

Steps to feedback

Getting feedback from your game designs is one of the most important steps in the design process. But knowing how to get that feedback and then using it to improve your design can be challenging and daunting.

That’s why getting feedback from your play tests include at least two steps. The first involves  interpreting the kind of feedback that you’ll get from your playtesters. Receiving information from your playtesters is part of the playtesting process. But often, data alone isn’t that useful. So knowing how to interpret your feedback is a skill all by itself.

The second step is applying that feedback. Sometimes players will say one thing when they mean another and expect you to do something else. Sometimes your playtesters will be experienced designers who can provide some really actionable and incisive information. But most of the time your playtesters will be other players; casual players; non-designers; or sometimes non-gamers. So it’s important to link the kind of feedback that players provide with your interpretation in order to provide some applicable steps towards improving your design.

How to ask for feedback

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Asking for feedback from players can be tricky. This is especially true if you’ve never held a play test before. But it’s an important step in growing as a designer; educator; and serious games designer. Asking players for feedback allows us to zero in on their experience in order to help us tailor exactly what we want it to be.

Table top games are unique in this regard because they are a very social experience. That means that gathering feedback from your playtesters cannot only be about gathering data and putting numbers into columns. Instead, it also has to be about connecting with your playtesters in order to gain a true level of the emotions, fun, and motivation involved.

That means that as the tester and the designer, it’s best to guide your players into the experience of what the game is and what you hope to get out of the play test. Welcome them and allow them to provide any and all types of feedback during the play test.

Top three questions

Often, one of the safest questions to ask your playtesters about your game is if they “thought it was fun?” This is good question to ask to support your own ego; but most of the time the responses to this question are not that actionable. So, if you’re just starting out playtesting this is a question that you can lead with. But, you often won’t get very effective information from your playtesters’ responses.

That’s why I’ve evolved from this single question into asking three specific questions from each of my playtesters. These three questions allow me to extract as much actionable information from the play test as possible. That information allows me to improve on the design. Playtesters’ feedback allows me iterate quickly so that I can get the game to where I want it to be.

Those three questions are:

-What was FUN about the game?

-What is the ONE thing that you would KEEP In the game?

-What is the ONE thing you would REMOVE from the game?

I don’t ask playtesters if they thought the game was fun. Rather, I ask them something more specific: “What – if anything about the game – was fun?” If they say “everything” then I ask them to be more specific. Getting down to this level helps me understand what is really driving the player experience. Playtesters’ answers here will also help me determine what will keep players coming back to this game.

I then ask playtesters that if they could keep only ONE thing in the game what would that one thing be? This is different from the fun question because it requires players to think about the ONE thing that they would keep in the game IF they had to remove everything else. It forces them to prioritize what they thought was the most engaging, endearing, or connected part of the game.

Finally, I ask them what is ONE thing they would remove from the game. This helps me determine if there is anything that is “getting in the way” of the player experience. Then, I determine if that “thing” is auxiliary  and ask myself : “does this need to be part of the design?” If it doesn’t then I have a good reason to cut it.

Feedback interpretations

You’ll often get many different types of feedback from your play testing sessions. While players will often say one thing, what they mean is often completely different. So here are some of the most common pieces of feedback that you’ll receive and some interpretations of what they could mean.

If players say that the game is too long or that they game isn’t fun then engagement might be an issue. Are they doing anything on other players’ turns? Where is their attention when it is their turn? Are they given enough decisions during the game? Or not enough decision? Really, boredom often comes from a lack of engagement.

This can often come about if your players say the game was really slow or if there was a lot of down time between turns. This means that players might not have enough to do on their turn. The game becomes bogged down because of that. Likewise, players could say that aren’t enough “cool” things for them to do on their turn. That could mean that they aren’t given enough interesting options when their turns do come around.

Sometimes your players might say that their decisions felt scripted or that there was no unique outcome for them. Or that there was only one “right” choice. In that case it could mean that your players aren’t given enough unique options when their turn comes around.

You could also get some serious or lighter pieces of feedback. If someone says that they don’t like your art, then that’s something that is often not that actionable. That’s because the version of the game they are playing is often a prototype without finalized components.  Likewise, a player could say that they feel frustrated that they can’t “catch up” in the game. This could mean that there is a serious flaw in your game’s core loop that needs to be addressed.

Consolidating feedback

Now it’s time to make a list of changes to be implemented in your game now that you have some feedback.  Some of those changes can be smaller ones. Those include changing the values of a single card; changing the way that turn order is selected; or re-arranging the phases of play.

These represent some minor issues the can be fixed prior to your next play testing session. With enough time, you can even make these changes during your current play test with your players. You can then start a new game with these new updates.

Applying feedback

You can apply feedback in one of two ways. If your schedule permits it you can “play test” with yourself by playing multiple different opponents.  This will also allow you to reveal any discrepancies with your implemented new changes. Otherwise, you can wait to meet with your playtesters again to implement those new changes in a new play testing session.

No matter how you make those changes you should do so with only one major revision at a time. This will help you determine what changes are having what effect on the game and player experience.

You can take this one step further and test the change in your game at least 10 times before making additional edits. This ensures that your new revision has a lasting change that will affect the game positively.

Based on these new changes you should organize and summarize your information. What was the feedback that you got from your playtesters? What did you think that feedback meant; what change did you make; and what were the results of those changes?

Ideally you should setup your next play test with the same group of playtesters from last game. This will help provide a continuous development overview of your game. Your players will also be able to see how your game has progressed from your last iteration.

Feedback in review

Getting feedback from your playtesters can often be a very incisive and critical process. But it’s important to not take the feedback of playtesters personally. They are criticizing your game and not you as a designer. Part of becoming a successful designer is gathering; interpreting; and implementing the feedback from your playtesters.

It’s important that you get feedback from as many different playtesters as possible. Sometimes you can go back to your own play test group; but it’s also good to be able to branch out and get new insights and feedback. Don’t let one play tester dominate how your game is designed. At the end of the day; this is your game and your design.

Limitations of feedback

Feedback will always have its limitations. If you want to play test a social deduction game with players who don’t like social deduction games, then you’re going to have a bad time. Often, nothing you can do will help them like your game.

Also, know that different playtesters of different backgrounds will provide different perspectives and feedback for your game. Casual gamers are different from hobby gamers who are different from game designers; and academics. Knowing how to gather your feedback and how to apply it are all part of becoming a successful designer.

Takeaways

This article reviewed different areas of player feedback from playtesting. It included the steps for collecting feedback as well as how to ask for specific and actionable feedback from your playtesters. It included the top three questions to ask from your playtesters as well as common interpretations for the kinds of playtesting feedback that you’ll receive. The article covered how to consolidate your feedback from playtesters as well as how to apply it. Review of the feedback process was provided along with limitations of player feedback.

This article was about player feedback in table top games testing. To learn more about playtesting in gamification, check out the free course on Gamification Explained.

Dave Eng

Dave Eng, EdD is an intellectual and creative educator, designer, and researcher who combines games, theory, and technology.  He has extensive higher education experience working in both the administration and the faculty. Dave is a prolific speaker and presenter making appearances at over 20 different academic and professional conferences. Dave serves as a faculty member & educational technologist at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Dave hosts the podcast Experience Points and consults at University XP on games-based learning. His interests include professional development, learning theory, technology, and games. Find out more at www.davengdesign.comor contact Dave at dave@universityxp.com

References and further reading:

Eng, D. (2019, September 10). The Player Experience. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/9/10/the-player-experience

Eng, D. (2019, July 31). Fun Factors. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/7/31/fun-factors

Eng, D. (2019, December 3). Core Loops. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/12/3/core-loops

Marriott, E. (2013, July 18). Game Design Process: Applying Feedback. Retrieved from https://boardsandbarley.com/2013/07/18/game-design-process-applying-feedback/

Wiltgren, F. (2016, January 18). A Simple Way to Get Great Playtesting Feedback. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://www.wiltgren.com/game-design/a-simple-way-to-get-great-playtesting-feedback/

Rollins, B. (2017, October 20). How to Turn Negative Play-Test Feedback into a Brilliant Game. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://brandonthegamedev.com/how-to-turn-negative-play-test-feedback-into-a-brilliant-game/

Playtesting: Get that Feedback! (2018, April 3). Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://github.com/leemet16/game-design-toolkit/wiki/Playtesting:-get-that-feedback!

Slack, J. (2019, December 2). Getting good feedback (and what to do with it). Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://boardgamedesigncourse.com/getting-good-feedback-and-what-to-do-with-it/

Cite this Article

Eng, D. (2020, February 26). Applying Feedback. Retrieved MONTH DATE, YEAR, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/2/26/applying-feedback

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