We live in a fascinating time with unprecedented access to career opportunities that seemed impossible to break into many years ago. Game development is high on that list, as the ability to wake up one day and start developing on some open-source program is a reality. However, it’s always best to have hands-on experience, not just by logging 500 hours in your favorite RPG. If you’re serious about a career in game development, consider starting as a playtester.
What is a Playtester?
Playtesters get time with a game before its release to gauge the experience, specifically looking at whether or not it’s engaging enough to appeal to a broader audience. Playtesters, sometimes known as game testers, will critique pacing, story cohesion, overall gameplay, world layout, and individual mechanics.
Unlike quality assurance testers, playtesters aren’t looking for technical bugs and are not inclined to break the game to find glitches. Their focus is the entertainment factor, which requires a fundamental understanding of what makes a game fun. They should also know the seven game design principles, a significant step toward launching a game development career.
The Game Design Principles
The seven game design principles should be on a playtester’s mind when playing and should be a core part of their constructive feedback. Each principle is an important part of game development and includes the following:
This ultimately determines the type of game that’s being played. For example, for a first-person shooter, the core mechanic is basic combat. For a racing game, the core mechanic is moving the car forward to cross the finish line. Every game needs a core mechanic, even something as simple as a puzzle game. In a math-based puzzler, the mechanic is performing math equations to progress.
Typically, a game shouldn’t start at its hardest difficulty. Even games that are inherently hard start off less challenging than the late-game material. Players shouldn’t be made to think something is too hard from the start, but it should also offer a challenge as they become more familiar with the mechanics. The player should feel like they’ve earned their victory.
This principle deals with the idea that the player should be able to customize their experience. They should have different paths, one more challenging than the other. Think of an RPG, how players can build a character, choose skills, and equip stat-based weapons. Even racing games can follow this principle with side paths that offer a shortcut at the cost of a winding and more difficult course.
Feedback & Rewards
Is there a system that lets players know how to improve their play? Are they rewarded for sticking with the game and being given a reason to continue playing? In a way, the game needs to speak to players to show them what they may be able to do differently. In an RPG, it may be the damage counter that ticks above an enemy with every strike. Lower numbers are feedback stating that the player may need to alter their strategy. And if they do alter it and cause more damage, they may be rewarded with more XP or better loot drops.
The Core Mission
Why is the player there? Does the world need to be saved through some convoluted means? Or are they just trying to solve puzzles to get to the end of their adventure? Every game needs to have a core mission or a reason for the player to be there. Even a puzzle game has a core mission. If you think of a jigsaw puzzle, the mission is to put all the pieces together to create an image.
Networking to Success
Networking is a multi-industry skill that everyone should have, but game developers especially need it either to source individuals for specific tasks, secure investors or a publisher, or sell their finished product to a targeted audience. Playtesters need networking skills to secure playtesting roles, either by building relationships with the developers themselves or working closely with a playtester service. Few roles in the gaming industry don’t require networking skills of some kind.
Build an Exemplary Portfolio
Believe it or not, playtesters should have a portfolio. Not everyone can be a playtester, as it requires a rather analytical approach to playing games, and there will come a time when one has to show their ability to playtest. A marketable portfolio includes examples of playtest results, collaborative efforts, community involvement, an understanding of game development roles, and observation and note-taking. Knowing how to build an exemplary portfolio is invaluable to game developers, especially those that wish to secure an investment or publisher.
A playtest portfolio and game development portfolio also work hand-in-hand as the former displays an understanding of the fundamental principles and concepts necessary for good game development.
Playtesting as a Lead to Development
While you don’t have to be a playtester before getting into game development, it’s an ideal stepping stone. It’s a wonderful introduction to the game design principles, networking, and building a marketable portfolio, all of which can help at various stages of the development process.
About Agnė Vitkutė
Agnė Vitkutė is Head of Publisher Relations at G.Round and aims to help independent game developers publish excellent titles. G.Round offers playtesting to provide critical, early feedback to indie game devs to help them create more compelling titles.