Not long ago, I wrote a post with some baseline strategies for running a successful playtesting session. I just got back from Protospiel 2015 in Chelsea Michigan (full conference write-up to come soon!) and had a few new observations for this helping to tune this process.
Lay out the tools: Let your testers know what kind of approach they should be using when dissecting the game. One designer this weekend, Andy, described himself as “better with a chainsaw than sandpaper”, and I adopted the phrase in the form of a question the rest of the weekend. In the same vein, another useful tool you might want testers to use is a hammer — do you want them to be seeking out strategies that will break the design? Or should they try to optimize for a victory they would in a finished commercial game, to make sure they have workable options?
Identify the ‘hook’: After the session ends, a question I’m finding leads to incredibly insightful feedback is: “what were the moments from the game?” What are the testers going to remember? Was it the moment when one player looked like they were about to successfully complete a difficult quest, only to be stymied at the last minute by a player he had slighted earlier in the game? Perhaps a time when a player was able to collect the perfect combo of cards in her hand during a deckbuilder that would slay the dragon just in the nick of time before it recharged a dangerous fire breath ability? Was a specific mechanic uniquely fun?
These moments make the ‘hook’ which will bring people back session after session, and will leave players with positive memories. Make sure your mechanics are geared toward maximizing for these ‘hook’ moments, and minimizing the time and fiddliness between them.
Time it: A glaring omission from my first round of playtest tips, always make a note of the time (or start a stopwatch) when the game begins, and again (or stop) when the game is over, or grinds to a halt when there are rules issues. I’m discovering more and more that publishers are really looking to target that 60–90 minute range, and without some history of metrics around game duration, you won’t be able to know whether your efforts tuning rules are getting you closer or further to that sweet spot.
I’m pretty exhausted from traveling to and from Michigan this weekend, so that’s all for now. Any other playtesting tips you think designers ought to keep in mind? Post to comments!
 Andy, if you read this, hit me up with your last name in comments or email me at this domain @ gmail so I can give you full credit for the expression!