Monte Cook

This is a call for playtesters. In November, we’re going to start a public beta test of the core Numenera system. Not everyone who wants to playtest will be able to–not because I don’t want everyone, but because I can’t possibly process that much feedback, even if it was the only thing I had going on. My apologies in advance that the playtest will be limited.

That means that I am going to have to be choosy. I have two main criteria. I only want playtesters who A. have a group ready to go right now, and B. are really going to give good feedback. I’m not looking for people to just read the rules and give opinions (I’ve got that covered) and this isn’t just an opportuntity to get a sneak peek at the rules (that was available as a reward in the Kickstarter, and the Kickstarter is over). I need people to play the game, in person or online (I don’t care which, as long as all involved have signed a Non-Disclosure Form, which playtesters will get.)

If you fit the criteria, you can submit this online form by Friday, Nov. 2nd. Only one person per group need sign up–you will be the contact person for the whole group, and responsible for reports. Remember, if you are a Kickstarter supporter who pledged at a level that means you receive the playtester materials, DO NOT FILL OUT THIS FORM. You’ll be getting the materials and feedback requests already (and you can provide feedback or not, as you desire). Also, if you don’t have a group ready to start, or you’re not sure you can submit good feedback consistently, DO NOT FILL OUT THIS FORM.

But what does “good feedback” mean, at least to me?

1. Appropriate feedback. An important part of being a playtester is the ability to understand what it is you’re looking at, and understand what portion of the process you are a part of. For example, if someone sends you a rough version of just the basic rules just to test the basic concepts, and your feedback is all about typos and information presentation, you are being the equivalent of a pilot trying out an experimental aircraft and commenting on the leather on the seat and the lack of cup holders. It’s not that those things aren’t important, but early on in the process, that’s noise, not signal.

In other words, give what’s asked for. Don’t do extra work that’s not asked for, not just because it’s a waste of your time, but it’s a waste of the designer’s time to get feedback that’s not needed at that time. If you’re being asked about game mechanic concepts for a skill system and you provide feedback about skill names, that’s probably only going to annoy the person on the other end. If you’re being asked for feedback on skills as a whole, I’d say feedback on mechanics, names, or anything else to do with skills is fair game, but I still wouldn’t provide commentary on NPC design, or anything outside of skills.

As an aside, I will add that commentary on names of things or similar “this is what I thought of when I read through the document” kinds of feedback isn’t the most valuable playtesting report you can give. Frankly, as a playtester, I’d probably skip that kind of stuff. If you’re being asked to playtest, you’re being asked to play the game and report what happened. Names of things, rules phrasing, and things like that are part of the game developer’s and editor’s job. It’s important, but it’s not playtest feedback material. Again, let someone else worry about the cup holders.*

On the other hand, if someone says, “just give me any comments you have,” then anything’s fair game. (Although I’d question the competency of the designer who would say that, because playtesters need direction to provide good feedback.)

2. Feedback, not opinions. This is a tricky one for people to understand. If you give me a piece of coconut cream pie to see what I think, and my reply is, “I don’t like coconut,” I’ve given you an opinion, not feedback. It’s honest, but it doesn’t help you with your pie at all. In playtesting rules, know yourself. If someone asks you to test a game that uses a single die, and you love dice pools, and you know that your feedback is going to be “you should use a dice pool mechanic,” you haven’t really playtested anything. If someone’s asking you for opinions, that’s fine, but if they’ve already reached the point where they’re showing you their written up system, they’re probably past the stage where talking about the core die mechanic is of any use to them. Like the piemaker has already decided that he’s making coconut cream, the designer’s already decided what kind of game he wants to make. What he wants from you is feedback as to whether the game as currently written meets the stated goals.

3. Be a playtester, not a designer. Don’t redesign what you’re playtesting unless you’re asked to. (And frankly, if you’re asked to do so, you ought to be given designer credit and a paycheck.) Give feedback on what you’re testing, not on what you wish you were testing. There’s a big difference between saying “Our group thinks that this bonus is too high,” and “What you should really do here is…”

And while we’re on the topic, if you really want to know what distinguishes a great playtester from an okay playtester, it’s this: Don’t say, ”Our group thinks that this bonus is too high,” say, “Almost everyone in our group selected this action every time, because the bonus seemed much better than the other options.” The difference is, you’ve provided a rationale with your data, and you haven’t corrupted your data with opinion of any kind.

Still, I’ll be blunt. A lot of people see playtesting as on opportunity to show a game professional that they have what it takes to be a game designer. I’ve been doing this a long, long time, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen playtest feedback be a good forum for showing off game design chops. Playtesting is a good way to show off how good of a playtester you are. If you want to show off that you’re a good game designer, design a game.

4. Record but overlook the problems. This might sound like a contradiction with #3, but hear me out. If your group tries the game, and the initiative system doesn’t seem to work at all, don’t just stop. Cobble together some initiative system that works at least passably and then keep playing to test the rest of combat. If you just tell the designer, “the initiative system didn’t work, so we stopped,” you’ve only given one, very small bit of feedback instead of a whole report.

Instead, briefly detail what you did to make initiative work and then give your report on the rest of the game. In light of #3, don’t phrase it as though you’re initiative solution is the only one, and–most importantly–don’t do this unless it’s absolutely necessary to rest other mechanics. Only do this to a small problem, not to the core of the game. To use the extended example, don’t change the mechanic to a die pool and then test everything. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.

 

*I’m going to get flack from someone who thinks that I’m comparing development or editing to designing cupholders. That’s not what I’m doing at all. I’m just saying that everyone has a valuable role to play, and should be allowed to do it.

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22 Comments

  1. Tracy Gosell · October 30, 2012 at 3:10 pm · Reply

    It has begun. Lovin’ it!!! Thanks Monte.

  2. I don’t have a group ready to go, so I’m not going to playtest /sadface but I read the guidelines anyway and was fascinated to read how playtesting should work. Its a great article in its own right, thanks.

  3. I really, REALLY wish I could be involved in this playtest, but my group’s gaming calendar is full at the moment.

    I am currently trying to pace one of my current games to conclude in the summer of 2013, just in time for Numenera! Can’t wait.

    In the meantime, I hope all you lucky playtesters have fun and give good feedback.

  4. I have a group ready to go.

    All english speakers.

    Hug

  5. I have a team, combined gaming experience of nearly 100 years. Ages from late teens to early 60′s.

  6. I’d like to playtest. I have a monthly meetup of game designers I can use for this, as well as a G+ group. Now, I can’t find a form to submit. This could be because I’m on my phone; it’s my only source of Internet since hurricane Sandy knocked out my power. Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

  7. Mike Holland · October 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm · Reply

    I would love to playtest but alas, I have moved (a.k.a. I split the party) and I have no group to playtest with. I wish all the best to those who will be helping out with this phase of the project. Do your best to help it be a great game and I look forward to seeing it when it comes out.

  8. Zlatko Perez-Luna · October 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm · Reply

    I have a group that meets regularly every week. I believe we can be objective and provide the feedback you’re asking for. And of course, we’d love to be a part of this.

  9. James Worley · October 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm · Reply

    I have a group ready and willing to playtest and give feedback. Looking forward to this.

  10. We have a weekly tabletop group that are weird, wacky, analytically inclined well read gaming veterans of many a GenCon tournament. Who are almost inherently excited about testing your new game, and raring to go!!

    Please please please pick us, before we explode from poorly suppressed nerdy excitement over it all!!
    :-)

  11. I have a group, were ready to go.

  12. Charles said it all – its a pretty nifty insight to the critical points of Playtesting and the pitfalls to avoid. Eagerly awaiting November.

  13. Sent the form some minutes ago. We gotta a very nice group really into it! Now…the waiting.

  14. Put in my request!

  15. I really hope I’m selected for playtesting. Myself and one other in my group both donated to the kickstarter, and we’re all super excited to play Numenera. Even if we don’t get in, we eagerly await the release of this awesome-looking game!

  16. Hey Monte,

    If a playtesters feedback states “Our group was unable to make Mechanic-Z to work correctly because it would always cause the entire party to be killed. We increased the value of Attribute-X of Mechanic-Z and our group was able to continue the encounter without failing every time.”

    Would this be good feedback or a subtle attempt at being a designer?

  17. Do you have a minimum group size you want to work with? I have a group that consists of a GM and two players. Is that too small? I get the playtest material via my kickstarter contribution.

    Also, I have a larger online group. Is an online playtest okay?

  18. Hi there!
    I understand that it’s probably kinda late to sighn for a playtesting, but it’s never hurts to ask, right?
    So, me and my team of players would like to take part in a playtesting of Numenera. I think you may find a feedback from our team interesting. Mostly it’s because we are from Ukraine/ Don’t know if there are any playtesters from ex-USSR, but if not, you’ll surely get a viev from people with a different approach to roleplay.

    Anyway, please let me know whether you like this idea or not.

  19. It’s a pitty, Anyway, thanks for answering and good luck with the project.

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