Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts tagged “playtesting”

Playtesting from a Designer’s Perspective

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Posted Aug. 25, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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Recently I wrote about my experience focus testing games and what I’ve learned.  I thought it’d be interesting to get another point of view on the testing process from someone who designed the games. So I asked MKG, a designer on Gamestar Mechanic, to tell us a little bit about his experience when testing his designs with kids. Here’s what he had to say:


Hi, everyone! My name is Michael Gi (aka MKG) and I’ll be writing today’s blog post to share what I’ve learned and experienced when going into the classrooms. I’m a game designer at E-Line Media and I’ve worked primarily on Gamestar Mechanic, designing the quest, levels, sprites, challenges, and more. I have also had the opportunity to travel to many classes and see Gamestar Mechanic in action with the kids it was intended for. I’m pleased to say that every time it has been an amazing and gratifying experience.

As a game designer, I’m constantly trying to create new and unique levels, scaffold features and functionality, and find a balance for the players of a younger age group. This isn’t easy when you aren’t a middle school student yourself! By coming into classrooms I get to notice so many things that I never accounted for originally. I remember seeing firsthand how difficult it can be for a young, non-gamer to grasp WASD as movement, or how frustrating a timer can be when the solution itself is so clear.

However beyond just difficulty, it’s amazing to me how kids begin to see aspects of the game differently than how you may have originally intended. One eye-opening moment was when a young 10 year old stated, “I collected the Teleporter Sprite, and that’s my favorite so far!” likening the experience to collecting Pokémon (which was totally unintended). When I get the chance to ask students what they’d like to see changed or added in Gamestar Mechanic, their feedback is invaluable and often beyond what we even noted as a team. Our young generation is full of remarkable thinkers; being able to bring out this sort of critical thinking and creative problem solving to a game system is very powerful and rewarding.

The last thing I’d like to share is how engaged and excited these kids are. It’s extremely gratifying as a game developer to see the game I’ve spent so much time working and collaborating on be enjoyed so much by so many players. I’ve had kids ask for my gamer tag, e-mail address, and even autograph! But in the end nothing trumps the face of joy that lights up a student’s face when they’re busy playing, designing, and sharing.

Focus Testing Games for Learning

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Posted Jul. 30, 2013

CategoryGames Research, Gaming Education

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I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks focus testing a new game. Testing with kids is a touchy subject; we need to be careful that we’re getting accurate feedback from kids, that kids understand what we are asking them, and that parents and schools also understand what and why we’re testing.  I thought I’d share some of my insights from my recent focus tests:

Handshakes – Kids who are participating in a playtest are doing a HUGE service for the company and game.  They are giving opinions and information that us grownups can only speculate on, no matter how well we remember elementary school. They should be treated like they are a super integral part of the development process, because they are! I’ve started giving kids formal handshakes before they start the testing, and another handshake to thank them when they are done.  This kind of “thank you for your time” gesture might seem a little odd to do with a 9 year old, but I’m finding that it helps the kids understand how important they are to the design process, and then they really step up to give great feedback.

Introductions – I’ve started asking kids who they are, what they like to do in and out of school, and how they describe their own personality before we start the testing.  Not only is this helping make kids feel comfortable during the session, but it also lets me think about who they are as gamers before they start playing. A kid who loves shooters might give different feedback than a kid who loves playing Angry Birds on a cellphone.  Once the kids talk about who they are, sometimes they start giving feedback through that lens too, saying things like, “Well, since I love sports, I like scoring points in the game.”

Repeating – When I taught ESL in schools, I tried my best not to repeat what my students said, letting the kids speak for themselves.  When filming a focus testing session, however, I find that repeating their feedback really helps.  Kids can get really into playing a game and they might start speaking to the game and not to the tester.  If I repeat what they said for confirmation, I have the benefit of hearing the kid’s ideas clearly when I review the footage.  Ideally, you’d have multiple people testing with excellent cameras and mics.  But, realistically, it might just be you and your camera phone.

Groups – I’ve mostly been conducting focus interviews one on one.  Having a kid answer questions individually is good because there is no confirmation bias; they say what they are thinking without being influenced by their peers. However, I’ve also tested in pairs to see how kids play a single-player game together (which happens all the time in the real world!), and in a large group to see how a bunch of kids in a classroom environment would react to the game.  I’ve gotten useful and different information from testing in each of these settings.

Another note, if you’re ever testing games for learning, check out the book Game Usability first. It’s full of tips and proven methods!