So you’ve had the idea for a perfect game. You think it’s perfect, your colleagues think it’s perfect, but after the release it turns out that the audience doesn’t quite agree. The levels may be boring, or the visual design may be jarring, or the story may feel controversial to a lot of players. Failing to catch these things in the bud leads to ultimately losing a great part of the potential profit. That’s why, before you get to creating the final version of your game, you need to test a prototype.
In simple terms, a game prototype is a light version of the game: just the core mechanics, the rough visuals, and the general storyline. This is a necessary stage in the game development process. There are many ways to test a game prototype, that’s why we have prepared a small guide for you to follow. Without further ado, let’s jump straight to business.
Step 1: Planning
Before you start testing your game prototype, you need to know what exactly you want to see. It will help if you compile a list of questions, such as:
- Which features are we going to test?
- What objectives do we need to reach?
- What resources (time, budget, staff) do we have?
- What’s our next step after the testing is over?
Your objectives could be very different: you may want to test the actual gameplay, or the design, or the story. You need a clear idea of what exactly you want to know, what you would like to achieve, and what tools you have at your disposal. Once you have it all figured out, it’s time to move to the next step.
Step 2: Defining your test audience
Knowing for sure what you are testing will give you an idea of the kind of people who should be testing it. At this stage of game design, you must already have a target audience in mind. Narrow it down as much as you can. This includes things such as playing experience, age, gender, general interests, and maybe even occupation.
For example: we are looking for women aged 40+, stay-at-home mothers, casual players who devote around 1 hour a day to gaming.
Now that you have this summary, proceed with making a list of more specific questions that need to be answered.
- What’s the players’ first impression of the game?
- Do they enjoy the gameplay?
- Are the levels too hard, or perhaps too easy?
- What’s the most interesting part of the game for the target audience?
Step 3: Choosing the method
Now is the time to figure out how you are going to interact with your test group. There are plenty of tools available to you, all you need is to choose the right one based on your needs.
There are quite a lot of services that offer testing games specifically. Their functionality includes surveys that you could set up for easy collection of data on your game.
Pros of online surveys:
- Fast and easy: very little work required from your side
- The audience is already there, you don’t need to go looking for it
- Many services are available to suit any budget
Cons of online surveys:
- The results may not be reliable
- The response will be limited
This is a way to test two different options simultaneously, in a controlled environment. Keep in mind that these options need to be “different, but not too different”. A/B testing usually deals with variables of the same aspect. This means it’s a good tool for choosing between a pastel color scheme for your gaming app and a bright neon one, but adding more changes between the two options will just render the test results unusable.
Pros of A/B testing:
- Clear results
- Suitable for large-scale research
- Can highlight the ineffective options
Cons of A/B testing:
- Results are not detailed
- Requires a lot of resources to test many aspects
The standard way to do this is by having a group of people play your game for a while, and then interviewing each of them on different aspects of their experience.
Pros of personal interviews:
- You gain more insight from a more personal approach
- There is no third party, which means less distortion of results
- You can see immediate reaction and emotions of every participant
Cons of personal interviews:
- It’s a very time-consuming process
- The interviewer needs to be highly skilled in both technical and psychological aspects
Sometimes it’s best to bring in someone who can offer insightful knowledge with understanding of the entire online game development industry. These could be professional game testers or even pro gamers.
Pros of expert review:
- You get an in-depth opinion from a professional
- The feedback will be as specific as possible
- The reviewer may have some practical advice for you
Cons of expert review:
- Pro gamers may have their own preferences influencing their opinion
- The test group will be quite small
The approach you choose depends on your particular case. There is no way to say with certainty that one method will work better than the others: every game is different. If the resources allow it, try a combination of several methods for the optimal, most informative results.
Step 4: Analyzing the results
The results you’ve collected need to correspond to your objectives. If you’ve planned everything right, you will have responses to the questions you outlined at steps 1 and 2.
An important thing to remember is that you need to stay impartial during the analysis. You may get negative feedback on your game, including both constructive and non-constructive criticism. Your task is to differentiate between the two without letting your emotions cloud your judgement. Only then will you be able to use the constructive criticism to make the right improvements to your project.
If you are not sure that you can look at your own project from a completely objective point of view, consider engaging help from the outside. In any case, getting a fresh perspective never hurts.
Research at the prototype stage is a necessary step for every game project. You need to check the response of your target audience and make corrections in advance, otherwise you are going to end up losing a lot more money than you spend on testing the prototype.
The key to successful research is setting the correct objectives and being flexible and impartial in your approach. This is a daunting task, but you can always rely on professionals for help.
We at Melior Games offer outsource game development services for different genres and platforms. If you entrust your game to us, we will take care of the testing stage for you.
Request a free quote today and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your project.