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I have some game ideas that are currently in the prototype phase. I am now looking for groups who are willing to test these games.

I am somewhat afraid that they won't like the game and would not be willing to play again.

Do you know where I can find players that test new games?

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People not liking your games will probably be the default for the most part of the game design process :p That's why people test in the first place, right? –  rahzark Feb 9 '12 at 16:21
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I think it's important that they like the process more so than the game itself. A good way to get playtesters to retest a game -- even one they didn't like the first time -- is to make them feel like their input from the first time around is contributing to improvements. (That or you can pay them. :) ) –  Alex P Feb 9 '12 at 16:55
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It also matters why they dislike it. If the idea is there, but there's some mechanic that's broken (which you probably won't catch yourself, since different people have different play styles), gamers will generally be patient with that and be interested in trying again. My first run of one prototype was with my wife, who does not play games typically. There was a broken mechanic, but she essentially said that she won't ever voluntarily play it again, because she didn't see potential for her to ever enjoy it. –  VolcanoLotus Feb 10 '12 at 13:44
    
Oliver: This may be a bit personal (and is certainly unsolicited), but might I suggest that you put less stock in whether people like your game or not? Within our gaming group, we own and have played 17/20 top games on BGG, and most of us STRONGLY dislike some of these games. While we may not play them often, we can still acknowledge that they are good games. When I commit to alpha/beta testing, it is more important to have a reasonable developer than that I like a game. –  The Chaz 2.0 Feb 10 '12 at 14:52
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@The Chaz, you are surely right, that you don't have to like a game to test and assess it. But I would feel bad, if this group would spend time with a game as a favour for me and it would be an annoying experience for them. But you are probably right: if they are willing to test it, they voluntarily took the risk of a boring game (and they still could bail out, I guess, if it would be too bad) –  Oliver Hankeln Feb 10 '12 at 16:02

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Andrew Looney (Fluxx, Icehouse) has written several great articles about game design on his blog, which I'd encourage you to check out (even if you don't like Fluxx). For the purposes of your question, I think this graphic is very helpful (and funny).

He breaks playtesting down into three phases: inner circle of friends, outer circle of friends and random strangers. I have conducted playtesting on one game, and I agree wholeheartedly with these divisions. I don't know how far along you are, so I'll write this assuming you've only done the "mental" playtesting necessary to build a prototype and are looking for a first test run. There might be more detail in here than you need, but I think it's important to define the phases in order to help you find the appropriate people to fill them.

For initial testing, it's important to have people who are both friends and gamers. For me, this was my game group. To your concern about them not liking it, Looney's instruction about this phase is to "repeat until fun", and I think that's a great distillation of the point: until the huge bugs are ironed out, you don't want to "waste" the interest level of people you don't know until your product is fairly polished. The friends part is important because they'll be patient with you, and the gamers part is important so that they'll have some frame of reference for any familiar mechanics, be able to make good suggestions from experience, and roll with things if you need to change them midstream. I'll also add that you shouldn't bother with a rulebook at this phase, at least not for others; you may end up changing things mid-game, let alone between games. Think of this as alpha or maybe even pre-alpha testing. If you don't have any gamer friends (and don't want to pay people to playtest), you really should make some if you want to have success designing. Many areas have game groups that you can find via BoardGameGeek or Meetup; if not, try starting a Meetup group yourself. (You may have success pulling pre-alpha testers off the street, but then I think your concern about them not liking the game and never coming back is valid.)

Once you've gotten things to the point where everyone is having fun (for me, my metric was when my friends started requesting the game), you can move on to the outer circle. For me, this was people like my father-in-law; he'll play games if asked, but won't seek them out on his own. It's helpful to get fresh eyes on it at this stage because the people who've seen the game since its inception have preconceived notions about it and, often, you'll run into situations where a mechanic or situation is a lot better than it was, but still not good enough. These folks are still friendly enough with you that they'll put up with a game with some kinks in it, but often not patient enough to sit though the broken sessions of your pre-alpha period. Family members and non-gamer friends (unless they're militant non-gamers) should do nicely here. This is probably more like alpha testing; you still should be the one explaining the game and possibly playing, but things should be less volatile at this point; changes should be more along the lines of tweaks than overhauls, and you probably shouldn't make any significant changes mid-session "to see what happens".

By the time you get to random stranger testing, you should have a product that someone could pick up off of a shelf and teach themselves how to play. The artwork doesn't have to be professional (or existent), but rules and player aids should exist, and everything should be clear. It's better at this point if you can be there in person, but don't say anything unless the group has answered a rules question incorrectly. This is the fly-on-the-wall point, like dropping your baby off at their first day of kindergarten and letting them go off into the world. Finding players for this stage is fairly easy, because you can find plenty on BoardGameGeek if you can't find anyone locally. I did my testing at a convention, which is a convenient place if you've got one you can reasonably get to. The key part here is to know your audience. If you're making a children's game, Origins or Gen Con is probably not the best place to approach people. Likewise, you wouldn't try a church youth group if your game is a 4-hour brain burner with a provocative theme. Try to find random strangers who are in your target audience; typically, this will be gamers, but not always.

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The best solution I've seen is to post a request for playtesters on the major boardgaming sites, ost notably, Boardgamegeek.com

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This is certainly a good idea for beta testing - that is, if the game has undergone some refinements, has a rulebook that is clear and comprehensive, etc. For the first few plays, though, it's important to do it locally so that you're there to answer questions and clear up misconceptions in real time. –  VolcanoLotus Feb 10 '12 at 2:23
    
No, it really isn't essential to be there even for alpha test. (I've done some alpha testing. You'll get to a suitable beta faster with blind alpha.) –  aramis Feb 10 '12 at 4:04
    
Really? I'd believe you could do it, but it's very surprising to me that a board game could actually be faster this way (unless it's because you have a larger pool). I admit I've never tried it, but it seems like you'd lose a lot of data from misunderstood rules for a game of any complexity. Even in published games, many a gamer needs to refer to an FAQ in the middle. How do you handle questions, or ensure that they were playing correctly? –  VolcanoLotus Feb 10 '12 at 13:36
    
you can never "assure that they're playing correctly" in a blind test... but that's the point. What you can do in blind alpha is put a prototype in their hands with written rules, then revise those rules based upon what's going on in your own process. Alpha is usually about development; beta should be about clarity... but late alpha and early beta are practically indistinguishable... aside from the potential for major "WFT???" moments. –  aramis Feb 10 '12 at 19:36

Start by finding an "adventurous" gaming group interested in playing many different games. The thing about most gamers: we love discussing games as well as playing. As long as your group isn't obsessed with a particular game, different people with different interests and backgrounds will provide a game designer with a lot of material to think about after a play test. It doesn't even matter what kind of player they are: the hardcore gamers can help find ways to make your system robust by trying to break it. They more casual players can work as a fun compass telling you if the game is boring or not.

From your question I get that your biggest worry is people not wanting to play again after they try a flawed game. If you make it clear this is a play test, that the game can be improved and that you value their opinion they might even get invested in improving and suggesting new ideas for your game!

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Is this something you've had experience with? –  Pat Ludwig Feb 9 '12 at 21:40
    
I refrained from mentioning personal experience since I'm not a professional game designer. Would it help? –  rahzark Feb 10 '12 at 0:24
    
Without personal experience as a game designer or a tester your answer would be just a guess. With the experience, then you're an expert sharing hard earned advice. I couldn't judge which this was, so I asked. –  Pat Ludwig Feb 10 '12 at 2:23

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