So you’ve just finished playtesting a game. Whoever has won gets to play it up a bit, players begin to look at the rest of the cards, and then…

…crickets…

Experienced designers know this is the perfect time to begin asking questions, giving feedback, and experienced playtesters may have been taking notes along the way.

Now what?, you might be thinking. For all the talk about feedback forms, getting feedback, or asking questions, I have yet to find a solid list of specific questions to ask… so I decided to make my own.

First things first, though: let’s look at the necessary mindsets.

If you’re the designer, take the lead.

This is your game. Your show. While you hope everyone has enjoyed themselves, at the end of the day, this question and feedback time is arguably the most important part for you. As such, it’s important that you take the lead on this critical part.

Roleplay this a bit if you want. Pretend this is a board of directors meeting, and you’re the Chairperson. Each of these executives around you has taken in your presentation, and you’re looking to get feedback from everyone, not just the loudest, best-known, or most opinionated at the table.

In real-world playtesting, I’ll usually find myself going around the table in a few rounds:

  • First, I’ll ask about first thoughts or initial impressions to each individual player. This sets a tone that I’m interested in leading the conversation in specific ways, and also that I want to hear from specific people. In real-world playtesting, I’ll usually point or gesture to the person in question (partially because I’m bad with names). In online or virtual playtesting, I’ll specifically say ‘Jason’ or ‘Jill’, then ask for that specific person’s thoughs
  • Second, I’ll get into some of the specific questions I’m looking to answer. Usually this is more freeform, but I’ll still aim to direct traffic to try and get a broad array of answers.
  • Finally, I’ll ask about final thoughts, anything we didn’t get to yet. This part is very similar to the first part, but I’ll usually let this go a little more freeform and try to bounce ideas around.

If you’re a playtester…

Being honest is perhaps the most critical aspect of playtesting a game. You’re not going to hurt their feelings if your critiques are on the game and come from a place of helpfulness.

Try not to monopolize the conversation. This usually comes back to being socially aware of the other players around the table.

Use the components to show examples, offer suggestions, or suggest a better explanation.

Your opinions and feelings are valid. They don’t need to be couched in authority, experience, or anything else, just the here and now. You bring a unique perspective to the game, and you may well have tried a strategy the designer’s never seen before. Even when you feel like you screwed up a turn or came in last place, the reasons for those may well be the way the designer explained the game, their rules, the balance of the game, or the design of the elements.

Now, to the questions.

These mostly open-ended questions are carefully worded to set players up to give great, specific answers. Asking all of them probably isn’t appropriate for every game or group — especially when feedback time might end up being longer than the game itself! Pick 1 or 2 from each category, or focus on the elements you feel your game needs the most help with.

My focus here is on finding issues, not solutions — even if playtesters are also designers, their solutions may not fit the type of game you make. Listen, take notes, but then go back to your design space and take what you like from those ideas.

Some of these are inspired by excellent lists and resources — go check out thegamespeople.co.uk for some printable forms your playtesters can fill out, and the Fail Faster playtesting journal by Jay Cormier. 

Rules / explanation

  • What could have been explained better or earlier when I was teaching the game?
  • What do you wish you knew when you first started playing?
  • Is there anything you feel like you still don’t understand, even after finishing the game?
  • What was missing from the player boards / reference cards?

Play / agency

  • What did you want to do, but couldn’t or was unable to do?
  • Were your decisions meaningful, or did they feel like they didn’t matter?
  • What were you asked to memorize / internalize / recall? Was this too much for a game like this?

Strategy / tactics

  • How would you describe your strategy?
  • What other strategies did you see or think of?
  • Did you notice a first or last player advantage?
  • Did you notice a dominant strategy?

Emotions / feelings

  • What kind of emotions or feelings did you feel / notice as you played?
  • What brought those emotions out, the game or another player?
  • Which elements helped you feel immersed in the theme of the game?
  • Which elements took you out of the game’s theme?
  • What moments were the most fun? What moments felt like work, or were boring?
  • What felt balanced or unbalanced? (Remember we’re focusing on feelings here, not the raw math of things.)

Overall

  • Did you notice any accessibility issues? (Examples: color-blindness, required cultural knowledge, high cognitive load, lots of memory elements, etc.)
  • How long did the game feel (too short, too long, just right)?
  • Did the mechanics work well with the theme?

Over to you

Designers: what questions do you ask playtesters?

Playtesters: what questions are easy (or hard) to answer after a playtest?