While using the time and dedication of people volunteering to test a game prototype is not easy, finding articles covering the topic as a matter of mere minutes. However, not as much is said about being a good tester. Here’s how to be more helpful, and how to leave more of a mark on any prototype game you play.
I know you are already graciously donating your time and effort to help a stranger (or a buddy) forge a game idea into the next 7 Wonders or Twilight Struggle, and you should be praised. Still, if you want your time not to go to waste, do not antagonize the people you’re trying to help with unnecessary harshness or belittling remarks. Don’t make fun of the game you played, ant try to be polite even if you really hated it.
…but not too nice.
You may want to cheer someone on, you may want to encourage to further work, or you may simply be uncomfortable hurting someone’s feelings, and because of that you may simply say that you like the game, hoping that the uncool stuff will get ironed out somewhere down the line. Well, the truth is that you’re the “down the line”, and if you want to make your contribution matter, you need to say what you really think. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but if you see flaws, don’t keep them to yourself. Finding them can make a big difference.
Play what you like
So, a friend is asking you to test his party game, and you’re a Eurogamer? Or maybe you’re tempted to sit down and try this “Agricola-killer” you’ve hear so much about, but you would not be caught dead (still clutching your plasma cannon) playing Agricola. If this is the case, simply say no. You won’t have a good time, and you probably won’t be a great judge of what’s good (or bad) for further development of the game. And if you do suffer through, don’t say that the game will stink unless plasma cannons (or farming for that matter) are added. You played a game targeted at other gamers, so get over it and play something else.
Talk to the designer…
…or to the developer, or to the volunteer who’s shown you the game. Ask before you get involved, so that you don’t waste your precious time on a game you will most probably hate (see above). When you’re done, expect a set of questions either emailed (if you’re involved in remote testing) or simply asked. If you’re not asked many questions, try to be specific when it comes to what you liked and disliked in the mechanisms or the theme. Yes, the designer/developer has just dropped the ball, but give them a chance to pick it up.
Be open and frank
Assume that you will see a new game, and be ready to judge it on its own merits. If it is similar to something you’ve played, tell it to whoever is responsible for the test. If you believe another game is being ripped off, ask about that as well, and ask plainly. As hard as it may be to believe, that may be just an unfortunate coincidence.
Finally, if something does not work, and you have an idea on how to fix it, don’t keep it to yourself! Your ideas are as good as anyone else’s, and this can really make you leave your personal mark on the game. However, if you’re offering a solution from another game (and a game you like) for the second or third time, take a step back, and make sure you’re not just trying to remake what you have just played into that other game. It’s pointless, that other game already exists, and I’m guessing you have it on your shelf.
As always with these kind of articles, it’s probably not nearly complete. However, you can help me complete it by offering your own ideas in the comments here or on Facebook. What say you?