Playtesting struggles: what if you can't playtest?

To give you some context, I suffer from several mental health problems, including but not limited to anxiety, C-PTSD, and depression.

Although I have played a few TTRPG sessions over the years, I became known in my local community as the person who shows up (usually in person, now exclusively online) only to watch the session and not to actually play, and even that has become more and more difficult to do lately.
It is no secret within our community that I have these issues. Not only it’s all over my social media but I often also talk very openly about such issues on our Discord server. And yet, people keep pestering me to do playtesting. No matter how many times I tend to emphasize that I have no interest in GMing my games because I can hardly bring myself to be a player at other people’s tables, people keep insisting that the games must be playtested. Aside from the fact that unsolicited advice can be a trigger for someone with PTSD all on its own, this “problem” has been going on for over a month now, and it seems to have escalated these past few months, as I tried to become more active on both Twitter and Discord.

My first dodge away from this bullet was to hack existing systems (I’ve currently hacked Lasers & Feelings and [Push](https://capacle.itch.io/push and am currently trying to hack BitD because I can’t overcome my obsession with this system) and use “they’ve already been playtested by the original game designers” as an excuse. That seemed to work for a bit, but not long. I kept being told that, even if I was hacking an existing system, playtesting was “mandatory”.
As such, I recently tried a different approach: trying to have other people playtest my games. Once again, not enough: “You’re the author. You must be the one doing the playtest!”

Regarding who must do the playtesting, I very much disagree with this. For me, part of playtesting is seeing how other people interpret the rules. Will they run the game the way you expected them to or will there be surprises? But that is not what brings me here today.

What brings me today is this need to playtest everything. I cannot, and will not, playtest my own games. And, the more people try to pressure me into doing it, the more my mental health starts spiraling out of control and I start having thoughts of either “I will never be able to make my own games, I’ll be stuck with hacks forever” or, even worse, “I have no business publishing games. I should just delete all the games from itch and bring down the page.”

So, what I want to know is: Is playtesting that much of a big deal? Is it such a sin to publish a small indie game (and we’re talking small here, 2-3 pages per game) without playtesting it first? And, if it is, must the playtesting absolutely be done by the author? :confused:

Thank you in advance for your feedback.

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I don’t have an exhaustive experience in game design.

IMO, do the playtesting YOU want.

It’s not a sin not to playtest if you don’t like it.

Now, I personally enjoyed “playtesting/demoing” my game.

However by playtesting, I mean only that I ran the game.

I didn’t select specific people to do it (it was lovely to do it at The Gauntlet a couple of times).

I didn’t make a up a survey or any list of question.

I only people if they had a good time and we didn’t spend much time discussing the game (15 minutes maybe once).

I did bring me confidence that Paris Gondo - The Life-Saving Magic of Inventorying worked as a concept.

It helped notice a couple of ways how I could facilitate it better, and that became mostly the single-paragraphs scripts that I added at the beginning of each section.

It helped me but that’s me. I need reassurance/validation about what I do before I feel confident sharing it.

To each designer, their own preferences.

I would also add that if you’re open-minded about comments from people who downloaded it and played it and flexible enough eventually to ammend your game based on their comments…

…well that qualifies as playtesting.

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Most of the stuff that needs improvement in my games (usually, grammar and spelling mistakes or inconsistencies/deadends in the rules) I’m the one finding myself because I’m constantly trying to proofread my stuff from time to time to see if there’s anything else that I missed.
The L&F version of ADIOTOPIA was allegedly proofread by 5 different people, very few typos were found by anyone and, when I re-read it myself after a few months, I was astonished to find a lot more typos that everyone had missed.

That being said, I have had a few cases where people did find inconsistencies or deadends in the rules that I hadn’t found in my own revisions, and I did end up fixing the mistakes they found and thanking them for their feedback. So yeah, I’m open to criticism. And I have no problem with anyone else playtesting my games and giving me feedback if they want (or inviting me to watch the session and take my own notes, as one person has done).
It’s just getting on my nerves that people keep trying to push me to playtest my games against my will, especially since it keeps happening over and over again. It’s as if, no matter how many times I tell them “no”, people just don’t get it. :roll_eyes:

Anyways, thank you for taking the time to read through all that and answer. :slight_smile:

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I do think that playtesting should be a huge part of creating a game, and should be more part of the game creation that I feel that roleplaying games are today. There are lots of games on the market that I can’t see how they’ve been playtested accordingly.

That said, in this circumstance, just ask yourself why you want to publish, and then publish your games based on that. Don’t let one thing stop you because of other people’s opinions.

If you want to do a sort of playtesting, just release a beta and charge for it. If someone pays for the game, they are more inclined to give feedback after they played it. If you never get feedback, just leave the game in a beta stage, or decide that it’s time to release it for real (raising the price tag).

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Hi,
Playtesting is not necessary for free amateur games. Thats a privilege of the status. It is strongly advised if you want to sell games, just to check they work as intended.
Right now I’ve had some mechanics fall flat and others sing perfectly, and I always publish before real life tests. But I sort of test small bits of my games with my kids and I go thoroughly through every step in my mind’s eye. More than anything playing my games has been a pleasure because I create them to get whatever other games don’t give me. When a game doesn’t fly, I am also happy because I learned something and I can change the mechanics to make it work. In each case, it was pretty obvious what the problem was.
But you can also write a draft, play some, tweak and slowly evolve the game. This sort of development requires a specific game life, and life style. It’s nice but uncommon to have both the time and a group invested in developing your game. It’s specially important if you print the game, which cuts the “eternal beta” honeymoon short (one big literary exception: Montaigne’s Essays editorial adventures).
Regarding external playtest, it’s excellent, because it let’s you understand transmission of rules. I think you need to see or hear it to really get what’s going on at a given moment. Else, it is very complex to get the causes and effects among various layers: mechanics, rules transmission, and the dynamics of this group this day.
In a nutshell, I’d say: make sure your games work any way you like, and you’re good. As you painted them, those who insist otherwise have a toxic discourse that sounds like “never good enough”. Or maybe they just mistake a few stories on the Internet with reality.

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FWIW, I don’t see why having someone else playtesting your game can’t be sufficient. In some ways, it can be even more valuable, since you’re checking not only that the game works, but also that you’ve communicating the procedures well.

If you’re going to have other people GM the tests, though, I do think you have observe closely and ask a lot of questions afterward. That doesn’t necessarily have to be in person. You could video the session and have participants fill out a questionnaire afterward. The important thing, I think, would be to have a really honest back and forth about how the test sessions went. And since any feedback can be stressful, you’ll probably want to find a proxy that you know will be sensitive to your situation and that you trust to be insightful and constructive. Having a regular collaborate could help a great deal.

I’d say that the more you charge for games, the more important playtesting becomes. But anyone saying that you can’t or shouldn’t write games because of your difficulties is being ableist, IMO.

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The reason people tell you to playtest is that it’s the most important part of game design. You can come up with a beautiful system that has all its moving parts interacting gracefully; if the players don’t work the way you think they will, all this work is for nothing and you need to go back to the drawing board. The game only exists in the play.

That said.

One. I am, as far as I know, neurotypical, and I don’t playtest my games. It’s difficult for me to arrange tables and when I do I prefer to play games that already work. I design games most as a hobby than as any attempt at serious work. So I just give out all my games for free and call them “playtest-free”. I know this is not good, but I simply don’t care. The door is still open for me to playstest them in the future, I just don’t want to do that right now.

If I can do this, you can do it too. If you don’t want to playtest your games, no one can tell you that you have to. They can tell you that it’s an important part of game design (true) and that your game will never reach its full potential unless you do it (also true). But they cannot stop you from posting your game online without playesting, so if you want to do it, do it. (It seems you’ve already done it, of course, for which I commend you. Well done!)

If people give you trouble for not playtesting your games - well, that complaint probably comes from a good place, but you don’t need to pay them any heed, specially if you’re not charging for your games.

Two. The advice that you should run your own playtest. No. That’s indefensible. It’s just plain bad advice. Absent context, of course it’s a good idea for the creator to playtest their own game, since they’ll figure it out how it interacts with the GM. But having other people playtest will give a creator much more valuable insights. If you’re playtesting your own game, you can smooth over imperfection by working off the perfect version of the game in your head. A GM who’s working only with the text as it exists has no such luxury and gives you a much better read on what your game plays like, as written.

Lastly, I just want to say that everything we do has different modes of intensity to it. A master chef won’t make a perfect meal for themselves when they arrive home late on a Friday night. Someone who writes a novel needs to have it edited and revised; but someone who writes a fanfic for fun might write it directly on the internet and posts it without even proofreading. Both these modes of creation are valid. The former produces objectively better work, but the fanfic writer’s goal may not be the objectively better work, it may just be to have fun and express themselves, and perfection paralysis may not be conductive to that. If making games is fun for you and playtesting is not, make games and don’t playtest them. You’re not beholden to anyone.

tldr:

  1. If you don’t want to playtest your game, don’t. That’s 100% fine.
  2. If you can have other people playtest your game, that’s as good as playtesting it yourself, if not better.
  3. Do what you want because pirates are free and you are a pirate.
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One function of playtesting is improving the game based on actual gameplay experience.

However, generally speaking, people have to leave their comfort zone but avoid their panic zone to learn, to improve.

If playtesting always puts you in a panic zone, you can search for alternative solutions to improve your game.

If a community doesn’t accept the solutions that work for you, is it worth listening to them?

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Playtesting an entire game is not necessary; that will lead you down a rabbit hole of endless improvement. What is being tested in play? Arguably, at that point, people are just playing the game.

So it’s good to hone in on what needs to be playtested. Did you design a new roll mechanic that you need to see in action? Is there a particular mechanical interaction that you need to see emerge in play? Does this pick list of character creation communicate what I want? Is the weight on this random table correct for the fictional circumstances that cause it to be used?

And you also don’t need sessions and sessions of playtesting. A single session—maybe even a quick 20 minutes—can be enough to test something; there is no valor in having an endless list of playtesters and months and months of sessions. Game design is not empirical research meant for global generalization.

Finally, as the shortest comment, you’re absolutely justified in wanting/needing other people to playtest and I largely agree that seeing how someone else understands your writing is way more useful.

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Playtesting can only improve your game

BUT

A lack of playtesting does not mean a game is bad. As game designers, we at least halfway know how to do our thing.

As others have said, being able to playtest is a privilege. If you don’t have a group of friends willing to chug along in your half finished product you either need to be paying people or have an established audience who love your work enough to help. You don’t get there without publishing first

In my shallow experience, the vocal “you need to playtest” internet whiners (not anyone here) are gatekeeping. They’re giving themselves excuses to ignore indie works in favor of well established products.

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As I have trouble finding people to playtest, I would like to tell myself that my designs don’t really need it, but I’ve always learned a lot from that process. It’s often nothing really formal as I usually have the ability to be my harshest critic and I understand how people give you a lot of valuable feedback by how they play your game and not by how they eventually put into words something they think you should hear about your game.

(Also, I think that playstorming is often just as valuable or even more so than playtesting. I now tend to design games towards getting to a place where it would be fun to try them and find out where the game wants to go. But this might be off-topic so I won’t get into it.)

My personal experience is that I learn to design better games by playing in some rich variety of them, just as I learn how to be a better musician by exposing myself to a lot of different music or how I feel that my writing improves when I read more books. But for RPGs in particular, I also love to watch in-person sessions (not livestreams) and I’m sure I’ve also learned a lot that way. Does the experience of playing yourself add a lot of value beyond that? For me sometimes it doesn’t, but often times it does. It can be just what I needed to get my game unstuck from a hole I wasn’t even aware existed. I’m not smart enough to do it without eating my own dog food, as the expression goes.

I agree with the idea that you probably want to be playing your own game if you’re asking some money for it. I’m not comfortable with making the decision to set a particular price without seeing for myself what people are getting out of it, specially as I’m not particularly talented in crafting the artifact that holds the game. I really need to be selling the experience of playing it.

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Yes. And regarding Actual Play, they are precious when there is a debrief, and if you can ask follow up questions, because this way you know what thought process was at work at a given time. When you play yourself, you have access to your thoughts and emotions (in so far as we do).

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