Playtesting Process for Educational Games

Playtesting an earlier version of our game at Elizabeth Forward School

Playtesting is an important aspect of the game development process. Game developers lose sight of how playable the game is as they have played it thousands of times while developing it. So it is definite that they won’t be able to playtest it as a first time user would. My team is currently working on an iPad game focusing on rapid practice of addition and subtraction operators for kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students. We have playtested our game almost every week by students and have finally gotten a good idea of a playtesting process that works well while developing educational games. As this is the first time our team has gone though the playtesting process with kindergarten to 2nd grade students, we have learned a lot through out the semester and have come up with a list of 6 steps that have worked great for our educational iPad game.

During the playtesting process, we follow 6 steps:

Step 1– 1 week before playtesting: Confirm school and dates
Step 2– 2 days before playtesting: Have the game on iPads
Step 3– During playtesting: Have 20 min playtesting slots
Step 4– 1 hour after playtesting: Discuss playtesting feedback
Step 5– 1 day after playtesting: Start working on updated tasks
Step 6– 1 week after playtesting: Playtest again!

Step 1 — 1 week before Playtesting: Confirm school and dates

A week before playtesting is supposed to take place, start looking for schools to playtest at. At the Entertainment Technology Center, John Balash, who the Educational Network Coordinator has helped us a lot with getting in touch with different schools to playtest at. So far we have playtested with 2 schools other than Elizabeth Forward, which is our clients’s school. These 2 schools include St. Joseph School and Elroy Elementary School. After John connected us with principal’s of these schools, they contacted some of the teachers to find specific times that their class might be available for playtesting. After some exchange of emails, we would have gotten a time and date, along with the playtesting agenda finalized. We usually have the agenda of playtesting with 1 hour per grade, so about 3 hours at the schools for playtesting our game with kindergarten to 2nd grade students.

Step 2 — 2 days before playtesting: Have the game on iPads

A day before playtesting, we make sure that we have the game built on the iPads. We have made the mistake of not having a build of the game, till 11pm the night before playtesting. Due to this, our game ended up having multiple unwanted bugs. One of the most annoying bug was that we accidentally got a 10 second music looping throughout the game instead of just for a small component of the game. So we decided that for all the future playtesting sessions, we’ll have a build of the game on the iPad 2 days before it takes place. A day before playtesting, we send a confirmation email to the principal/teacher at the school, to remind them about the playtesting session.

Step 3 — During playtesting: Have 20 min playtesting slots

During playtesting, we usually have 20 min slots for each group of students. We have the game on 3 iPad, so we have students play it in groups of three. During each slot, observe the students play the game for 15 min. Then for the last 5 min, ask them questions about the game and show any artwork that you might want their feedback on. Some of the common questions include: Did you like the game? What did you like in the game? What would you like to add in the game? If you wanted to change one thing about the game, what would that be? If you observed them get confused or frustrated about any part of the game, then ask about that. As kids express themselves better with actions rather than speaking, observing them while they are playing the game is the most important playtesting feedback. Regarding artwork, we have 13 different robots, and so we usually ask the kids to give us feedback on those robots. Based on their feedback, we know which art style to continue following.

Step 4 — 1 hour after playtesting: Discuss playtesting feedback

Even though all of us are usually exhausted after each playtesting session, we make it a habit to discuss the feedback we received while it is fresh. We first discuss where the students got stuck and which aspects of the game didn’t go as planned. For example, we have screws on the numbers in our game, which animate once tapped. But only 50% of the students know that they can interact with them. So we decided to shake the screws to get the kids attention. While we are discussing these, we also make a list of the tasks that we need to finish to fix that issue.

Step 5 — 1 day after playtesting: Start working on updated tasks

After all the tasks are finalized, we divide them based on the roles of each team member, and start working on it the next day. We make weekly tasks, so we know how much we need to finish before our next playtesting session takes place. We finalize the tasks based on priority and the amount of time it would take to finish them All the tasks that are unable to be finished within a week get pushed to next week. We also send a thank you email to the principal/teacher, as they went out of their way to have us playtest there, and so it is important to thank them for it.

Step 6 — 1 week after playtesting: Playtest again!

A week after the playtesting session, it is time for us to playtest again! We repeat the same 6 step process, and continue repeating it, till no more playtesting is needed, or in our case, till the semester ends.

This is just our experience of playtesting, and I am sure there are better steps to follow. We went through several iterations of playtesting sessions, and came up with these 6 steps that have worked well for us. We have been following them for the last couple of playtesting sessions and so far haven’t found any issues with it!