Tips to designers for attracting playtesters

Michael Dorosh

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Some recent posts here got me thinking about the best way to attract playtesters. I mentioned to Jeff and Dave the difficulties of 'nobodies' attracting people to test, meaning those who haven't been published or aren't well-known in the community. For what it is worth, some observations based on my experiences on both sides of the equation (prospective designer and interested playtester). Let me know what I got wrong or what you would add/change:

a) Provide as much info as possible in your query - including at least some (and not restricted to) the following:

  • nationalities
  • theatre
  • date
  • relative scale and nature of engagement (a meeting engagement of reinforced platoons is not the same as a reinforced battalion assaulting fortified positions)
  • game length
  • special rules in play (night, desert/PTO/ OBA, amphibious, weather, etc.)
  • maps in play (i.e. size of battle)
  • components needed (if you need the Swedish Volunteers counters, few people will be able to help)
Everyone has their own desires regarding what kind of scenarios appeal to them or that they would like to play. As a playtester, I've been sucked out of my comfort zone by a compelling write-up or desire to test for a 'named' publisher, but this will be a bigger hurdle for those independent designers still trying to break in. But the more I know about what your scenario is about, the better I'm able to envision myself playing it through to completion. By the same token, we all have our pet interests - if you've designed a scenario featuring the regiment I currently serve in, or a division one of my grandparents served in, or a formation portrayed by my best friend's reenactment unit, etc. you can bet I'll be more interested so it's in your interest to advertise this up front. In short, sell me on the idea of your scenario. Novel writers have 'elevator pitches' and scenario designers would do well to come up with the same.

b) be clear in what you want done, and when you want it done by. If you're not interested in feedback on balance or composition, maybe you're really just looking for a proofreader, not a playtester. If you're worried about some specific aspect of the design, tell your testers. Perhaps you wait until after they've played because you don't want to influence them. That's fair. But see below. Also, provide a deadline. Even if your project isn't time sensitive, it will provide a sense of urgency. Without a deadline, it's too easy for testers to let little projects slide. A deadline, even a generous one, implies that completing your project matters to you. By extension, it will matter more to the testers as well.

c) Remember feedback works both ways. In concert with the above, now that we've tested for you, we feel a connection and sense of participation in the project. You may wish to share your data on how others have done - egomaniacal playtesters like myself love to know how they've done relative to other players. If we 'got' your scenario it makes us feel the investment of that most precious wargame commodity - time - in your project mattered. If we managed to break your scenario completely, that's cool too. Don't dismiss our concerns as unimportant, or call into question our play style or knowledge of the rules - but do feel free to question us specifically on certain points of play to ensure we didn't create a false report. ("Did you remember that the ROF of the mortar is restricted to one shot per fire phase by my SSR 3?")

d) Be patient. Realize that people have lives. Realize that people take a break from ASL. They occasionally go on holidays and don't tell everyone in their social media networks. This is normal. Don't badger them by email, and particularly in public.

e) Accept rejection. Some of your testers will plain old not like your work. I still recall sending a draft of one of my designs to a well-known name in the ASL community, then suffered through an excruciating exchange where he quizzed me on my knowledge of the rulebook, concluded I wasn't worthy of creating a scenario, and told me so in no uncertain words - without pushing a single counter on a mapboard. Write these experiences off and resist the urge to go call names or lash out, privately or publicly. If people think that working with you might lead to an embarrassing public exchange, why would they volunteer to help you? And while they may have the common sense and courtesy not to return fire in public, your name may well circulate in private, among the same people you're trying to canvas for help.

f) Simple rewards will keep playtesters coming back. Give credit in print, where possible. Some will even consider a free copy of the published scenario if it's in print. At a minimum, though, a simple thanks should do for most playtesters, privately and, if appropriate, publicly. It may be worth your while to state the nature of the compensation up front, apologetically if necessary. ("I wish I could afford to send you all hard copies, but I'm pleased to provide a pdf of the finished product...")
 
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Mister T

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While these developments are without doubt very reasonable, they are a bit irrelevant as what matters most for playtest quality is a strong relationship between designer and playtesters, which means that they should know each other fairly well. It is a pre-condition for the feedback received by the designer to be effective. In other terms, i doubt that a designer can 'recruit' players he doesn't know beforehand and make the most of their contributions. YMMV
 

Alan Hume

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very good advice Michael, thanks for sharing (and I know I am guilty of D) for sure but no harm was intended, just not hearing back from people gets me worried is all, but yeah, I take the point:(
 

Michael Dorosh

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While these developments are without doubt very reasonable, they are a bit irrelevant as what matters most for playtest quality is a strong relationship between designer and playtesters, which means that they should know each other fairly well. It is a pre-condition for the feedback received by the designer to be effective. In other terms, i doubt that a designer can 'recruit' players he doesn't know beforehand and make the most of their contributions. YMMV
Not sure I agree, but would also add beggars can't be choosers. :)
 

Alan Hume

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I would say a strong relationship between playtester and designer isn't necessary (it might be advantageous sure but I don't see how it's necessary)
I think communication is the key, if people are talking and getting their points across then the scenario is going to change for the better surely

Oh, nicely done on the Two Half Squads by the way, I really enjoyed your interview
it was pretty entertaining :)
 

Mister T

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I would say a strong relationship between playtester and designer isn't necessary (it might be advantageous sure but I don't see how it's necessary)
I think communication is the key, if people are talking and getting their points across then the scenario is going to change for the better surely

Oh, nicely done on the Two Half Squads by the way, I really enjoyed your interview
it was pretty entertaining :)
If one does not know the playing style/strength/capability to synthetise/capability to restitute fairly the action, then you are struggling to put possibly conflicting statements in perspective. And it could be argued, unfortunately, that bad feedback is worse than no feedback.
 

Michael Dorosh

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Dasvadonya and I were just reminiscing (if that's the word) about one of your VFTT scenarios that we played, which we rather enjoyed. http://www.aslscenarioarchive.com/scenario.php?id=62743

By coincidence we're playing each other in another scenario in which rain is a factor. VFTT and MMP are looking for articles, maybe someone needs to write about how to fight in the rain...
 

Alan Hume

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If one does not know the playing style/strength/capability to synthetise/capability to restitute fairly the action, then you are struggling to put possibly conflicting statements in perspective. And it could be argued, unfortunately, that bad feedback is worse than no feedback.
fair point, I see what you mean, I would probably lean towards any feedback being good but that's not necessarily true
 

Alan Hume

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Dasvadonya and I were just reminiscing (if that's the word) about one of your VFTT scenarios that we played, which we rather enjoyed. http://www.aslscenarioarchive.com/scenario.php?id=62743

By coincidence we're playing each other in another scenario in which rain is a factor. VFTT and MMP are looking for articles, maybe someone needs to write about how to fight in the rain...
You just made me smile Michael, that's great, you just made my day:cool: Knowing someone enjoyed a scenario I did is a great feeling, I certainly enjoyed putting Tiger at Bay together (although I can see a lot of things I would do differently now) and I had plans to try and produce some more RSI scenarios but my darn computer lost all the files, erk:eek:

heh, someone with better knowledge than me will have to step up to the plate there I think, hopefully Pete will get more submissions for VFTT soon (GREAT magazine), not sure when the next MMP journal is out either but I think I might have heard on the Two Half Squads that it's due soon, hmmm, that would be good:nod:
 

wrongway149

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I would say a strong relationship between playtester and designer isn't necessary (it might be advantageous sure but I don't see how it's necessary)
I think communication is the key, if people are talking and getting their points across then the scenario is going to change for the better surely
A playtester I don't know very well, I will regard his comments with less 'weight' than one from the regular 'posse'-while I continue to hold him in elevating regard while the relationship builds.
 

Alan Hume

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A playtester I don't know very well, I will regard his comments with less 'weight' than one from the regular 'posse'-while I continue to hold him in elevating regard while the relationship builds.
that's a fair point right enough, I can see where you're coming from now
 
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