Insider 7/30/2010

In my last blog, I wrote about some general elements of playtesting.

Today, I’m going to continue that topic by talking about my favorite type of playtesters.

As noted last week, all our playtesters should be able to build good playtest lists, play good playtest games, and provide good playtest feedback. There’s one additional thing, however, that sets the great playtesters apart from the good ones, and that’s perspective.

The most helpful playtesters have a very broad view of the game. They are knowledgeable on a wide range of factions as well as a wide range of models within those factions, and they’re capable of playing those models well. They have a broad understanding of the rules of the game and how to apply those rules to new game situations.

Now, some might read this and consider it a backward way to do things. After all, wouldn’t dedicated faction playtesters be the best way to get good feedback on new models?

In a word, no. Think about posts that you’ve seen on the forums or conversations you’ve had around the game store. Many players have very deep-seated faction loyalties, whether blatant or subtle, and faction loyalty affects players’ perspectives greatly. Some players consider everything their own faction has and does to be awesome, the epitome of wargaming excellence. On the flip side of that, others consider their own faction to be the underdog and frequently point out how powerful other factions are.

Either of those perspectives seriously erodes the usefulness of a player’s feedback. Playtesting is not about creating a great faction: it’s about creating a great game. When you ask one of my favorite playtesters what their favorite faction is, they’re likely to answer with something like, “In what context?” or “It depends.” Or maybe they’ll rattle off a list of their favorite factions that winds up including everybody by the time they’re done.

This broad perspective is important beyond eliminating faction bias, though. That’s one factor to consider, but broad perspective also helps players to understand new models with existing rules on a fundamental level. Rules like Cavalry, Light Cavalry, and ’Jack Marshal have a number of nuances to them that players may not realize, depending on faction preferences. Broad perspective players are more likely to have played such models and will be more capable when applying those rules to new models.

Consider, too, the release of whole new factions. When Primal was first playtested, there was no such thing as a Circle player, but players with a broad perspective of the WARMACHINE factions were better able to apply that knowledge to all-new factions with their own suites of strengths and weaknesses.

These past couple of blog entries have taken us from “how to be a good playtester” to “how to be a great playtester,” but my next blog entry is probably going to be the most popular one in this little series. In my next blog entry, I’ll talk a little bit about “how to become a PPS playtester.”

[Side Note – Please do not read this blog entry as a slam against single-faction players. It’s great to see that loyalty towards the nation, characters, or models of your faction. It’s just not something that makes optimal playtesters.]