RPGs and User Testing


There are excellent reasons for an indie game developer to steer clear of the RPG genre. RPGs are content-heavy, have complex gameplay, and can easily fall flat on their faces when it comes to story.

New game designers often hear this: make a small game. Excellent advice, but it's often not heeded. For many of us RPGs are the games that we feel most strongly about, and so what we naturally aspire to.

Confused RPG Man

Usability

Game player in light bulbWhen I set out to make The Real Texas, I decided that early-on user testing would be a huge part of the design philosophy. Rather than have too specific an idea of how things would work, I'd dance a dance with my audience and design flexibly.

It's easy to underestimate the value of just having somebody sit down in front of your game.

There are so many things you can't predict, and so many places your intuition will be wrong. When you actually see somebody playing your game, it's like turning on the lights.

Paint with Bold Strokes

Be absolutely fearless and flexible when it comes to adapting to your user feedback. I've figured out two guiding principles:

- Do make changes that are truly drastic.

- Do read between the lines.

Drastic changes will mean cutting out huge swaths of your planned game-flow, reorganizing entire sections of your world, and the wholesale removal of characters or plot items.

But second, don't forget that you are the designer. While people will often suggest very specific changes, it's not your job to implement these word-for-word.

Instead, sit back and think for awhile. You need to zero in on the underlying problem before finding a good solution. Sometimes, it is what was suggested, but usually it's not.

Notice What Isn't Said

My last advice: the stuff you don't hear about is likely the stuff that is working very, very well. Great games are immersive and when things actually do start to click, your players won't even notice it.

And by then, you've got 'em. =)

2010-02-13


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