No matter what you think, there is only one truth about playtesting: you’ll never have enough!
Up to now I have had several dozens of playtesting rounds, with hundreds of different people, both friends and total strangers. I will share with you some tips from my personal experience:
First of all playtesters make you a huge favor. Do make an effort to make the people that devote time to your project, feel comfortable. Buy them coffee, tea, drinks, food, ice – cream, whatever they prefer, but make sure have what they need around the gaming table. Nobody likes a stingy host!
Be sober. After a long run of having fun and having all these people praising you for your creation, you might get carried away by all those cheers and drink ups. You have to remember: this is not an ordinary day, you have a job to do and you have to do it sober. So moderate your drinking from the very beginning. Sometimes this may be very difficult especially if you have a party game (or – god help- a drinking game), but you will impress no one if all those people that left their jobs to help you develop your game suddenly realize that you are snoring away on the floor!
Try to have a mixed team of both male and female players. Do not underestimate magic on the table. People often use games subconsciously in order to show off knowledge or skills and gain impressions. Having a mixed team always gives your session an extra something and your players feel super motivated! Trust me, it works!
Have plenty of time in front of you. It is hard to organize a playtesting round, especially if you really need to have one. People will always be late to show up, they will often interrupt the game to answer their phones, to tell you about how awful their day was, about their child getting the chickenpox, they will interrupt the game to tell a childhood story about their beloved nanny that just poped up when you mentioned Freddy Kruger, they will suggest that all of you should make a pause from playing and go to the roof to enjoy the romantic full moon, you will have all kinds of interruptions. Take a big breath, recall any yoga/ Zen techniques you can, relax, be polite, and let everyone enjoy their evening. Besides, try to understand: all of these interruptions occur every time you play a normal game, you just don’t realize them because you are simply playing…now you’re playtesting, but all the others are playing…don’t be a killjoy…be part of the team. Give your players all the time they need. Breath in, breath out.
Have in mind that it may take longer than you initially thought. Never trick your players that “it will take an hour maximum and then we will all go to that party”. No you will not. And your players must know it. The last thing that you want is to keep your dear pleaytesters hostages on the table. Make it clear: the day will be dedicated to the great cause of developing a game. Period. You can leave your other plans for another night.
Take notes during playtesting. Have an organized file that you will record all your thoughts, findings and suggestions. I will make an extended post on it an other day, so I am not getting any deeper at the moment.
Keep evaluation records. Give your players questionnaires to answer. I will also make an extended post on it soon, cause this part is really important.
Give them time to evaluate properly. Answering the questionnaire is not a side dish, it is the juice of all the process. Plan in advance about giving your playtesters what ever they need in order to evaluate correctly. Inform them from the very begging that they will do such a thing, and carry loads of pens with you!
Take photos. Plenty of them, at every possible stage. Even if you don’t know what to do with them at the moment, they will turn really useful sometime in the future.
Listen carefully to your players. Record their suggestions, their opinions, their ideas. Never try to defend your project and talk back to them, instead be polite and respectful, after all you want is critique and not praise. Make sure that they feel comfortable enough to express their real opinion, even if it is hard. Truth is exactly what you want to hear in order to develop a great game!