Seven steps to playtesting

Gamebooks face risks that other sorts of books don’t.

When you’re reading a gamebook, have discovered the route to victory, and the text tells you to turn to section 123, it’s jarring and deflating to discover that section 123 is clearly not the section the author intended to send you to. There are many reasons this can happen (typos are the tip of the iceberg), and thankfully there’s a solution: a great playtester.

I thought I’d compile a list of what I find most helpful in a playtester – if you’re playtesting a gamebook at some point, maybe these will come in handy!

  1. Complete it fairly. This is far and away the most important output I’m looking for! If you needed to “cheat” to get to the end, please tell me what that looked like specifically for you.
  2. Tell me how difficult you’re finding it. It’s always going to be difficult to strike the right balance between challenge and reward – a gamebook with no challenge is just an overhyped novel, and one with too much is pure frustration in book form.
  3. Interact fully with the game mechanics. Not every gamebook includes a stat block, dice rolling, etc., but for those that do it’s important that they don’t detract from the experience. A player shouldn’t be punished for playing by the rules.
  4. Share your emotional response. Gamebooks should be immersive, so the tone that it strikes is important. How you’re feeling as you’re reading it is really valuable feedback.
  5. Identify inconsistencies. Because readers take multiple routes to reach the same point, it’s far too easy to write a section that harks back to something that only some readers have experienced. If you get any cognitive dissonance, please point that out!
  6. Concentrate on playability over readability. You may very well spot typos and badly-formed sentences, but unless they get in the way of getting through it, I’d much rather your effort is spent on getting the player experience right (rather than the reader experience). The roles of copy editor and proofreader are different from playtesting so narrowly focus your energy on game- rather than -book.
  7. Thoroughly map the book’s flow. This has two advantages:
    1. When you get to an endpoint, you can easily retrace your steps without having to play through from the beginning, meaning your time is used more efficiently.
    2. I get to see how you’ve visualised what I’ve written, validating that I’ve described it the way I intended to, and getting a glimpse of a different approach.

What would you add to this list?