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Build Review and Internal Playtests: The Importance of Feedback

In game development, there are various ways to evaluate the status of the game during the development cycle. In this post, we’ll talk about the importance of internal playtests and the two main methods that we use and why.

Different types of evaluating games are important and each has its own place depending on the context of the game being created. For example, AAA games will take different approaches than indie games due to budget, team size, and product scope. 

The main two types we use at justDice are build reviews and internal playtesting. We use these methods because we work on mobile games in a fast-changing environment. We need to iterate quickly on new products to be successful in the market. These two methods help us evaluate a product early on and often in the development cycle and create better games because of it. Let’s break them down.

What Are Build Reviews?

Build reviews are a simple and effective method of ensuring that each feature implemented is the best it can be. These are key to our fast iterative process. 

This method of evaluating our products is more subjective. But since we are working with professionals in the field, we can trust that each person’s opinion is based on experience and knowledge. The low number of resources required to set up and execute these tests means they can be highly effective and versatile.

Every week, the developers make a build with the latest implemented features, even if they’re not 100% ready. Every member of the team can then play the game for however long they need. At the meeting, everyone is encouraged to provide feedback while playing the game. Feedback can vary from what works well, any bugs, UI implementation, user experience issues, edge cases, etc. 

Some issues will get addressed multiple times over multiple meetings and get higher priority than others. An assigned member of the team documents the feedback to keep track of everything before it’s broken down into smaller tickets. They are then organised into levels of priority and tasks are then assigned to the responsible team member. 

What Makes an Effective Build Review?

The key to effective build reviews is consistency and regularity. If weeks pass between build reviews, information builds in turn, making the review longer. This increases the risk that some elements in the game can’t be changed as easily as they would have two weeks ago. 

By using this method we quickly find any issues at their source. At the end of the day, we strive to provide the best experience for our players as we possibly can and this tool helps us achieve that goal.

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What Are Internal Playtests?

Internal playtests are different from build reviews in various ways. The most important distinction is the group that we test with, the frequency of the tests, and the way we evaluate them.

The group that we test these with isn’t the developers, artists, or anyone who directly works on the game itself. The group that participates is anyone outside the direct development team. For example, we have members from our marketing department, apps team, user acquisition team, or our company lead regularly join these tests. 

How Our Playtests Are Structured

Testing with this audience is important. Through these tests, we gain a better understanding of what we are creating. Everyone in the company has input into the products we create and we get feedback on our product from users who have not seen it before. After all, you never know where the best ideas can come from.

These tests are less frequent, we aim to do at least two per product before it’s released. The first test is executed early in the development process when there’s a prototype. This test isn’t for small details but rather aims to ask bigger questions like does the game feel engaging? Would this monetization method work? These questions all aim to help us answer the most important question, is the concept worth pursuing? This test helps us evaluate if the game requires major changes before going into smaller refinements of the concept. 

The second test is scheduled shortly before the game gets released. Here the game is more set in stone and we’re trying to find more minor details to tweak and change. This is where we try to answer questions like: how is the balancing? Does the tutorial prepare you enough for the gameplay? Does the game feel consistent? These questions are key to a good user experience and a solid first impression. 

Benefits of an Internal Playtest

The evaluation of this test is also more structured than the build review. Where in the build review we prioritize according to our own reflection, in the internal playtest we evaluate answers based on a scoring format. Each participant fills in a form at the end of the test to give us their feedback. 

During the test, we write down what the testers say and do. With a consistent scoring system, we can evaluate it against previous products, giving us a more informed decision about where to focus our resources.

In the end, the structure helps us evaluate the games more objectively. The resources required to set these tests up are higher than the build reviews which is why they happen less often.

And Now You!

These are our primary ways of evaluating our product internally, they help us create the best player experience and help reach a bigger and better audience. And now that you know the methods we use to evaluate our products during the development cycle, will you implement them in your company?