Variable State uses playtesting to shape and hone their early game concepts in preparation for publisher pitches. By highlighting player quotes and sentiment gathered from playtests, showcasing the external validation their game received, the studio has positioned itself for success in a competitive market.
Variable State, led by Jonathan Burroughs, Terry Kenny, and Lyndon Holland, has left an indelible mark in gaming with its unique storytelling and development approach. "Virginia," their debut game released in 2016 by 505 Games, received widespread acclaim, securing nominations for four Independent Games Festival awards and three BAFTA awards.
Notably, "Virginia" won the Writers' Guild Award for Best Writing in a Video Game, and Lyndon Holland, the studio's co-owner and composer, received the 2017 British Academy Games Award for Music.
Building on this success, their second game, "Last Stop" published by Annapurna Interactive, further solidified Variable State's reputation for compelling narratives and marked the beginning of a collaboration with Go Testify to help commit to more player-focused game development.
We recently caught up with Jonathan Burroughs, Producer at Variable State, to discuss their recent use of Go Testify for market validation on two titles currently being pitched to publishers. Here are the key takeaways:
The path of maximum humility
The significance of early game iteration, or "The path of maximum humility," as described by Jonathan, emphasizes the need to recognize that developers may become blind to issues that new testers will immediately identify. This highlights the value of embracing early and frequent playtesting to refine game features and ensure a seamless player experience.
According to the studio, there is no such thing as starting playtesting too early. Even at a rudimentary stage of development, playtests can unveil critical insights and expose flaws that developers might overlook.
"I think we could go even earlier than we did. Even if the game is at quite a rudimentary stage and not all of the artwork is present, there doesn't seem to be too early a point for testing game features. There was an example where we made a minor change to one of our puzzles and it threw all 10 testers. Our team were, of course, completely used to it, and had become blind to the lack of tuition. So we talk about the path of maximum humility. We don't know what we don't know, or we become blind to things that new testers will immediately call us out on."
Concept Validation with the Market
The incorporation of player feedback into their decision-making process has elevated their game concepts to a level that has instilled confidence not only within the team but also among potential publishers, based on their current publisher pitch feedback so far.
Concept validation emerged as a standout factor in Variable State's approach. Playtesting was not just a means to identify and fix issues; it was a tool for validating concepts and ensuring that the game resonated with players.
The studio emphasized the role of player sentiment, aiming for a minimum Go Testify playtest game rating above 4.0 with consistent improvements throughout each iterative playtest before considering that their concept was ready for pitching.
With two particular game concepts being tested, they started with a 4.3 average game rating from players, and through iterative testing, it increased to 4.7, which would average around a high 70s Metacritic Score.
"After each play test, we would get together as a leadership group and review all the feedback and give it a kind of 'personal sign-off', based on the player sentiment that was coming back."
Shaping our Publisher Pitch
Through multiple playtests, the team at Variable State gained the confidence to select the most promising concept for presentation to publishers. Both concepts went through a rigorous process of playtests, assessing the enjoyment factor during the first hour of gameplay, using first-time users in each playtest.
The iterative refinement of their game concepts, guided by playtest feedback, played a pivotal role in shaping the final pitches. The decision-making process involved sharing and reviewing playtest videos transparently with the entire development team post playtest closure.
"This helped to foster a consensus-driven approach that prioritizes objective feedback over personal attachments to ideas."
Publishers are seeking Market Validation
In their pitches to publishers, Variable State strategically included Go Testify within their pitch deck, highlighting player quotes and sentiments gathered from playtests, showcasing the external validation their game received.
This addition to the pitch deck served as a powerful punctuation point, reinforcing the studio's confidence in their game by demonstrating its positive reception among a diverse group of players.
This insight was well-received from the publishers who are adopting market validation as a pillar in determining whether a game is worthy of further consideration.
Variable State's journey underscores the importance of early game iteration in the success of a publisher pitch.
By embracing playtesting from the earliest stages of development, refining their concepts based on player feedback, the studio positioned itself for success in a competitive market.