The Viewfinder Challenge
In the competitive world of game development, every moment counts, and our team at Sad Owl Studios knew this all too well. We found ourselves late in the game development process, having already invested years of hard work into our unique and promising project. Our project had all the ingredients of a hit, but we were determined to avoid complacency.
We had conducted extensive internal testing, but we understood that maximizing the final months before the game's release was crucial to ensuring our vision would be realized. To validate our concept and puzzles, we needed to connect with our target audience and make sure players would truly enjoy our creation.
"Our project had all the ingredients of a hit, but we were determined to avoid complacency."Georg Backer, Executive Producer
The Power of Testing Habits
We decided to leverage the power of a game testing platform and knew that incorporating "in the wild" testing into our game development process, even at this late stage, could be critical. With nine months left before the planned release, we set out to form new testing habits with our players.
After being recommended by another fellow developer, Viewfinder chose Go Testify as their game testing platform to connect with a diverse pool of gamers who were ready to provide invaluable feedback. We understood that tapping into the collective wisdom of experienced players could uncover hidden flaws, reveal unexplored potential, and offer a fresh perspective on our game.
Our Testing Strategy
When we initially signed up to the Go Testify platform, we had already conducted some internal testing, but we recognized the importance of adopting a fresh perspective to unlock our game's full potential. With some helpful guidance from the Go Testify team, the test plan was divided into three distinctive phases, each addressing specific aspects of our game's development and allowing for refinement and iterative testing by our small, dedicated team.
Phase 1: Steam Next Fest Demo Test (Assessing the first 3 hrs of gameplay)
Our initial focus was making sure the first public experience of our Steam demo resonated with the market to increase the volume of people wishlisting the title when released.
This validation phase aimed to evaluate:
- Viewfinder's overall usability/clarity across all the core mechanics
- the educational quality of the early onboarding/stages to ensure that players were adequately prepared for more complex puzzles as the game advanced
- if players were enjoying the game as designed
The initial result of this phase was an average game rating of 4.3 from the playtesters on Go Testify, which showed promise. However, it also highlighted that we were in the 4.0 - 4.5 range, indicating some confusion that needed addressing before the next Steam Fest.
The Viewfinder demo was a blast overall. Because in the end, it became the third most successful demo in the biggest and best-attended Next Fest on Steam to date. 🥳Tim Ahlert, Headup GmbH, Channel Specialist/Partnerships
Phase 2: Early-Mid Game Test (4 hrs/player x 15 players)
After all the hype we got and after speaking to our publisher, we all wanted more confidence that we were heading in the right direction, so we scaled up the number of participants and extended the testing duration to 4 hours per player (60 mins per session) to dive deeper into the game.
Our overarching goal was to ensure the game wasn't just enjoyable but remained engaging as players progressed; however, our publisher 'Thunderful' also wanted to also use the opportunity to better understand the market outside of the game with an additional survey.
The team identified several key objectives for the playtest:
- Identifying any issues preventing player enjoyment.
- Ascertaining whether players found the puzzles engaging throughout.
- Evaluating the puzzle difficulty level and whether it aligned with player expectations.
- Determining if players retained the mechanics necessary to solve puzzles.
- Pinpointing sources of player confusion or frustration.
- Measuring the time taken by players to complete the game.
- Assessing players' comprehension of the narrative and their ability to summarize it.
- Gathering insights into players' preferences and feedback.
During the test period, we adapted our plan
As the remote test sessions rolled in on Go Testify, we were excited about what we were learning and during the process, we extended a small subset of players deeper into the game to learn more and help us better understand how to shape some of the later puzzles.
An average game rating score of 4.6 over the first 4 hours, 'whoop whoop', indicating significant improvements and provided confidence for the team that the iterative testing and development was moving in the right direction.
Phase 3: Mid-Late Game Stress Test (6 hrs/player x 10 players)
After further iteration/refinement, we conducted a comprehensive 6-hour stress test, again with a benchmark survey across each session, designed to evaluate our game's readiness for launch thoroughly. As in the previous phase, the objectives remained the same, but with a key focus on ensuring a consistently enjoyable end-to-end experience for players and fingers crossed, future fans!
The Results 🚀
"Innovative puzzle design and truly astonishing visual trickery make this puzzle game a must-play."Robin Valentine, PC Gamer
Inspiring Others to Form Testing Habits
When the game finally hit the market, it was met with resounding success, scoring a metacritic score of 84. Players embraced the puzzles, and the unique concept captivated our audience.
Our journey is a testament to the power of testing habits in game development. Even if you find yourself late in the process, there is always time to gather valuable insights and refine your game. By connecting with players through game testing during development, you can ensure that your hard work and creativity reach their full potential.
The feedback gathered from the Go Testify platform proved invaluable in shaping our game. We even put Go Testify and all the playtesters in our credits!
Don't wait until the last minute – start forming testing habits early and often in your game development process and maximize your chances of creating a hit.