The power of lightweight weekly playtests

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After running 19 teams through our Getting2Alpha program, I’ve learned some powerful lessons about accelerating early product development..Lesson #1 is all about the power of small, high-learning experiments to separate the Ninjas from the Wannabes. If you think like a scientist — testing your ideas with an open mind, avidly seeking the truth – you’ll make rapid progress towards product/market fit.  If you shy away from the truth — and, ego bruised, fall back on your old habits — your progress will slow to a crawl

Lesson #2 is all about the power of lightweight weekly playtests. In my Getting2Alpha program,  I help teams figure out how to setup and run weekly testing sessions to gather feedback on their early ideas from the right people. I’ve noticed that teams who follow through on this practice make MASSIVELY more progress than the teams who don’t. Here’s one particularly vivid example.

How “just enough” fidelity speeds up development

Earlier this year, I worked with an educational games company who adopted this practice to great effect. The company wanted to extend and enhance their (already successful) subscription service, so they setup a crack internal team to develop their next generation of learning games.

Kyle_games_iStock_000010361836Medium_1When we started working together, this team had designed a collection of ambitious, innovative games, and were facing aggressive internal deadlines to deliver those games to production.  They needed to accelerate their design and development process to meet those deadlines – but faced some internal resistance, due to old habits.

After clarifying their product strategy, articulating their key assumptions, and identifying the right early adopters, we focused on setting up lightweight weekly playtests with “just enough” fidelity to test their assumptions quickly. This was easier said than done. The company had a long-standing practice of testing fully-developed games with high-quality art assets, and the team was already involved in preparing their first game for a “traditional” playtest. This involved coordination between several departments, and involvement from an outside recruiting agency. Everyone was focused on polishing the gameplay and art assets for the test, which would be watched closely by the top execs.

Because we couldn’t derail that train without a lot of fallout, we setup a parallel path to do lightweight testing of their more nascent games. The team settled on a simple, low-resolution art style that would facilitate rapid iteration, and setup under-the-radar testing sessions that didn’t involve other departments. The goal of these sessions was to collet erly, high-value feedback on the core gameplay without worrying about production values, completeness, or executive oversight.

Guess what happened? The team was able to quickly evolve their gameplay and — most importantly — hit their aggressive deadlines. They are now preparing those games for production, and moving on to design their next set of games — which they’ll develop by using these rapid-iteration techniques from the get-go.

That’s the power of lightweight play-testing in action. To learn more about applying these techniques to your early development efforts, check out Getting2Alpha – our 6-week program for accelerating early product design.