A weekend retreat with play tests

My good friend and Y.A. published author Maurene recently organized a "work retreat." This was basically a short weekend getaway for a bunch of friends from different disciplines – writers, illustrators, storyboard artists, concept artists, and game development – to gather and bounce ideas off each other. Rather than a quick meeting, hosting this in a private home far from the city was a perfect opportunity to hyper-focus in a relaxed informal environment.

I just wanted to list a few takeaways I had from this:

An external deadline can be a good thing

Having the weekend scheduled in advance was a good milestone deadline that was forced upon me. I wanted the project to be in as polished a state as possible for its stage in development since a bunch of people would be playing it over the weekend. This turned out to be an excellent motivator – I noticeably increased my amount of production in the weeks leading up to this.

Scrambling to make sure all the multiplayer was solid before the play tests

Note everything

The amount of data you can get from real play tests with "real" people is invaluable, to say the least. You are in a bubble during development, and as soon as you begin working on a project, you lose all objectivity. No matter what you think about your own game, real play tests will give you the cold hard truth about everything from fun factor to unnecessary fat to bugs you may have missed. The most important thing is to note everything – no matter how insignificant it may seem. The way in which players feel or react (not just what they say) is a great gauge.

Allow time to respond

If you have the luxury, give yourself time to iterate on your build with the same group of testers. It's definitely important to test with a wide range of people, but if you can respond to some of the feedback quickly and have them play again, you can more easily determine if some ideas are on the right track or not. As this was a weekend retreat, it allowed for me to organize play tests in the morning, work on updates during the day, and test some of the changes again at night.

Eat pizza

We were each tasked with covering a meal. I'm so glad I chose make-your-own pizzas.


Break up your routine

Based in Los Angeles, we chose to drive out to Ojai and the change of scenery was a breath of fresh air (literally). I usually spend half my week working at home on development, music and audio, and the other half at our shared office space focusing purely on coding and art tasks. Although I love both environments, a break in routine is super healthy, inspiring, and energizing.

Always, always, always: have fun! You're in the business of making fun, and you can draw from your real-world experiences.