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Gamification vs Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?

gamification-vs-game-based-learning

Every year, the NCAA invites people from all over the world to participate in one of college sports greatest spectacles: March Madness. If you are reading this from the United States, chances are high that you have filled out a NCAA men’s basketball bracket before.

You know how it works: participants are given an online tool that lets them create bracket groups so they can compete with friends, family and colleagues. You choose which college basketball teams you think will win each round of play. For each team you get right, you earn points and for each team you get wrong, you lose the potential to earn points in the future. The goal is to earn the most points and pick the correct tournament champion.

In 2015, the American Gaming Association and GfK Custom Research of North America estimated that almost 40 million Americans filled out more than 70 million March Madness brackets. The average bet per bracket was $29, totaling over $2 billion.

So what keeps people playing year after year? The answer is simple: it’s fun! The NCAA takes the essence of what makes games so appealing (challenge, risk and reward), uncovers the mechanics that make them work (personalization, rankings and leaderboards) and applies these mechanics to the tournament.

NCAA tournament pools are a form of gamification. The game of basketball is, obviously, a game. And games that also have a learning goal are called learning games. Using games for learning is called game-based learning. If you’re a bit confused, there’s no need to worry! You can easily spot the differences between gamification and game-based learning with a little practice.


Want to design your own learning game? Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp share helpful game design tips in this recorded webinar.

Gamification

The application of these game-like elements to the NCAA tournament is known as gamification. Simply put, gamification is the application of game mechanics to a non-game activity. Filling out a bracket is not a game in of itself. But when you assign points based on correct picks and add an element of competition, it becomes gamified.

Karl Kapp describes gamification as “an emergent approach to instruction which facilitates learning and encourages motivation through the use of game elements, mechanics and game-based thinking.” The purpose is to engage and motivate learners to become active participants in their own learning process.

In order to gamify something, you must first understand the various elements that make up a game. For example, a game’s mechanics are the rules and procedures that guide the player and the game response to the player’s moves or actions. Through the mechanics you create, you define how the game is going to work for the people who play it. There are also many game elements you can include to help keep people engaged. The choice of what to include should be deliberate. With learning games, you should consider how each element supports the learning process. Here are 12 elements often used to gamify content:

game elements chart

Gamification Examples

You can apply both game mechanics and game elements to a variety of contexts when you create learning solutions. Take a look at a few of these samples:

  • This curriculum included an illustrated map of the business process that was used to gamify the course. Learners journey through the business making stops along the way to identify the hazards and learn how to stay safe on their sites.
  • In this curriculum, we designed a gamified blended learning curriculum for a new product launch. The curriculum is both gamified as a whole and contains numerous competitive and collaborative games.

Game-Based Learning (also known as Learning Games and Serious Games)

Game-based learning uses learning games to achieve an instructional goal. If you hear someone discussing game-based learning, learning games or serious games, you can assume they generally mean the same thing.

What makes the game of basketball different from a pure learning game? The answer is a learning goal. Learning games have both a game goal (what players must do to win) and a learning goal (what players are to learn through playing the game). The term game-based learning describes the use of games for learning.

Oftentimes, people use gamification and game-based learning interchangeably. But when you take a closer look, the two have certain characteristics that make them unique. Unlike gamification, game-based learning involves an actual game that helps people learn. Players will either know something or be able to do something as a result of playing the game.

Game-Based Learning Examples

Below, you can see a few examples of games we’ve created.

  • We partnered with TE Connectivity to create a mobile learning game for smartphones. The app helps distributors learn about their customers, and the applicable products for each customer so they can position the right products with the right customers.
  • This organization is tasked with creating Information Asset Protection (IAP) policies and procedures to protect sensitive information, and to educate employees on how to follow them. As part of the curriculum, learners played an arcade-style game where they score points by identifying strong and weak passwords.
  • Our Knowledge Guru platform is a great example of game-based learning and why it works. Each Knowledge Guru game has its own unique combination of points, badges, leaderboards, mini-games, story, aesthetics, power-ups and more.

Access the “Play to Learn” Webinar

Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp introduced nine steps to effective learning game design in a live webinar on March 28th. Attendees heard their perspective on the three most critical and overlooked learning game design steps and had the opportunity to participate in Q&A.

The Importance of Aesthetics in Serious Games

importance-of-aesthetics_Q220140404

First impressions matter in almost every situation – including game play.

Aesthetics are a huge part of the game play experience. If the game doesn’t LOOK appealing, then players won’t want to play even if the game has a great game goal and rules. Conversely, a game that may be “just okay” from a game play perspective can be elevated by strong aesthetics. This fact can be a plus in learning games where content might be a bit dry but a great theme and aesthetics can help create an enjoyable experience.

Compare these two game boards. Which one makes you more curious about playing the game?

FirstProtoypeAPAGameBoard copy

FinalGameBoard_APA

What about these game characters and images? Do they make you curious and want to play? What other information is being shared via the aesthetics in the game? (Answer: Progression, topic, what to do next, theme, overarching mood, etc.)

BizTheme_PathSelection

Racing_PathSelection

Fairytale_PathSelection

Retro_PathSelection

Aesthetics do several things for you in a game (any game – including serious games).

For example:

  • Set a mood and reinforce a theme or a concept
  • Immerse the player into the game experience and help them suspend reality so they can play the game.
  • Offer cues that can guide performance and communicate a player’s status and progress.
  • Facilitate understanding of game play, making it easier for a player to figure out what to do.

Are you in the position of hiring out game design and development? Terrific! Our team would love to chat with you.

If, however, you are NOT in this position and are instead a team of one, here are some resources for you. If your skill set doesn’t reside in the graphic design arena, my first vote is for you to hire a graphic designer to help you. The hourly rate for a solo freelancer is typically around $75/hour. Ten to 20 hours of a graphic designer’s time can probably get you all the art assets you need for a basic game.

If you have no budget for a graphic designer, here are a couple of other options to check out for digital art assets:

http://opengameart.org — has some nice graphics bundles you can download and use in your digital games.

http://elearningtemplates.com/elearning-activities/ — has cutout people and graphics as well as some “game” templates (they aren’t really games, but are gamified activities.)

You can also check out this site to purchase game components for board games or card games at a reasonable price. Available items include tokens, dice, game boards, cards, chips, money, etc: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts

How to Connect Games to a Corporate Learning Curriculum

connect-games

Thinking about using games for learning? You might want to question your motivations, first.

Using a serious game or gamification platform in corporate learning can be a great option, but it’s not the the right solution for every situation. We often ask our customers and clients some simple questions to determine if a game fits their needs:

  • Are your current learning solutions presenting challenges to people?
  • Do your solutions provide strong feedback?
  • Do your solutions motivate people to engage?

Challenges, motivation, and feedback are all characteristics of games that make them ideal in a corporate learning curriculum. And while other types of learning solutions can also provide challenge, motivation and feedback… games often do them best.

Behavior Change… or Check the Box?

So much “training” organizations create is really just a “check the box” exercise in company communication. In these situations, are games and gamification really needed? If we really are just complying with a procedure and are not attached to the outcome, it might actually make better business sense to not use an innovative learning solution.

On the other hand, if routine communication is important, we might seek a way to gamify the process and make people more engaged in the communication we are sending out.

Bottom line: if you don’t really care what people learn or remember, games are not the right choice. When job performance and retention do matter, you should consider game-based solutions. Let’s look at some scenarios:

When to Use Games in Corporate Learning

Here are four situations that take advantages of the innate strengths games have as engagement tools. They represent either use of a game or a gamification of the learning experience:

  • People need to know something “cold” (e.g. from memory, sort of like multiplication tables) and it’s not information that is enjoyable or easy – on its own – to learn.
  • People’s hearts and emotions need to be affected in order to open them up to new ways of viewing something or understanding something.
  • People need a safe way to evaluate their skills and behaviors – and to improve them. People who think they are stellar at project management can play a project management game and get an entirely new insight into how they ACTUALLY behave when faced with constraints or pressures.
  • People need ongoing motivation in order to stay engaged in a long-term endeavor (a certification process, a long-term company initiative).

Example: We worked with a global company this year to prepare sales reps for the launch of a new product AND their first-ever Android Smartphones. We created a mobile game that helped them build their product knowledge as well as build skills in navigating the phone and accessing information. They loved competing, achieving new levels, and seeing their scores go up. The game’s challenges and feedback kept them highly engaged, and by the end of the game, they were adept at linking product features and benefits to specific customer questions and objections AND in using their phones.

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4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning (Free Download)

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

A growing body of research supports the use of serious games in the workplace. And thanks to a year of successful implementations in corporate settings, some great case studies now point the way for organizations ready to use games for learning.

Whether you want to use a true serious game, a gamified solution, or a combination of the two… it’s a great time to do so.

While research shows that people learn more from games than other learning solutions, many L&D practicioners still do not know why games work… so they avoid using games entirely.

If you think you want to use a game for learning, you first must become familiar with the types of “fun” in games, what’s required for real learning to happen, and the ways games can link the two.

We’ve created a new guide to help you accomplish this. The content, researched and written by Knowledge Guru creator (and BLP president) Sharon Boller, takes the mystery out of using serious games in the enterprise. It’s a simple thing, really: become familiar with the ways people have fun in games, identify the common principles all effective learning solutions share, and then carefully map the two together.

And once  you map the “fun” elements of your serious game to the elements needed for learning, you’ll also want to employ some research-based learning principles to actually help people remember the content after they’ve learned it. Are your game mechanics and game elements actually mapped to the cognitive tasks learners need to perform on the job? Are you taking advantage of the latest research on how the human brain best commits knowledge to long-term memory?

The guide, titled 4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning, is available as a free download.

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

The 12 Corporate Learning Content Areas… and Where Games Fit

Corporate Learning Content Areas

When it comes to game-based learning, 2014 is the year of theory moving into practice. An increasing number of organizations are planning initiatives to include games in their learning solutions. The research has been validated and plans are being set.

But if you’ve never designed a game before, or tried to include a game in your training, where do you begin?

The answer, of course, depends on the type of training you are developing. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report includes a wonderful table with the twelve most common content areas found in corporate training. Some of these content areas are rather broad, but they are a great starting point for visualizing the types of training we frequently develop. The content areas are shown below:

12 corporate learning content areas

The type of game you might create will vary widely for each content area. I’ve included a general suggestion or two for each content area below, but the list is not exhaustive! Use the suggestions as a starting point.

Managerial and Supervisory:

Soft-skills training often (but not always) works best in face-to-face situations. Why not use a role playing game to give learners situational practice? Rote Q&A, points, and badges will be of less value.

Mandatory and Compliance:

This is the sort of information we need to know, or our organization needs us to know. Since it often requires memorization, compliance training can be tedious. Consider a game that puts the content in a fun setting and employs some research-based learning principles to help people memorize the information faster.

Processes, Procedures, and Business Practices:

Processes and procedures are often foundational knowledge, just like compliance. Gamifying the process of basic memorization will work well here, but make sure you add context when possible. Even a game centered around Q&A can have context if you add highly relevant scenario questions.

Profession or Industry-Specific:
This topic is admittedly broad, so our suggestion for a game should really be “it depends.” Assuming the subject matter is applied, your game must be a realistic simulation of the work environment, or at least of the cognitive task being performed.
Sales:
Sales training is often face to face because of the interpersonal element. Why not try a tabletop board game? If you need to train virtually, some vendors offer highly immersive digital games where players hone their negotiation and persuasion skills. These approaches can also be helpful, as long as they are not overly simplistic. Since you are designing a game for sales reps, why not make it competitive?
IT and Systems:
The subject is highly technical, and the information often must be memorized. Give learners a game that rewards them for being thorough and helps them reinforce their knowledge through the game’s mechanics.
New Employee Orientation:
New hire training is often basic and foundational. Elements like badges and leaderboards are helpful here because new employees can see how they stack up with others and even form some social connections.
Interpersonal Skills:
A tabletop board game is ideal for soft skills training… especially one that involves scenarios and active communication with other players.
Executive Development:
So many things go into executive development. Resource management and territory acquisition games are excellent for developing strategic thinking.
Customer Service:
A simple card game with customer scenarios can work well here. If the customer service environment is often rushed (such as for food service workers), consider adding a timed element to the game.
Basic Skills:
Basic skills are another type of training that often falls under “foundational knowledge.” Points, badges, and leaderboards are a good start, as you are trying to keep people motivated to learn what they need while knowing that the content itself is not so exciting.
Other (Quality, Product Knowledge):
People need to know it… and this type of training often involves either memorization or knowing where to locate the right information when needed. The game should either employ learning principles that help people memorize quickly (spaced learning, repetition, feedback), or reinforce where they should go to locate the information.
use-games-for-learning

DevLearn Post-Conference Resources

We had a great deal of fun talking games and gamification at DevLearn 2013. Whether you attended Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s learning game design workshop, visited the Knowledge Guru® booth in the Expo, or attended our learning stage session on ways you can build your own games, we are grateful for the opportunity to connect and share with you.

In the learning stage session I gave with Leanne Batchelder, Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself, I called out some specific resources we would send to you after the conference. Here they are:

Scroll of Knowledge: Game-Based Learning: Why Does it Work?

This downloadable PDF outlines the four requirements needed for learning, then maps them to game elements and mechanics that match. The scroll is a great introduction to the world of games. If you’d like to see the sources and research studies associated with the scroll, contact us.

View Game Based Learning Scroll

Event Slides: Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself

Our learning stage session summarized the recent research and case studies surrounding the use of games for learning, then showed you how you can use Knowledge Guru to build your own learning games. See the slides below.

Business Cases for Serious Games

5 Business Cases that Call for Serious Games

No matter what learning solution you think you want to produce, it’s important to identify the learning need (and business need) before starting a project. Do you really need a new gamification platform, or are you trying to follow the latest trends? Is mobile learning a must-have in your organization, is it just another upper management whim?

Serious games are worth a look when you want to improve performance in an organization, but one size does not fit all. In a recent blog post on GamaSutra, Andrzej Marcewski points out that “serious games” is too broad of a term to actually be useful. Saying you need a “serious game” can mean so many things, from a simulator to a teaching game to a “meaningful game” as Marcewski puts it.

Our definition of serious games is the same as what you’ll find on Wikipedia: “games with a purpose beyond pure entertainment.” This definition is indeed broad, and means a wide variety of games, with various levels of immersion, can all share the name serious game.

It’s easy to imagine how simulating an operating room or a cockpit can be used to help people practice, but what about situations where games and simulations don’t seem as obvious? We find that many organizations are faced with a problem more fundamental than helping people practice complex skills: helping employees acquire basic knowledge. For employees, it’s usually not fun to do this.

Business Cases for Serious Games

Here are five common business situations where a serious game can help:

  1. Your product launch cycles are too fast, with little time to train sales and support teams: A well-designed serious game that helps people learn product facts and features can save significant time and money over traditional training methods. Instead of emailing a series of PDFs and Powerpoints, or making people sit through a boring webinar, design a fun game that allows players to learn and memorize the material as they play.
  2. Your new hire training is boring and ineffective: Most people dread the obligatory courses and presentations they must endure when starting a new job. Other companies don’t have much of a system for training new people at all. If the onboarding process is not standardized, employees will end up with major knowledge gaps later in their jobs. Consider incorporating a serious game into new hire training to make learning company facts, policies and procedures more palatable.
  3. Customer-facing roles in your organization must know (and easily recite) large amounts of complex information: It’s important to help people acquire an in-depth knowledge base in a field, but it is also extremely helpful to show people any go-to “talking points” they need to help them perform better right away. Once again, a serious game focused on the memorization of facts can help ease this challenge.
  4. You are switching over to a new IT system that no one knows how to use: IT rollouts are a huge headache for basically everyone. Most of the time, we learn the ropes of a new system by muddling through lots of trial and error. A serious game can make the experience of learning a new system much more efficient.
  5. You must comply with a new safety certification that no one knows anything about: Once again, a serious game designed to help people memorize and retain information can help you here. Even when employees understand the importance of regulatory compliance, they rarely want to take the time to learn the ins and outs of a set of procedures. A serious game makes a ton of sense when dealing with OSHA, HIPAA and other compliance situations.

Simulations and complex games are often top of mind when people talk about serious games. There are plenty of places on the web to learn more about these types of games, while the more painstaking task of helping people acquire basic information often gets overlooked. Use the five business cases described above to inspire you as you look to find ways to apply serious games in your organization.

Our own Knowledge Guru game engine is designed to help people acquire knowledge. You can learn exactly how it works by scheduling a demo.

Using Game Elements to Improve Learning Outcomes

Sharon Boller, Knowledge Guru® creator and BLP prez, has written a new white paper on Game Mechanics and Game Elements. I gave some of my own general ideas on game mechanics in a previous post, and this one’s all about game elements. Sharon identifies 12 common ones in the white paper:

  • Conflict
  • Cooperation
  • Competition
  • Strategy
  • Chance
  • Aesthetics (ooo, pretty!)
  • Theme
  • Story
  • Resources
  • Time
  • Rewards
  • Levels
  • Scoring

Are these the only game elements? Of course not. They ARE the most common ones, and chances are you could analyze any game you’ve played and find at least a few of these. The white paper goes into detail for each one of these elements, covering a few key points:

  • What type of learners/players will respond well to each element.
  • What learning objectives work best with each element.
  • What questions you should ask as a learning designer when attempting to use each element.
  • Specific examples of game elements found in commercial games, as well as learning games we have created.

No matter what game elements you use, always think about how they will work together with your game mechanics to maximize the learning experience for your players. You’ll need to play test a few times to get everything just right, but that is just a part of game design.

Learn More in Our White Paper

Learning Game Design White Paper - free downloadUsing Game Mechanics and Game Elements in Learning Games is 25 pages of specific advice and examples for creating learning games. It’s designed as a practical guide rather than a collection of theories. You can use it to make your learning game design efforts better right away. Download it now.

 

 

Games and Gamification: Research from the eLearning Guild

Recently, the elearning Guild published a report by Brenda Enders discussing games and gamification for learning. It includes numerous case studies and examples of games being used in the workplace today, and summarizes recent research on games for learning.

eLearning Guild Gamification Report

I’ll attempt the summarize my key takeaways from the report, but I encourage you to download the full report and read it yourself. My takeaways are intentionally broad and high-level, so as not to ruin the “punch” of the report itself.

Research Support Games and Gamification for Learning

The report heavily cites Dr. Karl Kapp’s book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Most of us at BLP have this book on our desks, so the content was not unfamiliar to us. Karl’s book includes an entire chapter reviewing meta-analysis studies on games. The research indicates an advantage for game-based learning over traditional forms of instruction.

Four more research studies are cited in the report, featuring researchers like Traci Sitzmann, Robert Hays, James Paul Gee, and Jane McGonigal. These studies support the use of game-based learning in a variety of disciplines. Out of respect for the Guild and the work they have done compiling their report, I encourage you to read the full report if you would like to see the specific studies.

My takeaway? Game-based learning is proven to be effective for learning. There are many case studies of gamification working well, too… but less specific research has been done on gamification at this point.

A reminder: Game-based learning and gamification are different

This is a common misconception we encounter in our work with clients, so it is worth mentioning here. Many a blog post and article have been written about the difference between games and gamification. Here’s the definition for games Sharon Boller includes in her presentations:

A game is an activity with a defined goal or challenge, rules that guide achievement of the goal, interactivity with either other players or the game environment (or both), and feedback mechanisms that give clear cues as to how well or poorly you are performing. Playing results in a quantifiable outcome (you win/you lose, you hit the target, etc). Usually generates an emotional reaction in players.

Gamification, on the other hand, is the inclusion of various game mechanics and game elements in a non-game context. A simplistic example of gamification for learning would be adding points, badges, and a leaderboard to your eLearning course. Not the best example, mind you, but simple.

I was pleased that Enders made this distinction quite clear in the eLearning Guild report.

Organizations are starting to invest major $$ into games

The most powerful case study found in the report tells the story of McDonalds Japan, which invested $2.2 million USD to develop a Nintendo DS game for front-line staff. McDonalds gave two devices to each store and had new hires train on basic food prep and service tasks as part of their orientation training.

The result? Training time was cut in half, and that adds up to major savings for a company with high employee turnover.

And while it is exciting to read real case studies of games being used for learning with real success, stories like this worry me, too. Most organizations do NOT have $2.2 million to invest in a learning game… and they also do not have game designers on staff with the skills to design an effective game. A well-designed game will deliver the type of results mentioned in this report, but a poorly-designed game will just waste time and money.

Many examples of gamification are available

The eLearning Guild report has several pages of real-world gamification platforms… and explains how organizations are using these platforms. This type of information is highly useful to organizations trying to evaluate the best place to start with games and gamification.

Some case studies of game-based learning are included, too, but there are fewer of these in the report. Gamification has been the initial focus for most organizations, simply because they can “gamify” existing non-game elements and platforms they may already have. Creating an all-new, self-contained learning game is more challenging.

Summary

While I’ve tried to avoid spoiling all of the “punch” of the actual report itself, I hope my takeaways convey the general themes found in Brenda Enders’ report. The eLearning Guild does an excellent job of gathering research for the community to put to practical use, and I highly recommend reading the report itself for a more detailed analysis.

It’s exciting to see such an extensive report on games and gamification available to the broader eLearning community… and even more exciting to see so much research supporting the use of games for learning.

Final Step in Learning Game Design: Playtest, playtest, playtest

Previous posts in this learning game design series have focused on sexy stuff such as game goals and core dynamics, game mechanics, game elements, or scoring and rewards. This final post is about the critical importance of playtesting your game as you move through development.

Playtest Playtest Playtest

Designing  a game is different than designing an eLearning solution. There is a totally new term that comes into the process: playtesting. Playtesting is NOT usability testing, focus group testing, quality assurance testing, or internal design review. Playtesting is what you do to evaluate whether your game is really playable and that it  functions the way you intended for it to function – as a game and as a learning solution.

Playtesting helps you answer these questions: Is it fun? Is it balanced (e.g. not too hard and not too easy)? Is it complete? Did people learn what you intended for them to learn? Playtesting is not something you do once or twice. You do it several times, each time further refining your game play experience and the learning experience. For mega-games like Halo or The Sims, designers may have done up to 3,000 hours of playtesting to verify that their game worked. For a learning game you craft yourself – or with a small team – you should assume at least 30-40 hours of play testing. Gulp – that’s right. 30-40 hours of testing time.

Phases of Playtesting

Playtesting_OLC13

Your first playtest is with the very first version of the learning game you create, which should be a paper prototype. The image above is a paper prototype participants created in the Play to Learn workshop that Karl Kapp and I do together.  It’s rudimentary, but it gets the job done. The game designers and learning designers very quickly discover what works and where the holes are – and there will be holes. They’ll also come up with new ideas or ways to tackle problems. Here’s an overview of the three major phases of playtesting you should plan to go through. You may do multiple rounds of playtesting within each phase.

Phase 1 –  Self-test. You and your design team play the initial prototype and evaluate it. It’s okay to do a lot of discussing while you’re playing – and modifying rules and ideas on the fly as you go. You should keep game materials very basic for this test. Paper is best. If the paper test goes well, you can shift to online formats. If it doesn’t, re-do the game on paper and playtest it again as a paper version before going online.

Phase 2 –  Play test with friends and colleagues. Once you go through initial playtests with your design team and refine your game a few times, you’re ready to pull in some outside perspectives. Ideally you will include someone from your target audience.  Your team’s job  is to sit back and observes (quietly!) while others come in and play the game. At this point, you want there to be some legitimate game assets – artwork, programmed interactions, real content, scoring, and rules to follow.  You’ll debrief the experience and then decide what changes to make.

Phase 3 –  Play test with (gulp) strangers. Ideally all these strangers represent your target audience. These folks will be 100% objective, which friends and colleagues are not. I’ve learned the hard way (by going too far with internal playtesting and getting “great” results) that you need to loop in people who do not care about your feelings or the amount of time you’ve spent on the game. However, they SHOULD reflect people who really need to learn the stuff in your game. Otherwise, they can rate it lower simply because it’s not of interest to them.

6 Tips For a Good Learning Game Play Test

  1. Don’t share the background of the game before people play. That’s part of the playtest. Can your players “get it” without you explaining what the game is about?
  2. Do tell them what to expect: 15-20 minutes of game play followed by Q&A.
  3. Emphasize the need for playtesters to “think out loud” as they play. You want to hear their internal thoughts spoken aloud. Things such as “This is really confusing.” “I don’t understand the rules.” “I wonder what would happen if I make this choice? ” are all good things to say aloud.
  4. Keep your own mouth closed as much as you can. Do help players if they get truly stuck, but try to limit your interactions with players during the game.
  5. Stop play after about 20 minutes and conclude with debrief questions. Take copious notes.
  6. Keep a playtesting journal or log that documents the results of each playtest you do and chronicles the decisions you make about game changes.

Post-play debrief questions

We used to have a pretty big list of questions we asked. We’ve distilled the list down to five:

  1. What did you learn? Compare responses to what people were supposed to learn. Rationale: if people didn’t learn, the game doesn’t work – no matter how fun people think it was. It’s critical you get people to tell you what they learned in their own words so you can compare it against the learning goal and learning objectives of the game.
  2. On a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being low and 5 being high, what was your engagement level in the game play experience? Rationale: if people weren’t engaged, then they aren’t having fun – and games should be fun. They should intrigue or interest the player. Otherwise, the player will mentally check out pretty quickly and not learn much of anything.
  3. Did your engagement level change at any point during play (going up, down)? Rationale: There could be a confusing game element, a rule that needs to be changed or enhanced, or some other game element that requires adjustment to maximize the experience. Conversely, the game could start slow and really build for players. You want to assess all of this and determine if and how the game goal, the core dynamic, the game mechanics, or the game elements need to be tweaked. Careful listening can help you decide if you need to adjust a game element, a rule, or even the game’s goal or core dynamic.
  4. If it did change, why did it change?
  5. What, if anything did you find confusing or hard to understand as you played? Get people to explain their responses. Don’t accept a “Yes. The rules were confusing.” Rationale: even on a good game, there can be some confusion about how to play. Your job is to figure out whether the player’s confusion warrants action on your part. Did their confusion affect their learning or the engagement factor? If not, you may decide to do nothing. Was confusion limited to a single player or did many players report the same confusion?