Updated: Jan 19
This week I had an interview with Ariel and Paulina from The Wild Optimisits. They are the creators behind the first Escape Room In a Box: The Werewolf Experiment. After a massive success off the back of a crowdfunding campaign, they let Mattel take care of the manufacturing and moved on to creating puzzle-based immersive experiences for a wide variety of events, productions, and individuals.
I was privileged to hear their story, their process, and how they work together as a team. I learned from them that the value of playtesting can not be understated, I would argue that the success of their business, brand, and projects comes from complete dedication to playtesting and refining until they feel satisfied. I loved talking to Ariel and Juliana and felt inspired listening to how they approach their work as designers.
For me, I tend to avoid playtesting. Until this conversation, I always felt like a product was finished when a functioning prototype was complete. Playtesting can be tedious, frustrating, slow, and confusing. Players will sometime want to critique things you don't want to be critiqued, and will offer advice that feels useless.
But talking to experience designers has taught me that ALL advice is important. If the player is dissatisfied then it is worth noting that there is something to be addressed in the experience. The player is never the problem.
So when I next develop a functioning prototype, my aim is to regard playtesting as yet another design phase. I think organising, booking, and scheduling playtests where I can observe as a fly on the wall will be helpful. And with everyone very quickly learning how to Zoom during the pandemic, should be simple to setup.
I now look forward to the next playtesting I will do. I dare say it will be for a revised Date Night Treasure Hunt (Play At Home Edition). I will use this as a testing ground to do playtesting correctly so that I can feel more confident in my product, my skillset, and my players.
As well as playtesting your own games it is vitally important that you simply play the games of others. I have found that by playing other tabletop escape games I have discovered the player's experience for mechanisms that I was thinking of using. This can be valuable insight because it lets you have a real, raw, and emotional experience with game mechanics, and can help guide your design process. If you're interested in the how to play escape rooms games at home check out this article by my friends over at Puzzling Pursuits for a full guide.
If you would like to listen to the full interview be sure to check out the Fictional Reality podcast here.