The Cult of the New is certainly a thing. There are many people who want the newest game RIGHT NOW and to be the first to play it. There are lines outside of video game stores at midnight for a new release (or at least there were…do they still do that now?), and kickstarters and pre-orders are the biggest things I see talked about on BoardgameGeek.
But want to see and play a game sooner?
Why not playtest?
I’ll tell you why. It’s HARD!
I got my first taste of playtesting monkeying around with my uber-creative friend’s ideas he had scribbled on index cards. He’s made indie-rpgs, card games, you name it. Usually we play it for a night, I have little info to offer, we shrug and give a few points as to what might help, but really just say “It’s okay,” and that’s the end of that.
But then I heard about Bios: Genesis and thought, hey, how does one actually get in on REAL playtesting? So I asked. And wouldn’t you know it, Phil Ecklund himself replied: “By asking.”
It would appear that for the smaller companies, at least, they WANT playtesters, and lots of them. How can a game be any good without testing? So they want a lot of eyes on them before release to make sure it doesn’t stink or there’s glaring errors.
Bam, I’m now a playtester. I get a link to a bunch of files, I quietly print them out when the boss isn’t around, scrounge around my other games for enough pieces and sit down to play. Of course, when I sit down, I realize there’s already been some changes to the cards, so I have to reprint a few things. Dang. Well, okay, here we go. NOW I can start playing.
But the rules have changed quite a bit since the last time I read them, so let me read them again. Good thing there’s a “View Changes” button in Google Docs.
Okay, let’s give this a whirl. Now I play, but I also write down EVERY MOVE I MAKE as I go, so that I can make sure I’m playing every rule correctly and also to answer any questions that I may be asked: “Were the parasites aggressive?” “Yes, they attacked me on turns 4,5,7,9,10 and 16, winning about 70% of those attacks.” “How hard was it to make life?” “Making life was easy, keeping it for more than 2 turns was hard.” etc.
That made a 60-90min game take about 120min. There was also a Vassal Mod (don’t know about Vassal? You should get it), so that meant I could play during low spots during work. And I was asked to. I was asked to try games with certain rules. I was asked to try under different circumstances. I was asked to look at other strategies. I was asked to try and break things. I had to play the game a LOT.
Don’t get me wrong, I was never FORCED to, and I never signed a contract or anything, and I could have given up at any point (there was certainly a week or two with Genesis where I stopped playing just to relax a bit), but I could see all the hard work the designers were putting into things, and I wanted to do at least a decent percentage of the same amount of work they were.
Now I’m working on Bios: Megafauna 2, and it’s very similar. This is a LOT more work since it’s a bigger game, and the rules have changed significantly from week to week. I’ve tried three different solitaire variants, as well as 2 completely different multiplayer versions (one with simultaneous action choices). And it’s work.
As for rewards, it might be nothing. It might be only a mention in the credits of the game under Playtester (which, I have to admit, is kind of awesome to see). It might be a free copy of the game you’ve already played a million times. Is being the first to play it worth it?
Do not become a playtester just because you want to be first and want to see what a game is before it hits the shelf. Only be a playtester if you actually want to be a part of the process and WORK at making the game a better thing. But it does feel awesome when you see a problem get fixed, it does feel awesome when a game designer says “Good idea,” to something you suggest, it does feel awesome when a good idea becomes a great idea and becomes a great game right before your eyes. It’s totally worth it, in the same way becoming a parent is worth it. Don’t do it just because you want the tax write-off or you want to dress it up in funny clothes and get attention, do it because you want it to become great and send it off into the world and say “I had a part in making that.”