Playtesting: Pros and Cons of Playtesting Techniques

When creating a video game, it is important to test certain aspects of your game to see whether or not you are going in the right direction in the design process. The two different playtest  methods I will be focusing on in this blog will be greyboxing and vertical slice playtests. I am specifically focusing on these types because I have used them during my education at University. 

Greybox Testing

The first playtesting method, and the one I have used the most is the greyboxing method. A greybox playtest consists of the testers playing a nearly fully functioning game. This means that the game (or level) you want to test is mechanically complete from start to finish. Because this is a greybox playtest, not all aspects of the game or level are complete yet, including textures, in-game 3D models, dialouge and audio. Usually, recycled models, cubes and untextured models are used in place of the final versions.

The pros of greyboxing is that as a designer, you don't have to worry about how the game looks for the playtest, and focus on the mechanics of the game or level. Greyboxing is a great way to test whether or not a new feature is working as intended such as level layout or a new mechanic.

Greyboxing, even though effective more tackling mechanical issues, can also be problematic. If your level or game is trying to portray an emotion or trying to get the player to feel something, greyboxes and stand-in music generally wont cut it. A good exmaple of this is with my Studio 2 project called "Uplifter". This game had to make the player feel 4 different emotions throughout the play time. A huge part of triggering these emotional responses in our game was our colour scheme and audio. Without the audio, the game was extremely boring and became unplayable after only a few seconds. This is why we found Vertical Slice Playtesting to work better for us for this project.

Vertical Slice Playtesting

Vertical slice playtesting is another widely used form of game testing, and is one I have been using myself. Vertical Slice Playtesting differs from greyboxing because of the way a game or level (or part of a game or level) are presented. As mentioned previously, greyboxing usually focuses heavily on the mechanical side of the game, and less of the look. Vertical Slice focuses on a short section of the game or level, and tries to bring the full experience to the player. This is very similar to what a demo is used for. Vertical Slices usually have all final models, textures and mechanics, but focus on a certain thing the designer wants to test. For example, I used Vertical Slice to test the emotional response from the first level of my game Uplifter. This level had its final layout, as well as its textures and audio implemented. This gave us a very accurate reading about the player experience, something we couldn't have gotten from greboxing.

The pros of Vertical Slice playtesting is that it allows players to experience a small section of a game to its close-to-full potential. This gives the designers really valuable information on how the player interacts with the game, as well how the game makes the player feel.

Some cons of Vertical Slicing is that it takes a lot of time and effort to create a section of a game to close-to 100% completion and the designer might not even get the desired information they are looking for because they are missing out certain parts of the game and level.