Crawling Before You Walk with Live Playtests and Babies

My daughter is mere days away from becoming a full, crawling baby. I always comment to my wife that it feels like we just brought her home from the hospital, yet it was nearly eight months ago. Eight!

It’s unbelievable to me how easily my daughter nearly stands on her own. I keep joking that it seems like she might walk before she crawls, but perhaps that is the biased parent in me. Regardless, there’s a reason babies start by crawling, and it’s not just a cliche. It’s safer, better for their development, and means they aren’t running yet, which is good for this dad!

Baby Sloane showing off her (almost) standing skills.

Similarly, I am seeing the “crawling” stage of Gamestormers, the board game I am developing where you design a game to win the game. I’ve made a game that’s playable and meets my design goals, but it’s not quite there yet. It needs a lot of different target audience members to try it out, find its weaknesses, and affirm what needs to stay.

It feels like a crawl because right now… the progress is slow. I don’t feel the large-scale changes happening that I saw in the earlier development stages. Instead, the days are more about lining up new playtesters and getting feedback on those playtests. It’s weighing the feedback against the game goals and objectives to decide what needs tweaking. It’s also about making sure those playtests set up the players for success.

A live playtest of Gamestormers at the Midwest Edtech Summit.

Speaking of playtesters, I’ve had the great honor of running public playtests at a live event, the first since the pandemic shut down most educational events the past two years. The Midwest Edtech Summit gave me the chance to host five playtesting sessions, which led to 12 groups playing the game in groups of four. I taught the game, floated between the groups, and listened as they played the game I designed.

It was a great lesson in humility and growth to watch and hear how the game was received. Lots of the playtesters were not big gamers, so seeing the initial learning curve for some of the board game mechanics was eye-opening. After a few turns, however, most everyone had that “a-ha” moment where they realized what game they wanted to make. I cannot thank those individuals enough for their time and feedback.

Doing a digital playtest of Gamestormers with friends.

Beyond live playtests in person, I’ve also had the chance to play Gamestormers with others over Tabletopia online. Whether it has been with other educators to get their feedback or with friends who love a good board game, having a digital copy to tweak easily and share with others has been invaluable. It also helps facilitate that slow “crawl” in a tangible way, giving me a snapshot of the progress of the game to view and expand upon.

If you take anything away from this post, just know that the crawling period can feel like it drags on and little progress is being made, but it’s a crucial step in the process. Don’t be discouraged by what feels like small increments and false starts – they’re a necessary part of growth.

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