There’s been a lot of talk over here about alpha testing lately.

I got asked what an alpha test was so I thought it would be a good idea to write down what we define an alpha test to be and what we’re looking to get out of it.

What is an alpha test?

A private round of testing on a feature incomplete product.

Why alpha test?

We want to answer the question “Do people like what we’re making?”.

During the game design process we’ve made assumptions of what our customers will enjoy; the mechanics, UI, art, sound, music, core gameplay loop etc. The earlier and more often we can get feedback, the more likely the game will be to succeed.

How do you set up a successful alpha test?

The best setting for an alpha test would be one which represents the majority case of how the end product will be used.

Single player hardcore RPG? Find a few people who play RPGs, sit them down individually and have a 1 on 1 testing sessions.

Casual couch co-op game? Find a group of gamers of varying tastes and experience, sit them down together and have a group testing session.

Ensure a seamless experience for your testers by making sure everything is prepped and a timetable has been created. 

What about conducting a successful alpha test?

Record everything (screen capture and real life). This will ensure you get and retain as much information as possible for later analysis.

Conducting a test in person is always preferable. A lot of great feedback is silent; a player may be struggling with the build mechanic but might not actually say anything while they attempt to navigate your build menu.

Have key questions ready. If you don’t get feedback about something in particular, ask specific questions, e.g. “What did you think of the build menu layout?”.

Additional tips?

Have multiple rounds with different testers, the more variation the better.

When you’ve implemented feedback, make sure to go back to the people or group who gave you that feedback and retest the update.