First I want to talk about Beta Testing.
We started as a Kickstarter project a year ago, and, nearly from the get-go, were really lucky to have a lot of beta testing opportunities with the general public. At first, when asked if we wanted to join an event, I was just like, "Sure, couldn't hurt," but in retrospect, it really helped to watch random people play the game and see how they respond.
And I mean all KINDS of people played. We had a booth at a few "Demo Nights" held by a local tech incubator in Athens, Georgia, where we live, and everyone from seasoned gamers, to newbie mothers, to programmers, to artists gave Cafe Murder a try. They all responded differently, but seeing their reactions helped me figure out how to make the game more accessible, easy to understand, and fun.
We had surveys for them to fill out afterwards, of course, but I learned more from being there in person, hearing what they said, and seeing how they reacted to the game. People tended to be brief and vague in the surveys, but when watching them play, I could see specific things that confused them- not understanding how to pick up and incinerate trash, for example- or see them laugh when the chef stabbed a helpless customer. Seeing their faces get focused or intense when they got into the game was one of the greatest feelings, and a big motivator!
We also had the opportunity to join a game development camp for teenagers, give a presentation about ourselves, and then have them play and give us their feedback. They were by far the most positive and receptive audience we've had, and at that point we realized, "This is our target audience!" (11-17-year-olds)
Another awesome thing about all the beta testing was that it gave us regular deadlines. Having a deadline is great motivation for getting stuff done, and I know we benefitted from regularly having a date to push for, and it's almost all thanks to Four Athens (the local tech incubator) for hosting so many tech Meet & Greet and Demo Night events. Thanks, guys!!
So, if you ever have the chance to let a bunch of total strangers play your game- even if it's people who've never touched a game before- don't pass it up! Their feedback can help a lot- and if even a total newbie can grasp your game, that's usually a really good sign!
Well, that's all for now- I'll save my other thoughts for future posts! Here's a trailer for Cafe Murder if you wanna see what it's actually like: https://vimeo.com/51028814 (not sure about the January 2013 part, though- maybe February? heh)