Game Stories and Playtesting

Recently I read an article on someone from Ubisoft expressing in interest in playtesting narratives for future games, which piqued my interest. For those not in the know – play testing is when people play a game to give feedback. They’ll let the developer know what’s broken, what’s working, what’s great, what’s awful and more. It’s a totally essential part of developing a game, and as the person in this article pointed it, is missing from the narrative.

To my knowledge, no game has even had the narrative ‘play tested’. They haven’t had people sit in a room and give feedback on what works in the story and what doesn’t – as usual, the narrative has taken a backseat to mechanics. I think there’re a few reasons for this, and I’ll outline those in this post.

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Firstly, I think it’s because writers don’t want a bunch of assholes jumping in and telling them how to write. They probably don’t want non-assholes doing it either, but that’s neither here nor there.

I think there’s merit to this, though. Everyone has different tastes, and nobody’s ever going to write a story that everybody loves. As such, you’ll always receive negative criticism from somewhere. The other point here is that writing takes a huge amount of time and effort, both during and after the planning stage. If a group of 20 people all tell you the Talking Pie is a stupid idea, it’s not a small job to change that, especially in Games Development where assets and mechanics have already been created.

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Sorry, talking pie.

I suspect this is a major reason that stories aren’t tested in the same capacity as mechanics. It’s simply a massive job to change anything significant, which is something most teams can’t afford to do, unless Gina Rineheart finally starts a game development company (in which case, we should expect more pies).

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“If I like pies so much, then how come yoobah koh ra doh ka mallo wampa mah yass ka chung kawah wookiee?” – Gina Rineheart, probably.

Another major point is that most game developers simply couldn’t give less of a shit about the narrative. There’s a reason for this, too. As mentioned, narrative is a huge amount of work, and it just isn’t a major selling point. Since you’re on this blog it’s safe to assume you’re interested in video games (as well as being attractive and lovable), so your favourite game/s probably have a decent narrative in there somewhere. But to use the famous Call of Duty example, pumping out the same bullshit year-after-year is the safest way to make a lot of money, and people are going to do just that. This means cutting back on narrative, as you’d know if you’ve played any Call of Duty ever.

Now, some people really DO give a shit about narrative. Take my all-time favourite developer, Hideo Kojima (who is probably leaving Konami, which is a topic for another time, when I can safely cry alone in my bathtub without judgement). The problem here, I think, is passion. If you write a story you absolutely love, you’re probably not going to accept criticism from people who are literally being paid to play games (hey, I am one, I can criticise my own people). There’s a point where you have to put your foot down and stick to an idea – the problem is that it’s impossible to know where this point is, which leads to awful stubbornness in creators.

Those are basically the problems I see. It’s expensive, the writer’s not going to want to go along with it, the testers can flat-out be wrong and I don’t like Gina Rineheart.

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