Playing a game that didn’t have proper testing is like driving a used car that was never maintained. In the worst case scenario, it could break down any moment while you are driving. In the best case, it could have some minor defect that makes your drive uncomfortable. Bug testing, gameplay testing, and accessibility testing are the three categories that I consider to be essential before releasing a game.
Bug testing should never be neglected before releasing a game. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t have the resources allocated to it that it should. Bugs in games are extremely common, I’ve run into many game breaking bugs of varying severity. Corrupted save files, broken menus, and lost items all on a single 3DS game is a recent example. While some games are infested with game breaking bugs that cause players to give up on them, even more games have minor bugs and glitches that aren’t game breaking but detract from their enjoyment. It’s important during development to keep track of all of your bugs and tackle as many as you can based on their priority.
For many independent developers, there is no bug testing budget. The job often falls into the hands of the developers, who will often fall into a routine when testing their game which will fail to reveal many bugs. When testing your game, it’s important to try and think about all possible ways that someone can play your game. It’s also possible to find individuals who will test if you offer them a free copy of your game. They can be invaluable, but the value can be decreased if you are directly watching them test your game and provide suggestions while they play. It’s best to watch them play without any guidance and take notes at areas that you think need further explaining to them. Remember that you will still need to test your game differently than the average player’s play through. This includes tedious activities such as running into walls and jumping in every possible direction. Bug testing can be exhausting, but releasing a game with game breaking bugs will ruin many player’s experience.
One of the main focuses of gameplay testing is balance and flow of the game. Finding bottlenecks in difficulty is important for creating an enjoyable game. If you find a difficulty spike that causes many testers to get stuck, then you should try tweaking your design in that section of the game to smooth out the difficulty curve. Be careful not to remove all of your spikes, as having an entirely smooth experience will feel dull. From my own personal experience, I tend to only smooth out difficulty spikes that occur for the majority of players.
Another important aspect of testing is accessibility. This ranges from testing color values for colorblind players to keybindings and button placements for general player ease of use. Some accessibility issues can be very minor, but add an overall polished feel to your game. For example, there are countless games that I’ve played that have had menus that have inconsistencies or total lack of keyboard support. For many games that require mice to play, this is acceptable, but when a game forces you to move from keyboard only controls to mouse for menus it becomes a minor annoyance. Another common accessibility issue is games that rely only on audio cues without providing a visual cue as well before an event, such as an enemy attack. Proper accessibility testing will ensure that a larger audience can enjoy your game.
Your game will feel more polished and provide users with a more enjoyable experience if you can allocate time to bug testing, gameplay testing, and accessibility testing. While thorough testing can be very costly, even without any budget it is possible to find issues that need to be fixed when you know what you are looking for. Even limited maintenance on a car can be the difference between a car that breaks down and one that makes it to your destination.