Playtesting In The Labs

Sutherland Labs are one of the few agencies in London with two fully equipped labs capable of simultaneous playtesting and observation. As a games enthusiast (AKA a huge nerd), one of the reasons I joined was the fact that we do playtesting for games studios. Earlier this year, we ran 6 groups of 4 participants each through 90-minute sessions. This included observing participants playing the game, collecting survey data, and conducting individual post-gameplay interviews. As always, we did a lot of prep and planning to ensure that participants had everything they needed to provide the most useful feedback to our clients. Here’s a sneak peek into how we prepare and execute our playtesting sessions.

Three gamers taking part in playtesting


Setting up for playtesting began well before we built the PC rigs in the Warehouse. To collect valid insights, we needed to create a comfortable and as natural of an environment as possible for our participants. While we recruited experienced gamers, each engaging in 4-10+ hours of weekly gameplay, playing for a limited time and an evaluative setting puts participants at risk of feeling stressed and rushed. To do this, we asked the game developers how long the average gameplay took internally. We also playtested the prototype ourselves (can my job get any better!?), noting completion times of major milestones and possible sticking points participants might encounter. From there, we were able to structure an easily repeatable playtesting programme.

The Testing Room

The Testing Room

Our tech wizard is the secret spice that makes our playtesting possible. He has a specialisation in technical operations and a previous background in playtesting and working with leading games studios. Drawing on these skills, he consistently delivers a flawless testing experience for all of our clients. For this particular project, he set up four individual PC stations, each spaced out enough to deter ‘screen-peeking’. We had researchers on call to answer participant’s questions, complete follow up interviews in another private room, and our front desk team was integral in ensuring our participant’s mobiles and personal affects were kept safe in a separate room. Perhaps most importantly, we made sure the Warehouse was stocked with plenty of snacks and drinks to ensure our participants didn’t go hungry!

The Observatory

The Observation Room

The actual room is called the Lounge, but doesn’t The Observatory sound way cooler? We had a team of two researchers posted in the Observatory watching live camera feeds of participants playing the game in the Warehouse. We use a private streaming platform developed by our tech wizard. This enables researchers and stakeholders to observe on the TVs in the Observatory and to broadcast remotely to the game development team. On the stream, you could toggle which player you wanted to watch, toggle on their gaming audio, and toggle the audio of the Warehouse. We even included a view of the participant via a webcam, so we could watch them delight in victory and frown in befuddlement.

Let’s Work Together

If you have a game in development, already released, or are interested in playtesting, we have the expertise and facilities to get you where you need to be. We’ll also have fun while doing it! We’re passionate about helping our clients deliver meaningful products and experiences.

Get in touch to arrange a tour of our Labs, or discuss your research needs with one of our team.

Image credits: Sutherland Labs and (main image)

Senior Design Researcher

Sutherland Labs
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