The Playtesting's the Thing: Suggestions for Developing Educational Game Designs

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Playtesting is an essential process for designing games for learning. This presentation examines the playtesting ethos incorporated in online undergraduate courses on Game Design and Development and graduate courses on Digital Games, Simulations and Learning, and offers suggestions for faculty on using playtesting when developing their own educational games.


Mark Lewis is an Instructional Designer for SUNY Empire State College. He is also a Core Faculty Member in the Master In Learning and Emerging Technologies (MALET) program. He has designed and taught graduate studies in Instructional Design for Online Learning Environments; and Games, Simulations and Learning. He has also designed and taught undergraduate courses in Game Design and Development, Digital Photography, Interactive Multimedia Design, Web Site Design, Adobe Flash Animation, Graphic Design & Desktop Publishing, and Technical Theatre Production. Recent instructional design work has included the incorporation of UX design practices within the creation of collaborative next generation online learning environments and the creation of a faculty oriented instructional design portal. His prior technology and design related work experience includes graphic design, website design and development, technology training, and management of enterprise help desk support. He also worked for many years in technical theatre lighting and set design in the New York metropolitan area and frequently incorporated photographs and digital images in his designs. He was a technical editor for four editions (CS3 to CS6) of Photoshop CS6: Essential Skills published by Focal Press. He is interested in the application of UX design processes for developing learning environments and for game design, games and meaningful play in education, game culture, and games for social change. He has presented at many regional and national conferences on instructional technology, game design for education, game culture and gender issues, and accessibility issues for game design. He is a member of the International Game Developers Association. He holds an M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology from Walden University, an M.A. in Media Studies from the New School, and a B.S. in Visual Arts from SUNY New Paltz where he worked in both painting and photography.

Extended Abstract

Playtesting is an essential part of the process for designing games for learning and is useful for designing any type of game from tabletop to video game, mobile app, or virtual/augmented/mixed reality games.

This presentation examines the playtesting ethos incorporated in online undergraduate courses on Game Design and Development and graduate courses on Digital Games, Simulations and Learning. A brief description of the courses will also discuss the course texts why they are valuable for all educational game design applications. 

An explanation of the game playtesting process will include a discussion of paper prototyping, digital prototyping, and how to incorporate User Experience Design (UXD) and low-fidelity (lo-fi) prototypes. The discussion includes the importance of playing commercial and independent games as a learning process for game design and for developing a playtesting procedure.

A description of the challenges for faculty and learning professionals in building useful game prototypes and conducting effective playtests and the characteristics of effective prototypes and successful playtesting are covered. Examples cases of student playtest prototypes for tabletop and video games including games for learning, show effective practices.  

The conclusion discusses playtesting and the “magic circle” as well as the “aha” moment experienced by most designers conducting a playtest for the first time.