If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my short “career” as a game designer, it’s the importance of playtesting. And a very good source of playtesters is gaming conventions. You just can’t beat players who show up to deliberately test games.
I playtested Word Nerds at both Gen Con’s First Exposure Playtest Hall and the Metatopia Game Design Festival (both run by my friends at Double Exposure). I recommend both events highly if you’re a designer or just someone who likes to play games and would like a chance to contribute to games under development. Although, I have yet to attend one, I’ve also heard good things about the various Protospiel events which are also dedicated to designers playtesting their games. Attending events like this also give you a chance to playtest other designer’s games. And that can be invaluable as analyzing other people’s designs can give you new insight into your own.
Playtests can be enlightening, frustrating, and ego-boosting. Enlightening playtests are those where you get a player or players who can clearly articulate problems with your game and, if you’re lucky, offer solutions for those problems. Frustrating playtests are those where the game is not going well and nobody seems to be able to put their finger on it. And finally, ego-boosting playtests are the ones where everything goes great and players want to know when they can buy the game. And for a really big ego boost, you can get one player, a known harsh critic, giving you words of praise while another offers her player group for more playtesting, and a third wants to play your game again later in the convention. In any event, every playtest tells you something about your game. You just need to pay attention.