Should Wizards of The Coast introduce public playtesting?

Given the outcry (is that too strong a word? I dunno) about the new D&D Essentials line and the ongoing changes to the system made by the Errata and Updates, my question is a simple one: Should Wizards of The Coast introduce public playtesting for key changes to D&D before making them official?

After all, it’s far easier to fix things before everything has gone to print, and being pro-active and inclusive of your fanbase is much better PR than having to hit the forums each time feathers are ruffled after the event.

Heck, they have a ready-made base of eager and willing Beta testers with D&D Insider who would (I am sure) love nothing more than getting on the inside track and be able to contribute in a meaningful way to the game development.

Sometimes, developers can be too close to the system and fail to see what what’s blindingly obvious to the rest of us (such as the potential for abuse with the changes to Magic Missile). Of course, they’re also privy to higher-level decisions that we may neither know nor understand, and that’s cool. But there has to be a middle ground, right?

Good people, the floor is yours.

Comment away!

16 Comments on “Should Wizards of The Coast introduce public playtesting?”

  1. Of course, as a gamer I would like to playtest stuff, but perhaps in doing so Wizards might lose money, as now that I’ve tested it out, I won’t buy it. Had I not tested it, I’d have to buy to see it first hand.

    Or, because I’m trying to get back on a graveyard schedule (meaning I’m a bit loopy), I could very well be typing out of my bunghole and not making much sense. Either way, I’m going to bed.

    1. That’s why I suggested they use the D&D Insider subscribers to playtest things like the Updates and changes to core material – they’ve effectively already paid for the privilege :)

      Also, there is a history of giving them pre-release material to try out – it’s happened a time or two in the online Dragon magazine already.

  2. I think we have to think there has been some playtesting at some point. At some point though there seems to be some glaring mistakes. I.E magic missle and because of that I wonder who is suggesting these changes. Is it the playtesters or is it the designers and why has it come so long after the initial version

  3. I think WotC should Playtest things and gain player feedback. Look at Piazo and how they handled Pathfinder. They released a gorgeous Beta version of the product, for free, and asked for player feedback for years and many changes were made, as you can see when you compare the beta to the finished Pathfinder Core Rule Book.

    They have also done the same with the Advanced Players Guide. They released a beta version of the 6 new classes, and after feedback from testers, released a final PDF showing the changes made and what to expect when the finished product is released.

    Personally if I playtest something, and I liked the product, I will buy it because I really want to support the RPG industry and support excellent products.

  4. Having DDI subscribers beta test new material would probably encourage more people to subscribe. The big thing is that developers would have to actually listen to their beta testers.

    I’ve often seen in MMO betas where testers will point out an imbalance or other issue and it gets ignored because it’s assumed the developers know better than players. So the problem still goes live and they find out it really is an issue.

    Personally, I’m done with WotC (for now). I sank something like $500 into 4E, I’m not about to buy another 5 books, especially in I can run a Micro variant for free.

  5. They did so a couple of times – Barbarian and Artificier that I remember. The Barbarian suffered great changes, actually. Later, they decided to just give preview content to Insiders, what is just “releasing the same content twice”…
    I believe that public playtesting should really be public, and not limited to Insiders (limit it in another way – pre-made characters, maybe). D&D Insider should be focused on new material and cool tools, not “exclusive previews” or “beta testing”.

  6. I agree with Oz… pulling random DDI Subscribers in as beta testers would not only be smart from a quality improvement point of view, but also great PR and a way to make Gamers want to subscribe to DDI. Other companies have successfully used Player/Public Playtesters for years – and yes, I’m invoking the MMO – like Blizzard and the very successful WoW franchise. Perhaps WotC staff are too close to the issues, and need a fresh perspective sometimes.

  7. The problem you’ll run into though is what if the player base wants to take nit into areas where WOTC doesn’t want to go for legal reasons? Like put certain things in there which would make the game OGL’able again without having to use the GSL.

  8. The books they sell in stores *are* the public playtesting. The new “Essentials classes” in the upcoming books are tests for how they might change the game for a new edition, they just won’t tell you that until the new edition is out. Mark my words… there is precedent, they have done it before.

  9. I was on Character Optimization at the Wizards boards, a good few years before the ill-fated move to Gleemax, and this suggestion is nothing new: There were a good core of people who repeatedly made the offer to WIazards to be a group of playtesters- they even offered to sign an NDA- and thus prevent the kind of glaring loopholes that lead to the hilarity that CharOpt eventually became notorious for.

    Trust me, these guys knew what they were doing. Divine Metamagic glitches aside, they did things that broke the game six ways from Sunday. These guys, at their best, KNEW the system. They would have made ideal playtesters, scouring the rules for oversights that Wizards’ cursory playtest step usually misses.

    Did WotC listen? No, of course not. As far as I know, no attempt was even made to discuss any such matters.

    As for open playtesting? Well, Paizo Publishing did this for the Pathfinder RPG, and not only did it help the game’s development, but it makes for great ad copy: “20 Million Beta Downloads!” It can work, and it does work.

    So, is it a good idea? Yes.
    Will Wizards do it in this manner? No, probably not…

    1. One example is to take the Wizard’s Fury Daily Power. This lets you use Magic Missile as a Minor Action for the rest of the encounter – meaning that your INT 20 Wizard could fire off three auto-hitting Magic Missiles a round doing a total of 21 damage every time. Target three creatures for 7 damage each, or fire them all off at the same foe.

      That Wizard could clear 3 Minions per round with no chance of failure or pretty much any non-solo or elite monster in two rounds just by standing there and firing off Magic Missiles.

      Machine Gun Wizard!

      Add in one or more of the White Lotus Feats which trigger whenever Magic Missile is used (ie, up to three times per round) and you’ve got an at-will ability which far exceeds the damage potential of any Daily Power in the game. Ouch.

  10. Let’s not forget that Wizards did give not one, but two public playtests for the Hybrid classes. Each iteration presented revised rules and took many users’ requests to heart. The version we get in PHB 3 is now the third iteration after two rounds of public beta testing.

    I agree though, they should do more to have public testing. Maybe try out a new rule in a D&D Encounters scenario (the arcane energies in this tower mean that Magic Missiles always hit, but do less damage) and if it is successful, incorporate it into the core rules.

    Savage Worlds often does this by trying out new rules in setting books, then incorporating it into the core rules if it proves to be better (like they did with “Way of the Brave” melee damage rules, introduced in Deadlands Reloaded, now in the core rules).

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