Playtesting ‘dominates’ Valve’s development process

Wednesday, 20th July 2011 04:20 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Valve has said playtesting is the most vital part of its development process – so much so, that it hooks testers up to machines to measure their responses.

There are so many Portal jokes to be made here, I’m not even going to start.

“For us, playtesting is the most important part of the game development process,” experimental psychologist and Valve’s playtesting lead Mike Ambinder told Gamespot as part of a feature on testing.

“It’s not something we save for the end of the development, or use as a quality assessment or balancing tool. It is the dominant factor that shapes our decisions about what to release and when to release it.”

Describing thorough testing as “crucial”, Ambinder said Valve begins testing “as soon as [Valve has] something playable” and “basically never stops”.

Valve uses bio-feedback metrics as part of its testing process. As well as the usual pbserved play sessions and surveys, it track s eye-movement with monitor-mounted cameras; heart rate monitoring; and even skin conductivity tests, all of which are supposed to track a player’s enjoyment of a game.

“We became interested in the use of biofeedback both as a playtesting methodology and as potential user input to gameplay because the idea of quantifying emotion or player sentiment seems to have utility,” Ambinder says.

“On the playtesting side, recording more objective measurements of player sentiment is always desired. People sometimes have a hard time explaining how they felt about various things, and memories of feelings and events can become conflated.

“Conversely, if you have a more objective measurement of arousal or engagement, you can get a clearer picture for how people are emotionally consuming your game.”

Valve is perhaps channeling a little too much of the spirit of Aperture here.

There’s much of interest for would-be testers, designers, and those interested in psychology in the four-page feature; Valve and Epic are also discussed. Hit the link above to read the whole thing.



  1. alterecho

    And it shows. The Gamespot article is awesome. Saw it a while back.
    By the way, where is Cave Johnson?

    #1 3 years ago
  2. On2wheels

    OK Valve, you won, you did it first, you measured people’s bio-responses and figured it out. [insert slow clap here] Now can you please push aside your piles of cash, and just finish EP3 and whatever else you’ve promised, L4d DLC, Portal2 DLC, sheesh.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Lewis247

    Umm, valve I mean I know I shouldn’t be asking and all but you know you have been doing really well, I mean REALLY well with all your other franchises you have been releasing Left 4 dead, Portal 2 GREAT GREAT GAME valve and umm you know all that time you have been doing other things oh I don’t know like 4 years of something, do you think by any chance AND I KNOW I’M CHANCING IT DON’T SHOOT ME *awkward laugh* BUUUT do you think you could you know finish off that.. well.. trilogy thing about emmm Half life 2 the episodes?

    Gabe Newell: Ehhh, no.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. deadstoned

    I LOVE VALVE GAMES, they’re just so fun they must have defiantly play tested them one hell of a lot before each release. Just wish Valve bought a new clock to replace their old one.

    Been waiting for Half Life Episode 3 since 2007, I must know what happens next!

    #4 3 years ago

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