Save Art for Beta Testing

Being the pixel diva (graphic artist) that I am, it’s REALLY hard not to futz with art on ideas. Sometimes I’m so excited about the aesthetics of my new game idea that I get wrapped up in them and take days to get out what should be a 15 minute prototype for testing. There are a few reasons this is bad, terrible, and wrong.

The first reason: you get wrapped up in mechanics that may not work and NEED to be changed. But you put in TIME and EFFORT into design and art and now you are married to them in your own mind. This is a design trap. A pretty, crappy game is still a pretty crappy game.

The second reason: It takes too long to get the game to the real world. You need to know if this idea WORKS. A week from now you may not remember the nuances of mechanics or rules that you had safely tucked away in your brain when you started laying out cards and components. Now you have something to look at, BUT how the hell do you play?

The third reason: Cha-cha-cha-changes. If you start with art on a brand new prototype it will take even longer to make changes. If you have icons and graphics that convey concepts, the people you are testing with or running ideas by (and even yourself) will have trouble moving beyond what is already in front of them. So you’ll have to make the changes before using your components in a different way.

I am SO guilty of this. So, so guilty.

Now I have make myself NOT use the computer at all for preliminary “is this even a game” prototypes. I test the heck out of them on paper and index cards written on with markers. When I’m satisfied that it is, in fact, a playable thing I take it to the computer and make a text version of cards and components. Think big bold type: “Red Faction” or “Move Forward Two” written on the center of a white card. Then I play test the heck out of that, now that all the components are standardized.
THEN it’s time for art and a “show the public” prototype. Still, this first art prototype I show to my nearest and dearest “I know them in person” real life play testers. At this point I make a rule sheet (not to be confused with a final rule book) too. I play and play and play and THEN make all the changes we’ve collectively come up with. I play test different variants that we’ve come up with. I make more changes. These often include art suggestions!

Then it’s time for real art. What, you thought that’s what we were talking about all along? No, no honey. The “art” we’ve been talking about up to this point is ANYTHING like borders, thematic fonts, backgrounds, card backs, stand in images clipped from the web, anything that’s not necessary to see if your game is a game at all.

I always like to have SOME art on my game before I take it to any mini-cons or local game nights with strangers. I want them to at least get an introduction to the aesthetics of the game. I do skimp at this stage though. If I have 5 characters, I’ll do art for one and change the name/background/color to distinguish from the others and use the same art 5 times. This stage is never “final” art for me. I use all sorts of truly copyright-free and royalty free images.


What happened? Everyone loves it! It’s going to be bigger than Catan! Then it’s time to weigh the art cost vs. the viability of the game. That’s a whole different post!

Now is when I spend hours coming up with card backs, graphic design, and plan the illustrations for the components. I create a list of things I need that I cannot do myself and put out feelers for artists and get quotes. I am completely honest with them, this may be a project a month from now or three or never.

Art questions? Ask away!

Adrienne “Penny” E.


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