Let’s jump right in: The Hawthorne Effect causes people to behave differently when they know they’re being observed.
A Little History
The Hawthorne Effect was named after a study at an electric plant, Hawthorne Works, in the early 1920s. Researchers wanted to determine how lighting impacted productivity and found that all lighting changes increased productivity.
Sounds fishy right? It turns out that it wasn’t the lighting, but the fact that the employees were being observed that impacted productivity.
The Hawthorne Effect and Play Testing
We find that our play testers are so nice that they try harder when we’re watching instead of taking a hint when they normally would. How do we offset this behavior? We make a point to do a pre-test briefing and tell the players that they are helping us if they play like they normally would, that we aren’t judging them, but assessing the game and puzzles and we WANT to know if puzzles are hard or don’t make sense. This seems to help.
A variety of play-testers from different levels also helps. When we test The Society of Curiosities mystery game, we make a point to source testers who are beginner, intermediate and advanced puzzler levels to get a sense of how our game is received in a range of skill sets.
And, the more the better! The more players we watch, the more we can catch avenues of thought that make sense but don’t lead to a solution. This is time intensive but we know it’s worth it.