Monday, April 15, 2013

GDC2013 - Applied Value of Player Psychology: Putting Motivational Principles to Work

  • Scott Rigby (Immersyve) and Troy Skinner (WB Games) talked about the implications of truly pursuing applied psychology.
  • We must truly understand player psychology in a quantifiable and systematic way, or we can wake up in our bed and believe whatever we want to believe.
  • "Big data" trap. Terabytes of data * 0 clue = No clue. Need to understand what's going on to get meaning out of your data. Big data does not open the psychological black box alone.
  • Be as passionate about testing your theories of fun and engagement as you are about having them.
  • Their recommendation is to be discriminating and a bit skeptical.
    • Clearly measure each part of your model of fun and engagement, like social scientists who define and measure love.
    • Validate your model. Just because it looks convincing doesn't mean it's accurate.
    • Share results with stakeholders.
  • Self-determination theory is the leading psychological theory of motivation and emotion world-wide. It has empirical validation and over a thousand published studies.
  • Scott Rigby creates the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) model where he focused on fundamental needs instead of the players' wants. It has three core components.
    • Competence/Mastery - player should feel effective and growth, they need informational feedback, competence feedback can be delivered in granular/sustained/cumulative/instantaneous amounts
    • Relatedness - feel like you matter to the game world (you are saving someone, or you are the healer that your team relies on)
    • Autonomy - agentic motivation, offer lots of meaningful choices
  • Competence is a turnstile issue. Developers often anchor competence satisfaction in the wrong place.
  • In the console market, there are Tier 1 games (huge mega-hit games) and Tier 2 games (profitable games). But there is a huge gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 games (about a $50 million difference).
  • Case Study: Mass Effect 1 and 2.
    • Mass Effect 1 was rated 89% on Metacritic, the ad spend was solid, and had 5.1 million people hyped about the game. The game was a Tier 2 game.
    • The team wanted to push the sequel to Tier 1, so they focused on quality, marketing, and PR execution.
    • Mass Effect 2 was rated 96% on Metacritic, four times the amount of ad spend, and 7.2 million hype. The game was still a Tier 2 game.
  • Developers should figure out why games make money and what players are doing, then support the studies with design. Where should the money go towards?
  • In the console market, there are two types of gamers.
    • The game connoisseur plays everything on all platforms and all genres. They identifier themselves as a "gamer" and has the t-shirts and merchandise to prove it. They care about their game performance and will participate on forums and read guides to improve their competence. They are always reading and following the latest gaming news and will evangelize their favorite games to their friends and family. Their driver to purchase is innovation and depth. We are familiar with this market because the game connoisseur is us! But we only make up 15% of the market size.
    • The bro gamer makes up 65% of the market size. They are more casual and they play only the best and most popular games. They want to be entertained; they're not looking to be the best. They play games with their friends and want to avoid embarrassment. They only care about what to play, not how to play, and they want to be quickly competent in the games.
  • These are the 10 rules to follow when trying to make a successful game.
    1. The majority of console players prioritize entertainment over challenge. Thus, the simple console market model is...
      • First, the connoisseur is attracted to a game because of innovation.
      • The connoisseur will recommend the game to his bro gamer friends.
      • The bro gamer tries the game and feels good at it.
      • The bro gamer buys the game and spreads to other bro gamers.
    2. Need to capture both segments to make a hit game. Both audiences have the same needs (competence), but with different approaches.
      • Batman: Arkham Asylum is a very good case study. The connoisseur felt attracted to it because it was the first awesome superhero game, there was depth in the combat system (needed both offense and defense to win), and the skill required is visible. The bro gamer also liked it because the combat used simple 2-button controls, defense was simple to understand (there were visual signals of incoming attacks), and there were direct boss battle instructions.
      • If players die 3-4 times in a linear game, they'll quit. Don't let that step happen. Help players after failures. It'll appeal to both audiences because the connoisseur won't feel like you're talking down to them and the bro gamers will get the help they need to proceed.
    3. Complexity in controls is your enemy. This is not where you want to add depth. The more effective players there are, the more unit sales you'll have.
    4. Don't gate mastery. Clinical practice like learning a musical instrument is hard and boring, so don't make that a gating factor. Give people an easy way to do want they want, like exploding people with your first in Mortal Kombat. Another solution for growth is adding RPG mechanics.
    5. Reward effort more than skill. The more feedback density you use, the more motivated the player will be.
    6. Exploit inexpensive ways to give players feedback. Blowing someone's head is awesome, but it's expensive to make and it's hard to top yourself. There's no room to grow, because how can you reward the player above that? Instead, UI is much more cheap and captivating. Having upgrades, ranks, and grades open up lots of room for player growth. Call of Duty's secret sauce is its XP system because it gives lots of things to achieve and tons of player feedback.
    7. Find a way to consistently tell the player they are progressing.
    8. When players die, don't teabag them. Don't make them less powerful when they're already down, but give them some comeback mechanics.
    9. When players struggle, teach them to be successful.
    10. Making all players competent is the price of entry for hit games. Connoisseurs are already hyper-educated, so making them more educated doesn't incentivize them to purchase.
  • World of Warcraft players, when left to their own devices, will make custom UI that gives themselves more feedback.
  • You can predict sales by looking at the hours of sustained plays.
  • Immersion comes from competence, not graphics or audio.

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