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Understanding Players with Player Psychology 👾

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kierangoodson polycounter lvl 3
Emotes. 9 year old's. Uncontrollable rage. Sound familiar?

Welcome to the first of a two-part series where I introduce you to player psychology for game design and marketing. In this fun 10 min read, I explore past research that dives into player behaviour, emotions and motivations before prefacing my own academic investigation 👾
https://www.artstation.com/kierangoodson/blog/9VmL/research-12-understanding-players-with-personality-psychology


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  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Good research. My question, to what end?

    Researching people so that we can better... please them? Manipulate them? I didn't read into the later research in the article, but the early stuff  does not qualify as scientific research. Doesn't mean it doesn't have some value or is useless, but it's far from exhaustive and isn't something you can make reliable predictions from.

    But that's beside my point. So, understand the rat. Control the rat. Is that the most effective way to make games? What kind of games? Is it more efficient than pulling an idea out of the blue that excites you, prototyping it, and then market testing it? If we take the art and replace it with science, are you still gonna be excited about making games? Think more people will have a chance at making a living from it? More people enjoying games? Or just subscribing to them because...they're compelled beyond their own control.

    I wonder about this stuff because I loved games for years but in the past five years or so, just little interest whatsoever. And nows the time in my life I actually got money to waste on games. But all I see is manipulative junk created in ill-will. Indie market produces a little gem here and there, but AAA? Forget it. They feel made-by-committee and devoid of life. Where is the art?

    Got to be real careful with this stuff. Understand your own motivations. Knowledge is power, and we don't need the wrong guys getting nukes again, do we?

    /sunday sermon
  • kanga
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    kanga ngon master
    Hmmmmm. Really dont see the harm in getting to know your market better. There is definitely nothing wrong with taking the savant path and putting a product out there you are passionate about without any research, but after the load of work and commitment we know it takes, dont be surprised with failure.

    I dont play games anymore because its really an addiction that takes way too much time. By the same note watching trailers like the up and coming E3 Watchdogs Legion for example, I'd have to say players have exciting times in store. Being from the time when Pong was the only show in town, this stuff is mindblowing.

    OP, great article. Many of us need all the help we can get!
  • poopipe
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    poopipe grand marshal polycounter
    This stuff is important so I'm pleased it's popped up here

    A couple of things... 

    I read through pretty quick so not sure if I missed them but links to the papers you cite rather than just the people would be nice. 

    Also, if you're planning to continue with these essays have you considered a case study where you analyse a relatively modern game within these frameworks.  It'd be interesting to see where COD fits for example 
  • kierangoodson
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    kierangoodson polycounter lvl 3
    Good research. My question, to what end?

    Researching people so that we can better... please them? Manipulate them? I didn't read into the later research in the article, but the early stuff  does not qualify as scientific research. Doesn't mean it doesn't have some value or is useless, but it's far from exhaustive and isn't something you can make reliable predictions from. 

    This is the point I made in the post- these are foundational authors and the field needs more statistical, scientific work to support them. Nick Yee and Chris Bateman, the 3rd and 4th authors I mention do just this. 

    I can certainly see issues with designing games solely around players. As I mentioned, it's not always the best bet or a viable development option to consider these player 'wants' or 'needs'. 

    What do you mean by taking the art out of games. I don't see how using market data takes any creativity out of the process. When you say "Where is the art?", what specifically do you mean by this as I think now more than ever, [certain] games are seen and experienced as an artform. 

    In terms of the ethics of the topic, I get where you're coming from. Is it ethical for big corporations to be collecting psychometric data to feed the process of product creation? It's a grey area. We all want our games to resonate with us, to inspire and empower us. Personality research could help with development  as I don't see anything wrong with personalised and tailored game experiences. That's not malevolent in my eyes. 

    Where it becomes an issue is when games become 
    'Skinner Box' products like lootboxes and pre-order bonuses seem to be these days. It's an issue when players, particularly the younger ones, are exploited and addictions are accrued because games are constantly targeting neurobiological pleasures- dopamine, adrenaline, epinephrine- the natural 'highs'

  • kierangoodson
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    kierangoodson polycounter lvl 3
    poopipe said:
    I read through pretty quick so not sure if I missed them but links to the papers you cite rather than just the people would be nice.
    Good idea, I'll update the post when I get a chance! 

    I'm finished with the research and don't plan to do more but I do remember something in the field of research that drew data from a modern Tomb Raider game so I'll dig that out and send this onto you.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter


    Where it becomes an issue is when games become 
    'Skinner Box' products like lootboxes and pre-order bonuses seem to be these days. It's an issue when players, particularly the younger ones, are exploited and addictions are accrued because games are constantly targeting neurobiological pleasures- dopamine, adrenaline, epinephrine- the natural 'highs'


    Bingo. You got it there.

    You might do the research because you want to be sure your product gets to the right people, and that those people enjoy the hell out of your product. Because you want to make the best product, and you're a nice guy who wants to do good.

    But, that's not what happens. The research knowledge does make ROI, then you get real money. Then you get greedy. And then you get an industry that seemingly operates entirely on the "a fool is born every minute" idea.

    You don't got to justify anything to me, I just want to put some of these questions out there because data is power and people have a terrible track record with that. If everybody is either ignorant or apathetic, we'll stop having nice things to play with.


  • poopipe
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    poopipe grand marshal polycounter
    I think you've been watching too much Jim Sterling :tongue:

    Addiction mechanics aside, this sort of research is no different in principle to testing your game design on a focus group and I think we can all agree that's probably a good idea. 


  • kierangoodson
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    kierangoodson polycounter lvl 3
    @poopipe
    Can't say I've heard of this person. 100% agree! 
  • kierangoodson
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    kierangoodson polycounter lvl 3
    @Alex Javor I'm got firm suspicions that although this line of personality research may be new to games, it isn't in other industries. It's marketing and target audience research. Is marketing itself ethical? At what point does marketing stop being a form of persuasion and become a form of manipulation to buy (with money or attention) certain products. The 'to what extent' factor comes into play when collecting personal information. I agree that ethical data collection is always a priority. That's why we have laws around these things. 

    I think the games market has a pretty good BS meter when it comes to shady industry stuff and poor quality of output... and boy is the market vocal about it. That's a great thing because it's a level of transparency that causes the industry to shift in a more positive direction. Ultimately, even if games, levels and mechanics were tailored around personality traits, there's no guarantee that they'll resonate with audiences because there are likely other, more influential factors that aren't being considered within the scope of this research
  • Biomag
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    Biomag sublime tool
    Knowing your audience is key in every situation (commercial or social). Look how often not knowing your customer ends in disasters (just look back at Blizzard's Diablo mobile presentation - 'Don't you all have phones?!'...)... it's a very very one-sided look at it to say its evil or always ends up in abuse. And actually even naive to some degree. Not engaging with customer needs and expectations is as bad as abusing them.

    A big part of why many games actually look the same and feel the same and stop being interesting is because companies don't really use the data and research their customers. They just copy what 'worked' before without paying attention why it worked and why it may not work this time around. Ubisoft for example is getting a lot of bad reactions from their customer base for everything feeling the same with different franchise skin on top. So just because they use data it's not the researches' fault that the games are turning out to be boring. Its blaming the tool for the users actions with it. If the proper questions aren't asked than you can't get a proper answer.


    And no, user research isn't a game specific thing. It's neither new. Games with their online component (like other software) are just prime examples of opportunities to gather data of customers actually using the product and not just some small focus groups before launch.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    @kierangoodson, the Jim Sterling comment was at me. But yes, I do watch Jim. And everything he says rings true with my experience. I lost interest in games some years ago and all the things he's incessantly pointing at correlate perfectly with my suspicions of why. Of course he is a single, outspoken person who deals in hyperbole for comedy, but his journalism isn't BS. You can follow the sources and read for yourself.

    On the flip side, when I can actually get industry professionals to talk about things, they are either extremely reticent or say things that make the BS alarm go off real quick. Nobody should be afraid to talk about anything. That's not normal and as long as anybody anywhere feels afraid to speak up and be heard, there is some fixin' needing done. So I'm very happy that at least there is some discussion happening here. Some people here probably think I am being aggressive -- I'm not. I just want to hear what people think. I am not throwing my ideas out there to attack and defeat your ideas.

    About the games market having a good BS meter, I think I disagree. This is like saying Americans have good taste in food because we complained when we found out Taco Bell was putting sand in the meat. Still, most people never heard about that or cared. They just saw that Taco Bell was giving out free tacos one week and happily chowed down. Maybe ignorance is bliss, but as long as I see people eating sand I'm going to tell them about it.

    I've been playing games since the first games, and IME the trend has been sliding downhill for a long time. Did you see the most recent E3? None of this crap ALL the big publishers are pushing towards is something the market asked for. It all has one goal: make more money. And that's not going to equal bigger artist paychecks...

    There are very few laws surrounding modern data collection as most politicians are too old to understand or care. Everybody has to take responsibility and not just trust that the system will take care of things. The system never takes care of things. Only people who give a shit do. Don't be complacent. Everybody needs to understand, a career is a career. There are no dream jobs. The goal of a career is to earn a living so you can own a house, raise a family, take a vacation once or twice, and enjoy your life. If you are working your ass off to stay afloat as a skilled artisan and all of these things are not possible for you, shit ain't right. You don't have to take up the crusade if it's not your thing. but at least don't feed the beast until it's behaving as it should, right?

    Of course I am not suggesting we shouldn't constantly strive to know the customer. Just as I wouldn't suggest that any person shouldn't have the right to defend themselves with firearms. And yet, collectively we've really fucked that up, haven't we? People just can't handle the responsibility. Only legislation is going to keep the turds in check. And just like every other industry ever, its going to take legislation and employee action in the games industry to protect both the product and the consumer -- and the developers -- from the insidiously disconnected bossman.



  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    and @poopipe ,

    would you say Jim Sterling is full of shit? Blowing things out of proportion? What's your perspective? You think if some group conducts a serious study into player psychology it's going to result in a better product, better industry?

    I was under the impression that  the larger companies have their own internal research groups doing this already, and this is how loot boxes and other gambling practices were developed.
  • poopipe
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    poopipe grand marshal polycounter
    I don't think he's full of shit - the practices he's highlighted recently over loot boxes, live services etc. are often pretty reprehensible and it's great that people are making noise about it.
    The problem with the media focusing loudly on negative aspects of psychological research is that positive aspects become tainted  by association. 

    The  first point for me is that Game design is fundamentally an exercise in psychologically manipulating  the player - just like writing or directing or any other art form.  You study theory and experiment if you want to progress in those fields - design is no different. 

    My second is that a tool in itself is neither bad nor good.
    A study designed to reveal addictive mechanics can be used to rinse loads of cash out of everyone but it can equally be used to create something incredibly engaging and fun.  Intent is the key here. 

    And yeah,.. 
    Psychological studies are used in government and in loads of industries every day and have been for decades (if not longer) - exploitative industries like marketing and sales are the most obvious but this sort of stuff is also used to encourage whole nations to eat more healthily, recycle, pollute less etc. 

    That's quite long and rambly. I'll stop. 
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Good points! And I think OP made great points in his research as well. But given the nature of some parts of the industry, I think you gotta bring this stuff up early and often. Probably most pro's earning their bread in the industry don't have any reason to say something, but I got nothing to lose so if making a fuss might help somebody somewhere avoid a headache, that's my goal.
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