As I prepare to head off to GDC 2013 in a couple of weeks' time, I am reminded of a fantastic presentation that I saw at GDC 2012 by Jason VandenBerghe, Creative Director of Ubisoft.
The presentation was called, "5 Domains of Play", and its purpose was to redefine the model that is used to analyse player behaviour. In particular, to rid it of its obsession of player 'demographics'. The point is - we all know that our playing behaviour changes over time as we move through different stages of our lives, but some of our core, fundamental playing behaviour does not. By slicing and dicing our audience by demographics, we ignore the psychometric aspects that players of different ages, sexes, and education have in common.
In other words, can we group players by some other means that will be more helpful when designing our games?
The standard way of approaching this problem was to produce a 4-quadrant chart with the following entries: Competition, Achievement, Socialisation, Exploration.
Then, designers try to hit as many quadrants as they can with their game. The problem is, people don't actually think or behave this way. It's too abstract and too extreme. The opposite of an Achievement player is a Contentment player. There's money on both sides - so, low and high isn't negative vs. positive.
VandenBerghe felt it was time for a new model. Something that was more nuanced and informative.
The model that VandenBerghe proposes is based on new psychological research - "The Big Five" - which is a global, international research effort involving thousands of researches. Even better it's Open Source, so there's lots of information out there on the Net.
Here is what the acronym stands for:
Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism
Here's a more layman's version:
Novelty, Challenge, Stimulation, Harmony, Threat
This becomes the foundation of the new game design decision-model. Player motivation models are used to inform design - "Do we know who our core gamers are and are we giving them what they want?"
What the Big Five categories stand for are groupings of human motivation - all of which are present to some degree in all of us. Each describes a spectrum from high to low.
Openness - High: interested in new things; Low: closeness, habitual.
Personalities are plotted on a bell curve with a clustering in the middle.
The Big Five Broken Down
- Openness to Experience: distinguishes imaginative, creative motivations from down-to-earth, conventional ones.
- Conscientiousness: deals with the way we control, regulate, and direct our impulses.
- Extraversion: deals with the tendency to seek out stimulation and the company of others.
- Agreeableness: reflects differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony.
- Neuroticism: reflects a tendency to experience (or not experience) negative emotions.
If you want to know what your own scores are, you can take the test online (300 questions).
Correlating Psych Profiles with Play
Do you play for the same reasons you live? Do your motivations in life determine your style of play? The answer appears to be "pretty much". If you are pretty content, you play games for contentment. If your life is lacking something, you will play to get more of what you lack. The answer isn't necessarily 'escapism', but to satisfy your own psych profile.
If someone is high on Openness they seek "novelty". If high on Conscientousnes, they seek "challenge". High on Extroversion, they seek "Stimulation". High on Agreeableness seek "Harmony". High Neurotics seek "Threats".
- Novelty: distinguishes open, imaginative experiences from repeating, conventional ones. High: Minecraft. Low: Madden.
- Challenge: deals with how much effort and/or self-control the player is expected to use. High: Splinter Cell. Low: Lego Star Wars.
- Stimulation: deals with the stimulation level and social engagement of play. High: Just Dance 2. Low: Flower.
- Harmony: reflects the rules of player-to-player interactions. High: Little Big Planet. Low: Street Fighter IV.
- Threat: reflects the game's capacity to trigger negative emotions in the player (people who score high on neuroticism want to experience negative emotions; it's a motivation). High: COD & Modern Warfare 2. Low: Peggle.
Based on psych scores, you can predict the way the player will play and what games they will like. According to VanderBerghe, it was freaky how accurate he could be. After looking at someone's O.C.E.A.N. scores, he knew exactly what games they like to play!
Using the Model to Make Game Design Decisions
Things rapidly got very complex in the latter half of his talk. Each of the Big Five have six individual facets that probe deeper aspects of psyche - 30 facets in all. The main category score, then, is an average of its six facets.
- Openness to Experience: liberalism, imagination, artistic interest, emotionality, adventurousness, intellect
- Contientiousness: orderliness, dutifulness, achievement-seeking, self-discipline, cautiousness, self-efficiency
- Extraversion: gregariousness, assertiveness, activity level, excitement-seeking, cheerfulness, friendliness
- Harmony: trust, sraightforwardness, altruism, accomodation, modesty, sympathy
Here is more detail on the facets, themselves:
Openness to Experience Facets: "Novelty"
- Fact-Orientation (prefers real world to their inner one) vs Imagination (prefers inner world to real world) - "Fantasy"
- Practical Interests (like practical value of things that they see) vs. Artistic Interests (like beauty, art) - "Artistry'
- Unemotionality (Spock - don't have info about how they feel) vs. emotionality (they are aware of how they feel) - "Melodrama"
- Desire for routine (predictability) vs. Adventurousness (new things) - "Predictability"
- People & Things (need problems to be related to people & things, otherwise what'st he point) vs. Intellect (like puzzles, solving a problem inside their head satisfying) - "Abstraction"
- Traditionalism (prefer status quo and what came before) vs Liberalism (strong, progressive values) - "Message"
- un-self-efficacy vs self-efficacy - "Difficulty"
- disorganisation vs orderliness - "Order"
- resistance vs dutifulness - "Obligation"
- contentment vs achievement-striving - "Achievement"
- procrastination vs self-discipline - "Work"
- impulsiveness vs cautiousness - "Caution"
- reservedness vs friendliness - "Expression"
- non-gregariousness vs gregariousness - "Crowds"
- receptiveness vs assertiveness - "Role"
- low activity level vs high activity level - "Pace"
- excitement-aversion vs excitement-seeking - "Thrill"
- inexpressiveness vs cheerfulness - "Joy"
- skepticism vs trust - "Trust"
- guardedness vs straightforwardness - "Integrity"
- non-altruism vs altruism - "Help"
- competition vs accommodation - "Comptetiveness"
- immodesty vs modesty - "Glory"
- indifference vs sympathy - "Compassion"
- fearlessness vs anxiety - "Tension"
- calm vs angry-hostility - "Provocation"
- resilience vs depression - "Gloom"
- lack of self-consciousness vs self-consciousness - "Humiliation"
- temperateness vs immoderation - "Addiction"
- poise vs vulnerability - "Danger"
30 Scores in 30 Facets
...differentiating each person in 60 poles!
It's a lot of data, to be sure. But, it's very informative.
When designing a game, we can imagine that it will satisfy certain facets with a motivation within a certain range. If we apply our game technique to our chart of facets, we can create a pretty good map of how satisfying our game is and to whom. Then, we can start to make conclusions about how people play, and why they play.
Some Home Truths
1) we tend to play for the same reasons we live.
2) Game design has techniques for targeting most of human emotion. Largely successful games hit broadly on all the facets.
3) To reach a large audience, target both sides of the spectrum.
The most powerful result of this research in VanderBerghe's mind is that he now has a powerful response to the prevalent statement from marketing that, "Players want...X". His new reply is, "Yes, that is true - but only for half of them! The other half want... Y".
Finally, he stated that story-based games help to score high on all poles of stimulation, because people love characters and story. Hallelujah!
That seems like a great note to end on, since this website is all about meaningful storytelling!