Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles

Fundamentals of Game Design: Understanding Your Player

  • Print
  • + Share This
In this chapter from Fundamentals of Game Design, 3rd Edition, you'll learn about the characteristics of certain kinds of players, what kinds of feelings different players like to experience as they play, and the importance of demographics: men and women, boys and girls, dedicated (“hardcore”) players, and casual ones. All this information will help you define what kinds of people you want to entertain and, in consequence, what kind of game you should build to entertain them.
This chapter is from the book

The player-centric approach that this book teaches demands, above all else, that you understand your player, not merely as part of an audience of consumers, but as an individual who has an emotional connection to your game and, indirectly, to you. We often think that we know what players want from games, but much of this knowledge is intuitive and based on what we want from games as players. In this chapter, you’ll learn about the characteristics of certain kinds of players. We’ll begin with a way of looking at what kinds of feelings different players like to experience as they play. Next we’ll examine several familiar demographics: men and women, boys and girls, dedicated (“hardcore”) players, and casual ones. All this information will help you define what kinds of people you want to entertain and, in consequence, what kind of game you should build to entertain them.

VandenBerghe’s Five Domains of Play

Jason VandenBerghe is a Creative Director at Ubisoft, and he has been studying issues of player motivation for several years. In his lecture “The 5 Domains of Play: Applying Psychology’s Big 5 Motivation Domains to Games,” delivered at the 2012 Game Developers’ Conference (VandenBerghe, 2012), VandenBerghe proposed a way of understanding different kinds of players and why they choose the games that they do. You can apply this as part of the player-centric approach to game design by thinking about your representative player in these terms. In the next few sections we’ll take a look at VandenBerghe’s five domains of play.

The Five-Factor Model

VandenBerghe’s work is based on a well-known psychological model of human personality traits called the Five Factor Model. This concept, also known as “The Big Five,” explains personality traits in terms of five nonoverlapping domains: openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (which is defined as a tendency to experience negative emotions). The names of these traits produce a convenient acronym: OCEAN.

The opposite ends of these scales are resistance to new experiences, lack of conscientiousness, introversion, disagreeableness, and stability. After thousands of surveys, the model has proven to be remarkably stable across ages and cultures.

These traits produce observable patterns of motivation and behavior: People who are open to new experiences seek them out; people who are agreeable seek social harmony; and so on. Based on his understanding of the Five Factor Model, VandenBerghe proposed that we play games to satisfy the same motivations that we feel in real life, and this is particularly true if we are unable to satisfy them in real life. Play gives us an outlet.

The Five Domains of Play

VandenBerghe correlated the five traits of the Five Factor Model with five domains of play that might fulfill them—which can also be thought of as aspects of a game that players might be motivated to seek out. Here are his five domains of play and what they mean for understanding a player.

  • Novelty. This correlates with the first trait, openness to experience. Players who seek novelty like games that include a lot of variety and unexpected elements. People who don’t like novelty seek familiarity instead: games that offer them a comforting sameness. These players might prefer Words with Friends to a science fiction extravaganza set in a strange world with strange rules.
  • Challenge. VandenBerghe correlates a desire for challenge—and perhaps more specifically effort and control—with the trait of conscientiousness. High-challenge players prefer games that are difficult and require precision to win. Their conscientiousness drives them to act, to accomplish things, and perhaps to try to complete everything in a game. Low-challenge players like sandbox games and others in which the player is free to fool around without being required to achieve something.
  • Stimulation. Particularly via social engagement, this naturally correlates with extraversion. These players enjoy party games and others that involve interacting with other players. Those who prefer to avoid stimulation prefer games they can play alone, games that let them be the only real person in the game world.
  • Harmony. Chapter 1, “Games and Video Games,” described harmony as a quality of a game, the feeling that all parts of the game belong to a single, coherent whole. In this case, however, VandenBerghe is referring to social harmony and correlates this motivation with the personality trait of agreeableness. He sees cooperative games such as Little Big Planet as good examples of games that offer social harmony, and strictly competitive games, such as the Street Fighter series, as ones that offer this quality’s opposite, conflict.
  • Threat. This domain is the most peculiar one because players’ reactions to it are the opposite of what you might expect. The game quality of threat (an element of danger, or frightening content—anything that is likely to generate unpleasant emotions) is popular with people who have high neuroticism scores in OCEAN tests.

In other words, people who have a tendency to experience negative emotions actually seek out those emotions. He includes players of the survival horror genre in this category.

In his talk at the Game Developers’ Conference, VandenBerghe further subdivided each of these domains into six “facets.” For example, threat is really composed of six other qualities of games: tension, provocation, gloom, humiliation, addiction, and danger. However, there isn’t room to discuss all 30 facets of games here. To learn more about them, please download his slides at www.darklorde.com/2012/03/the-5-domains-of-play-slides.

Bear in mind that these are not binary, on-off qualities. They are continuums, sliding scales. What’s more, they don’t describe what players always like; our moods change. Sometimes we might want high-energy action, and at other times we might like a slower-moving adventure game with lots to look at.

VandenBerghe’s point, and mine, is that by keeping these qualities of games in mind—these domains of play that people seek out—we can decide as designers how we want to entertain them: what experiences our games will provide.

Another Domain: Attitudes to Storytelling

One question that VandenBerghe didn’t address, but that makes a big difference among players, is how they feel about stories in games. Some are dogmatically opposed to the inclusion of story-like material in a game. They dislike any narrative content such as cut-scenes, and they think of the game primarily as a system of rules that they must learn to master. The story merely interferes with their enjoyment of this process. These players prefer tactical or strategic immersion in the game (as we explained in the section called “Immersion” in Chapter 1). They have no interest in narrative immersion. To them, the non-player characters (NPCs) in the game are not people to be interacted with but symbols to be manipulated. These players prefer games of pure action or strategy, or multiplayer games that make no effort to tell a story because the main point of the game is to interact with the other players. Some genres are more suited to storytelling than others, too. Sports games, for example, gain little from the inclusion of storytelling.

For other players, the story is not only part of the game, it is the main reason for playing the game. They believe in its characters and are concerned about what happens to them. The events in the game are a part of a plot to which they are contributing as active participants. They may even care less about the gameplay than they do about the story, using cheats or walkthroughs to find out what happens without having to overcome all the challenges themselves.

Few players are this extreme, however. Most enjoy a certain amount of storytelling in a game, so long as it is coherent with the gameplay and doesn’t slow them down. At the very least they find a little framing narrative to be useful in establishing context: setting the scene and explaining who the protagonist is, what she is trying to achieve, and why.

As you think about your plans for the game and your target audience, keep in mind that some audiences loves stories passionately, some hate them utterly, and many like a dash of storytelling with their gameplay. Decide which audience you want to serve, then check out Chapter 11, “Storytelling,” which discusses how to include stories in games in detail.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email ask@peachpit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.peachpit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020