Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Psychology Behind Game Design

Game designers nowadays are trying to quantify what exactly it is that makes people want to play a game and what exactly keeps them interested. It turns out the answer is that most people want the same things out of games that they want out of their real lives. According to Ubisoft’s designer Jason VandenBerghe who has spent a lot of time translating player motivation into game design decisions, “We tend to play for the same reasons we live.”

Two of the most important principles to apply to game design are player engagement and motivation. Game designers and programmers are now starting to focus on the psychology behind what really captures and sustains the attention of players. Naughty Dog programmer, Kaitlyn Burnell, points out three psychological terms: Autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy allows players to feel like they’re in control of their actions, competence ensures that they feel able to perform what the game asks of them, and relatedness makes them feel a connection to the game’s characters or world.

Similarly, VandenBerghe points to psychology’s Big 5 model, known via the acronym, “O.C.E.A.N.” which refers to the five motivations for human behavior: Openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. While testing people against the Big 5, and examining the resulting data, he feels confident in concluding “play turns out to be a great way to satisfy motivations that you can’t fulfill in your ordinary life.”

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NASA Joins the [Games] Space Race!

One of the most prominent, intriguing and mysterious organizations in the world is joining the games space in order to boost public outreach. NASA has produced several games to teach the public about the latest in aeronautics technology and research, including a Facebook trivia game called Space Race Blastoff and an air traffic control simulator dubbed Sector 33.  Interestingly, the organization is following the trend as games become the tool of choice for educating people in a fun and engaging fashion. In an organization where impossibilities are made possible and where the sky is literally not the limit, using video games to de-mystify the happenings inside NASA to the public is an effective way to renew peoples' interests.

Greg Condon, an aeronautics expert of Smart Skies says Sector 33 “uses the math that air traffic controllers really use—they have to do it all in their head. And it’s really middle school math, so we didn’t have to dumb anything down.”

Brian Dunbar, manager of, says, “The nice thing is, you can sneak some real information into games. To take our new Facebook game as an example, no one—especially kids these days—wants to sit down to read a bunch of trivia. But when you put it in a game, with a competitive and a social element around it, you’ll find that people will be more interested.” By real information he means that these games are designed to strengthen and test the skills of the player by using real science used by NASA employees.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Consumer Engagement

Self Magazine has hosted an event named Self Workout in the Park for 19 years in New York and other cities, So it seems fitting that they’re now taking the event online and adapting services to reach an even larger audience and engaging consumers for longer than they’d spend simply reading the magazine – with an online game.

The game’s purpose is not only to engage but to educate and motivate players to do exactly what their magazine counterpart aspires to do—get people up and moving. While designing a game where a player sits in front of a computer to play may seem counterintuitive to that purpose, studies show just the opposite. “The game-playing experience is empowering,” Laura McEwen, vice president and publisher of Self says. She also adds, “the mechanics of the game are psychologically motivating…looking at an avatar can impact your real-world behavior.”

They’re following trends recently set by companies such as AXA Equitable with their Pass It On! Game. With the ease of getting information on the internet, Self, along with other types of traditional media, is finding a loss of subscribers. The statistics may hopefully be changing though. All eyes are on Self Workout now to see if they can be successful as well.

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