PENS is an interesting research that aims to overlap the concept of “fun” to focus on the psychological needs that videogames can satisfy. This Thesis develops metrics typologies that can evaluate the player’s satisfaction degree, an important issue for game developers that need a profound comprehension of the psychological dynamics in the game activities. Competence, autonomy, relatedness are key factors in a videogame experience and can be linked to the seven deadly sins theory applied to videogames. It’s even possible to move forward in this argument, developing both theories in the social games sphere, true field of application for modern game design.
COMPETENCE – WRATH/LUST/GLUTTONY
Mastering the mechanics of a game allows the player to feel the sensation of complete dominance of the system. This issue is more evident when the whole design is calibrated to correctly balance the player’s skills during the progression of the challenge. The designer’s competence shows itself even in the users introduction to the game: the interface and the basic rules. This is a fundamental aspect in the social game sphere, given that the presence of a clear and neat interface is necessary to provide informations to the player. The user doesn’t want to be attacked but led towards the gameplay by the interface. The designer’s competence is linked to the feedback mechanism as well. Giving immediate answer to the player’s actions allows to affect his sensation of pleasure and satisfaction. This is evident in the “granular loop” of social games, in which every little effort is rewarded and the user is constantly kept in link with the experience. Enforcing and encouraging his activity with positive feedbacks that reflect his choices, in addiction to granting massive rewards for the accomplishment of game requests (completition-reward: a major feeling of competence) or for the simple fact of having begun the game tasks (engagement-reward: bigger gratification for playing), are mechanisms that lead the player to come back to the game in a longer period of time, both in single and multiplayer social contexts. In addition the users show their skills (achievements) in the gameplay session by communicating among themselves about their achieved goals.
In social games the challenge is not built up in this direction (the mechanics are pretty basic) but the frame is: the interface, the positive feedbacks and the possibility to show game skills to others. If we combine the positive reinforcements mechanism with a context of competitive gameplay we reach an explosive mix for the wrath and greed dynamics. The will to excel, as the attitude to accumulate gifts to self empowering and achievements, are undoubtedly linked to the competence of the player, led by positive feedbacks to engage in new activities. If we can provide casual rewards after certain amount of challenges or time, or unexpected surprises (hidden to the player) for users that can emerge (completition-reward), we will lead the players to be encouraged to go on with the experience, in particular if even the looser (the player who couldn’t achieve the requested goal) obtains some sort of price (engagement-reward). Greed give a sense of welfare to the player, a certain “interior tranquility” that, transposed to a competitive context, turns into a sensation of “defense”, reached through the right bonuses and power-ups that bring out a sense of protection by the external agents. If the challenge grows exponentially the player is led to accumulate what can be harvested, but that’s not all: he will be pushed to consume more so he can face the risks to achieve the task he engaged in and stand with new challenges, either these are impersonated by other users or proposed by the game itself.
Lust is based on the sense of immediate gratification: if the player desires, for example, the “dragon armor” to have an advantage on his rivals without wasting time and energies in its research, he can pay at any moment a certain amount to gain what he desire without fatigue. In these cases we are dealing with extremely powerful and profitable bonuses, that players desire more if they’re permanent, able to persist and to affect the gameplay for indefinite amount of time. This confers a strong sensation of dominance and control, given that the player is able to provide himself permanent advantages by paying. A “sacrifice” felt as sustainable by different kinds of users.
AUTONOMY – SLOTH
Autonomy deals with the decision-making skills and with the possibilities of choosing how to engage with the game. The perception of freedom of choice is a chimera in many open-ended titles, as the players are always offered a precise range of defined opportunities.
Autonomy is the sum of possibilities of action given to the player. In a traditional point of view of game design this can be translated to the options of interaction between objects in the game-world and the rules that built up the relations among these objects. Creating the right number of possibilities of interactions between the system (the sum of rules and the subsystem of relations) and the player verbs (what the player can do inside the game) gives birth to the so-called “emerging gameplay”.
In a social perspective this concept of autonomy is completely different, as the players opportunities are the typical of the “sim” genre. We’re not dealing with a real emerging gameplay: the freedom of choice affects elements such as the customization of the avatar, properties and goods to buy. There are many possible actions (challenges and quest, for instance) though they’re almost never sustained by the traditional level of interactivity which sees the concrete simulation of the game-world elements as direct manifestation of the rules imposed by the designer.
We can speak of autonomy as a process of automatization. Exploiting the player’s sloth we sell him comfort. The user exchanges clicks (his freedom of choice) with an external control capable to save him time. This automatic process is a conquer itself. Nevertheless, what would happen if the player was given a reward that is more than the simple fact of having saved some time? Positive feedback gratifies the experience for every action: the player will be led to replicate what granted him the reward. As always its fundamental to evaluate the entity of the price and its impact on the gameplay.
RELATEDNESS – VANITY /ENVY
The desire of connecting with others in an authentic manner, to support one another. PENS introduces the term “immersion” dividing it in three sub-categories (physical, emotional and narrative immersions): it is important to consider another kind of immersion, the “social” one. The social mechanics are nowadays particularly relevant for the best-seller titles. It is the case to properly weight this aspect so that its basic elements can be valued inside the gameplay. It’s by using the social dynamics that the monetization reaches its best application. The best example is given by the case of Ravenwood Fair: during a short time of inaccessibility to the viral channels, although the players went on playing and entering its store, it suffered a fast and unexpected fall of the revenues. This happened because, even if the gameplay worked correctly, the sense of social presence disappeared. The concepts such as vanity and envy are deeply linked with sociality, as the possibility to show achievements to others and access the rivals results lead to continue in the game-experience. If challenges are designed to empower social immersion (i.e. “invite five friends to gain points and virtual money”) we won’t be dealing with vanity or envy but with the social frames affecting the gameplay and the possibility of action given to the player. Although these dynamics are not dominant to continue with the experience, making them more accessible helps to improve the sense of general immersion. Making them dominant or necessary for the success in the game would present the risk of limit the personal experience; in this case the user would feel a sensation of a “top-to-bottom” control, the one of the system on the player himself as his freedom would be limited by an imposition.
Such dynamics enforce the social mechanism of inviting an helping one another and represent aspects of collaboration that hide competitive envy and vanity. Even if the presence of friends is considered as “silent”, statistics, achievement and gifts of various nature show powerful clues of the influence that the social network imposes on the style of play of each user. It is a designer task to make it so that this kind of presence of friends become an active voice in the player’s decisions, without forcing him to base his actions on predetermined schemes but leading him to built a social net that empowers the gameplay experience without constrain it.