Players – How to read their minds

Yeah the title is supernatural like that.

Last week, we looked into some factors that will grab player’s attention, and make them less confused. When the players know what they should be doing, it’s time to ask them what they really want.

So, how to know what they actually want?

However, what we human sees are often not what we really want. And human’s desires would sometimes lead them to a less better choice. That’s why asking the players directly for their ideas is not usually a good idea. There will be so much suggestions that would counter themselves due to each player has their own view on things.

Luckily, there is a way to break down various game design elements down, and that is Heuristic Evaluation (HE). It’s a set of standards and guidelines that can be compared to. Namely, we compare our game’s game design elements to the guidelines and see if anything violates them. If something does, that “something” would probably also turns out sour in most player’s eyes.

Obviously, there are multiple sets of heuristics since a single set of heuristic cannot cover everything. Normally, when we’re evaluating a game, we choose the heuristic that fits best with the game. One can actually treat the different sets of heuristics as different sets of players, and It’s only natural to pick the appropriate group of players when evaluating games.

Since this is only a blog article, I’m not going to do a heuristic evaluation of any game here since that’ll probably take pages and pages. There are other evaluation methods than HE though.

Another way of conducting evaluation to see if a game would come out right is to use Cognitive Walkthrough. It’s the practice of walking though the task from the user’s perspective and noting problems. While this sounds like basic, in fact I’ve seen a lot of game developers failing to realize that what they see and what they test are usually not what the player may see. For example. the MMORPG Champions Online boasts a Freeform Power System instead of regular Classes. In this system, players can freely choose, mix and match powers from different trees, creating the character they want to be. In the process, some players naturally choose a set of powers that are good in both offence and defense (In other words, meta). Everything worked fine until the game becomes Free to Play and a system that’s similar to the traditional class system is implemented for free players. As the entire game is balanced off the freeform system, the non-paying class-system users are having a very bad time. (Luckily, they’re solving this problem by more testing in between updates and make sure free users can also enjoy the content.)

In the above example, the reason why the game was suffering problems is that there are no indication anywhere that if contents are balanced towards whom. Initially, the developer’s approach is to try simply nerfing the difficulty of content to match the non-playing players. But then the freeform players start to dominate the content due to their advantage. The final temporary solution is to clearly label which area is for freeform users,  Until the re-balancing happens this small UI tweak seemed useful. While the balancing is a serious and hard matter, player’s exception can be somehow manipulated through the UI changes that give the players the feeling of belong.

Last week, I talked about player perception and how it could be manipulated. Usually, we’d want our representation to be perceivable without confusions. In the above example, the problem is caused by a game-play balancing issue. However, by splitting the player groups that are on the 2 sides of balance, a temporary solution is found. By simply labeling the balance of the content, the player could use the information to avoid content they don’t want. This is a clear case of manipulating the player’s perception by making everything clearer. While the players may not know what they want, we game developers can at least steer them into the right direction.

Of course, the better way of doing things is still to determine what the player’s requirements actually is, clever alternatives cannot work forever.

Getting those requirements out

There are different kinds of players, and there are lots of definitions of each type. To laying down the requirement, we must first determine what types our players are consisted of.

                  Killers            |                  Achievers
          PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD
                  Socialisers        |                  Explorers

The 4 Playing Approaches in Online MUDs based on player interest. From

The graph listed above is one of the ways to determine the types of players. It works on MUDs and by extension most of the MMORPGs. The different kinds of players will find different aspects of the game to be fun and interesting. For example, while the Killers would be more concerned on the balance of various powers in the above Champions Online example, Socialisers would care less than that and only care about how to Role Play better. That creates two kinds of requirements that’s far different from each other.

With different sets of requirements in mind from analyzing the types of players, one question remain – How do we know if one set of requirement is more important at hand?

It seems some direct data gathering is in order, which would be what we’ll talk about in the next blog.

Until next time….


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