Podcast 35: Player Empathy and Drivers of Game Preference

There’s a well known psychological bias called the “false consensus effect.” In short, it says that we tend to think that other people share our opinions, views, and preferences, and that those who don’t have something wrong with them, or at best they come across as extreme. Imagine that you’re a game developer. When you’re deciding what kind of game to make or what people are generally into these days, the false consensus effect can come into play. If it does, you may think that people like the kinds of game experiences that YOU do, or that they would dislike the things that you dislike. You like and are familiar with that games are offer exploration, discovery, and creativity, for example? You may expect that those are the kinds of things that motivate other players to keep playing as well. And that narrative heavy games with thought provoking points of view are not likely to be popular. What’s more, if there are any people who like something else, you may consider them fringe or not a market worth pursuing.

Maybe this kind of thinking is laid our on the table but cloaked in terms like “industry experience” and “expert insights.” Maybe it’s running in the background of your unconsciously affecting your assumptions, decisions, and priorities. Maybe both.

In this episode of the podcast, I talk to Jason Vandenberghe, a veteran game designer who who has worked at ArenaNet, Ubisoft, Activision, and EA among other places. Has tackled this kind of problem with the aid of psychology and personality theories in order to avoid the false consensus effect and advocate for what he calls “player empathy.” That is, using a framework of personality and motivation psychology to break out of our false consensus and talk about what kinds of gaming experiences that players may want and how to give it to them.

Some links for further reading and listening:

Audio Credits

  • Robot Motivation” by The Polish Ambassador, licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.
  • “Industrious Ferret” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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