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  • Understanding Player Behavior: What To Read

    [01.23.20]
    - Henri Brouard
  • Understanding player's behavior and psychology has been a growing concern in the game industry and in the public debate. On the business side many big game companies, especially for service games, have invested in building User Experience Research departments, trying to answer questions such as: Who is our game for? Can players understand our game? Is our game fun? Will players be likely to monetize and so on... Trying to answer these questions is detrimental to the game's player retention and long-term revenues. In the public debate, video games are usually brought to the table for questions related to public health, the two most common ones being: Do video games make people violent? Can people develop an addiction from playing video games ? 

    Here I suggest a list of five books that can help answer these questions. They can be helpful for game designers who want to know how research can help them improve their games, but also what effects their games can actually have on people's lives. So here we go:

    The Proteus Paradox: How online games and virtual worlds change us, and how they don't 

    Nick Yee

    Phd graduate from Stanford, Nick Yee was first known for the Daedalus project, a survey based study that gathered the data of over 50.000 MMO players from 2003 to 2009. He then founded with Nicolas Ducheneaut Quantic Foundry, a market research company that focuses on gamers motivations. With the help of a huge survey database, the company built a gamer motivation model that is now referential in the game industry. There is a GDC talk on how the model was built and some of the lessons learned from it. It has namely been helpful in defining the core differences between Chinese and American players or define hardcore players motivations.

    The Proteus paradox shares lessons learned from years gathering and analyzing online gamer's data. The book focuses on the interactions between our offline and online selves, showing how our "real life" ethos shapes our online game behavior, and how games shapes back our offline lives. The first chapters show the diversity of motivations behind playing online games. The book then highlights how we pour meaning from our "real life" into games, whether it's believing in superstitions to activate game mechanics, how racial and gender bias our judgement when we interact with other players, or the way we may treat our online lives like an additional job. The later part of the book introduces the novel ways in which virtual worlds can shape our behavior and identity. The author explores love relationships built online or how our sociability in games varies with the game mechanics and the appearance of other players. The Proteus Paradox was written for both people interested in games and in psychology, as it questions what it means to be human in virtual worlds. Game specialists will learn a lot on the many ways people actually interact in their games.

    The Gamer's Brain: How neuroscience and UX can impact video game design

    Celia Hodent 

    Celia Hodent is probably the most known ambassador of UX research in the game industry. After a Phd in psychology in Paris she worked in the toy industry (VTech) before joining the research labs of Ubisoft, then LucasArt and Epic Games. She has worked on major hit games like Rainbow Six and Fortnite. Celia Hodent was also a guest at the GDC conference, and has written several articles here on Gamasutra. It's worth noting that throughout her work and interventions she has been devoted to make games more ethical. 

    The first part of the book breaks down several functions of the human brain that are key to the gamer's experience, such as memory, attention or perception. By doing so, she debunks common myths on neuroscience and outlines the limits our brain will face when we are playing a game. In the second part, she uses this knowledge to adopt a player-centric perspective on game design. Having a UX mindset means caring about two things: game usability, and engage-ability. Usability means making your game easy to understand by for example having clear signs and feedback, suitable cognitive workload or consistency in the UI. Engage-ability means giving meaningful motivations to the player or convey emotion through the game controls and the game's world. Overall, The Gamer's Brain is probably the best book on game UX. It is easy to read and useful for anybody working in game production, not just UX specialists.

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