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Dissecting Why We Play Video Games

If you've ever spent a fair amount time with Magic: The Gathering, you may have come across the terms Timmy, Johnny, and Spike. These are a reference to the three Magic "player" types, or reasons why people play the game. Note that these player types are not mutually exclusive. A player could be half Timmy (who plays for the feeling of power) and half Johnny (who loves to create combos and break cards).

For some time now, I've been attempting to do the same thing for gamers. What little I've seen on the subject seems greatly lacking. For example, the Bartle Test demonstrates what players like, but really not why they like those things. The Magic player types represent a psychological reasoning for the game, the cause, rather than what they are actually doing in the game, the effect. The Bartle Test simply examines the various play-styles without figuring out the reasoning behind them. This is important because if you can understand what makes your players truly tick you will be better equipped to design a game — and new game elements — that support those player types. This is why Magic has remained so successful — they understand exactly what it is all their gamer types enjoy and make sure that everyone is satisfied with each release.

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I first came across the idea of profiling gamers after realizing that many of my fellow JRPG fans played those games for their story elements above all else. Being someone who greatly enjoys the battle and upgrade mechanics of JRPGs — and who has a certain fondness for turn-based — this realization changed everything for me, and I suddenly knew why games that I found mediocre — such as Final Fantasy VI — were loved by so many other JRPG fans. The Bartle Test is missing any kind of category that fits the bill for this story-driven player, further proving it to be an incomplete profile.

Player fun retention is something that an awful lot of developers have failed at while "modernizing" their games. They have a tendency to re-tailor their game to one gamer psyche while simultaneously weakening the fun for others — those we might call the "original" fans. Unfortunately, this is likely often fueled by greed, as developers prefer the larger subgroups of gamers to want their game rather than the smaller, more niche players. But this leads to a starvation effect leaving masses of gamers without a satisfying experience.

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I posit that, just like in Magic, there's a way to design a game that attracts both the major and minor player types without sacrificing on either. But in order to do that, we need to understand them first. And that is my goal: To create not only a chart of what gamers like (and don't like), but why they like those things, and what parts of what games apply to the same player type. Armed with this knowledge, developers should be able to reduce the starvation effect we've been seeing recently while simultaneously expanding the player base to keep a game profitable.

My first step in this process will be to analyze various closely-related game genres and figure out its connections to gamers. In other words, areas of overlap and exclusion. From there, hopefully, we can begin to build a psychological profile of gamers. It will be important to note gameplay exclusions, those things which are loved by the gamers of one sub-genre but hated by the gamers of another. For example, we could take JRPG as the genre, then examine various sub-genres: Turn Based JRPG, Action JRPG, and (Turn Based) Strategy JRPG. We could look at the arguments between specific games, such as Final Fantasy XIII, and see what different people liked and hated about it versus other games in the series.

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This will not be a quick process. Fleshing out gamer profiles will likely take years, but I do believe that, eventually, we can build a strong underpinning of what truly makes different gamers tick.

The first discussion on this topic is very open-ended and will be designed to get an idea for gamers' "loves" in a very general sense. Tell me about your favorite games, your favorite genres. Tell me about the games in those genres that you hate and those that you love. Tell me which genres you just simply don't like. Go into as much detail as possible. Tell me about the sub-genres you play. If you can, try to tell me why you love or hate these games. I would love to be able to build basic gamer profiles based on your comments that can be fleshed out in subsequent studies.

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