Welcome to the second edition of Unique Game Mechanics! If you haven’t read my post on psychographic profiles or need a refresher from the Part 1, allow me to give a quick summary.
Psychographic profiles are a more precise way of looking at groups then demographics. In terms of games and game development, psychographic profiles can be used to help game designers determine who they should design their game for and who will buy their game. This may seem like common sense, but when creating games that involve unusual or lesser used mechanics it is important to consider “Who will actually buy this thing?” One such mechanic that we don’t see much of in games (at least compared to others) is humor.
With this mechanic, the player must create something that is funny or amusing to do well at the game. Sometimes there will be restrictions on what they can do to be amusing, like in Cards Against Humanity where you can only use the cards you’ve been dealt or in charades where the player is limited by what they are supposed to depict. Other games like the VR game Comedy Night give players more freedom, with the only restraint being keeping to the relevant topic of the chat room (and the player has can choose what room they join). Someone who would enjoy this type of mechanic could be an adult individual who aspires to be a comedian or entertainer, but so far has only watched other performers online. They want to try performing for an audience of their own, but there are no comedy clubs or similar venues in their area. By playing Comedy Night, this person can hop on anytime and find people who want to watch standup and will give them feedback. In addition to performing, the person in question can also use Comedy Night to watch other amateur comedians and learn from them.
Recently one of my courses tasked the class with coming up with three unique game mechanics, identify what skills they have the player use, and conjuring up a psychographic profile of someone who would enjoy it. As I explained in last weeks blog post, a psychographic profiles provide a more detailed view of the target audience for a game. By using them in the context of this post, we can see how they are useful to game designers, as they give insight into who will enjoy the game when unusual mechanics are used.
Vocabulary mechanics are used when a player must use their knowledge of words (spelling, meaning, origin, context, etc.) to gain an advantage in or progress through a game. The player must determine which word is appropriate for the situation. An example of this would be Scrabble, because players have to account for the correct spelling of a word, how long a word is (longer words can mean more points), and if the word they are thinking of is a real word at all (e.g. players can’t make up words). All these factors must be carried out with the random assortment of letters provided to the player. This type of gameplay mechanic would be appealing to a well-read person, since they would have a wide vocabulary to use. This would imply they are on the older side, as most young children do not have an adequate vocabulary to excel at this game mechanic. Someone who is highly educated and enjoys mental challenges such as crossword puzzles and trivia could also find vocabulary mechanics enjoyable.
Author’s Note: This piece was originally part of an assignment for a class. Therefore the length is longer then what I normally post. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless!
Demographics vs. Psychographic Profiles
Demographics are dying. Or at the very least they are becoming less useful. In days gone by saying that something was designed with the 18-35 year old white male in mind would be enough to guarantee that market would buy it. However, as one of my classes recently pointed out, the average 18-35 year old white male can belong to any number of unique subcultures. What appeals to a 27 year old anime enthusiast will probably not be enjoyed as much (or at all) by a 18 year old sports fanatic. Thankfully, there is an alternative to demographics: psychographic profiles. Unlike demographics, psychographic profiles reveal the opinions, interests, and lifestyles of the groups studied. That said, not everyone in the group will perfectly fit within a psychographic profile, and it is important to interview members to confirm the profile is relevant. For game designers this allows them to tailor games to be appealing to many in that group, and thereby increasing the likely hood of commercial success. In addition to this, sometimes a “splash effect” will occur where people from an unrelated psychographic profile will also find enjoyment in the product.
Example of a Psychographic Profile
Jon is a 70 year old office worker with a college degree. Most of his weekday is spent at the office reviewing documents on his computer and in print form. He rarely takes breaks and when he does they are usually just a few minutes long. During these breaks Jon likes to do things that reduce anxiety, like squeezing a stress ball or organizing his desk. In general Jon prefers logic over creativity. Jon would much prefer trying to solve a crossword puzzle then going to an art museum. That said Jon enjoys some Sci-Fi and fantasy. He has found memories of going to see the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters, but isn’t a fan of the newer movies.
When not at the office Jon is often still working either from home or on the road. In the evening while at home Jon likes to watch the news and old movies. He’ll watch anything on TCM, but won’t catch the deeper concepts or themes in more complex movies. Jon engages in passive and sedate hobbies like bird watching, coin collection, and stamp collection. He’s tried Sudoku, but got frustrated when he couldn’t figure out some of the answers. Sometimes if Jon’s young-adult kids are home he will play games with them like Backgammon, Scrabble, or Apples to Apples (his kids tried to get him to play Cards Against Humanity, but Jon was not a fan of the vulgarity). Jon often will give his kids advice or let them win as he is pretty easy going and not competitive. When he is alone Jon enjoys reading murder mystery novels. He likes to try and figure out who the murder is before the book does.
Jon has a smartphone, but it’s not the newest model. He doesn’t like to use it unless he has to because he’s concerned about the battery life. In general, he vaguely understands technology, but doesn’t fully comprehend it. Besides the TV at home, the piece of technology Jon interacts with the most is his computer. He knows how to navigate the internet, but doesn’t fully understand the difference between browsers (he still uses Internet Explorer). Currently he’s working on getting better at using Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word so that he doesn’t have to print documents out to mark them for editing.
Takeaways from Interview with Profile Member
I interviewed my dad, Don, who falls within the previous physiographic profile. Don is a 76 year old lawyer who is working from home due to the pandemic. Although he is no longer working from the office, Don’s free time is still limited. When I interviewed Don, he gave me some feedback on the above psychographic profile. He doesn’t consider himself interested in playing video games, but does enjoy occasionally playing boardgames that require logic and intellect. He does not consider himself a gamer and claims to have no interest in “games.” However, upon pointing out his enjoyment of games like Scrabble and Backgammon, Don conceded that he is not interested in “video games” specifically. Don revealed the theme or topic of a game (e.g. birds, fantasy, etc.) is not that important to him. Instead, based on our discussion during the interview, it is the gameplay mechanics that are of more importance. Gameplay that requires participants to use their brain and logic skills is more appealing to Don then something simple and low-brow. He also abhors violence in video games, believing it contributes to real life violence.
Game Design Implications
A few factors can be eliminated as things someone in this psychographic profile would not like. We can rule out certain platforms that could run the game, such as smartphones, tablets, or consoles. However, tabletop or computer games are options. It is also possible that the game could be marketed less as a traditional video game and more as a logic test, so as to overcome Don’s aversion to video games. Also, a game that features violent or controversial acts should be avoided. The length of the game should not be very long, since profile members do not have a lot of free time. Something that is more logic based would be more appealing then something that allowed for creativity. As for the theme of the game, it could be less important than gameplay to some profile members. That said, a game still needs a theme. In this case the theme could relate to a passive interest, as it connects to something profile members already enjoy, but can only experience briefly in their busy day. A possible game that fits these constraints might be a browser-based puzzle where the final image is related to a passive interest. An additional gameplay mechanic could be added where before the player completes the puzzle they can choose to guess what the image depicts. If they guess right the puzzle will automatically complete itself, but if they guess wrong the pieces will disconnect and the player will have to start over.
Potential Splash Effect Audience
Stacy is a 37 year old firefighter and EMT. Her career choice means that she has to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In order to be able to do this, she doesn’t like to engage in activities that take a long time or can’t be easily paused. When she was younger Stacy engaged a wide array of fandoms and interests. In college Stacy was a frequent participant of pub trivia, where she enjoyed showing off her knowledge and logic skills. While she is happy working as a firefighter, Stacy occasionally misses being able to use her logic and problem solving skills. To negate this feeling, Stacy likes to play casual games on her smartphone, such as crossword puzzles and hidden objects. When she picks out a game download on her phone, Stacy gravitates towards games that can be saved mid-progress and don’t take more then a few minutes complete.
As this brief example shows, psychographic profiles are a powerful tool for establishing constraints and pinning down specifics for a desired market. I doubt demographics will go extinct anytime soon, but hopefully psychographic profiles will eclipse their use in game design circles.
While reading Chapter 1 of Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, I was pleasantly surprised with how she described the role of a game designer. Being a textbook, I was expecting a technical description of the various duties a game designer carries out. Instead, I found it focused not so much on what a game designer does, but on how they should do it. Fullerton advises aspiring game designers take a playcentric approach. This approach puts emphasis on playtesting, which should begin early in the development process so feedback can be taken into consideration before the project gets too far along. (Fullerton) Overall, I agree with Fullerton’s recommendation of using a playcentric approach and the emphasis she puts on holistic teamwork. However, the chapter is not without flaws.
One critique I have of Chapter 1 is it does not go into the specifics of what it takes to execute a playcentric approach. For example, who should be the playtesters? My initial thought was playtesters should be members of the demographic that are most likely to buy the game. Identifying that demographic, however, is not clear cut. Many gamers play multiple genres, and the gaming community is increasingly diverse. Singling out only one group would be logistically difficult and possibly hinder large scale commercial success. An argument could even be made for using playtesters who prefer other games or were picked randomly, as this could help tap into new markets. Who the playtesters are will have some influence on their feedback. Consider what would happen if someone who had never played an FPS was a playtester for a new Call of Duty title, or someone who has never used a console playtested an Xbox exclusive. With the significant role playtester feedback has in a playcentric approach, the selection of playtesters is important.
Chapter 1’s advice to future game designers is good, but it could have gone into more detail. That said, I am hopeful in later chapters Fullerton will expand on what has been presented.
This post is based on Chapter 1 of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 1: The Role of the Game Designer.” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.