Understanding the Psychology Behind Game Design

Curated by Jamie Madigan, author of psychologyofgames.com. Jamie Madigan, Ph.D., writes and talks about how psychology can be used to understand how games are made, played, and sold. He has written on the subject for various websites and magazines and is the author of Why People Are Such Jerks in Call of Duty, Why You Never Unsubscribed From World of Warcraft, and 12 Other Questions That The Psychology of Video Games Can Answer and a forthcoming book, Mind Games: Why You Gorge on Candy Crush Saga. He also maintains psychologyofgames.com, where more of his writing can be found.
With sales in the tens of billions of dollars each year, just about everybody is playing some kind of video game, be it on a console, computer, Facebook, or phone. Much of the medium’s success is built on careful adherence to basic principles of psychology, which is becoming even more important as games become more social and sophisticated. For the last few years, I’ve been writing about the overlap between game design and psychology. Understanding the intersection of those two disciplines can not only help you make better products games, but get more out of games as a player on your own terms.

Psychologist and Lead Designer of Social Systems for League of Legends Jeffrey Lin presents findings that he and his team have done on the social psychology of toxic behavior online and how to nudge players in the right direction.

Think about how the traits of toxic player behavior can manifest themselves in other products. How can users be nudged to avoid such behavior?

Scott Rigby is part of the team at Immersyve that uses psychology to advise on game design. In this presentation, he and his colleague Troy Skinner (no relation) discuss how the satisfaction of certain psychological needs can increase engagement and playtime in mobile games.

Think about new ways to satisfy needs for relatedness, autonomy, and mastery in your product.

In this video, the Extra Credits team tell us about the behavioral revolution in psychology led by B.F. Skinner and how his insights into learned behaviors both help and hinder game development.

Think about Skinner boxes and rewards that exist only out of tradition and how they can be cut out or changed.

As a companion to the Skinner video, Ben Lewis-Evans discusses the role played by the neurotransmitter dopamine in learning, motivation, and habit. Lessons for game and product design are, of course, included.

Consider what rewards exist in your product and how their scheduling affects user motivation.

It’s not over once the game is designed and on shelves, though. The Reality Check team explores some of the psychological levers that Steam and other digital distribution outlets use to move gamers during big sales events.

Think about where else these psychological sales techniques appear, and whether the strategies you’ve developed to resist them elsewhere also apply to digital sales.

Sean Baron looks at how Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (that’s “Chick-Sent-Me-High”) concept of psychological flow can be applied to efforts at dialing in difficulty during game design.

Consider how your product satisfies or doesn’t satisfy the requirements for psychological flow and how it could be changed.

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