22 December 2005
by Mike Rozak
In The attraction of impossibility I wrote about people being attracted to virtual worlds (and games) for the ability to do something they can't in real life. The player pyramid discussed how virtual worlds tend to emphasise social goals/desires that people can't get from real life, while single-player games can fulfil non-social goals/desires (or whatever their AI is capable of.)
Richard Bartle's player model in http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm discusses similar ideas, being more minimalist in his categorisation, and claiming that people play virtual worlds because they want to socialise (socialiser), be socially dominant (killers), compete (achievers), and explore the world (explorers). Explorers don't fit my "virtual worlds are socially motivated" theory as well as the other three player types.
Nick Yee has a similar set of "facets" that cover socialisers, killers, and achievers, but leave out explorers.
Basically, Richard Bartle's and Nick Yee's models both come down to the fundamental goals of the player: why the player is playing, often at a subconscious level. My musings came to the same conclusion.
However, games and virtual world can provide other goals, sympathetic goals. These are goals that the game gives to the player, and which the player internalises into his own goals. For example: "Kill the evil overlord" is a goal given by the game world, and which (through various devices) Fable manages to internalise into the player. (Random comment at the end of the article.)
The various player models and sympathetic goals are flip sides of the same coin. Player models describe what goals a player brings into the game/world, while sympathetic goals describe the goals that the players acquire once there.
I suspect that certain players are more strongly attracted to worlds that allow them to achieve their own goals, preferring to join world-like worlds. Other players find it more fun to take one the world's goals, joining game-like worlds.
Revisiting goals/dreams that players bring into the game/world
Since I have recently spent a considerable amount of time looking at sympathetic goals, I thought I'd revisit player models a bit, and fine-tune some of my thoughts from The attraction of impossibility.
To attract players based on their personal goals, a game design needs to resonate with their goals. Obviously, a world accurately based on the Roman Empire would attract players who are interested in the accurate depiction of the Roman Empire... all 10,000 of them. A world that allows players to be a cowboy might attract wild-west fans. Etc.
A niche-market world can choose a specific interest group and tailor its experience to the group, particularly if the group can't achieve its goals in real life. The specific features are, of course, dependent upon the group. People who are interested in realistic space travel might want a realistic simulator of travel to and then explore mars (that would bore the pants off most people).
What does a game/world do if it wants to attract a larger (mass-market) audience? Richard Bartle's and Nick Yee's models provide some insight, although I find them too general.
Teenagers seem to be more attracted to MMORPGs and CRPGs than adults. (Yes, most player are not teenagers, but (a) most of the real-life population is over 19, and (b) teenagers find MMORPGs and CRPGs more expensive than do adults. Despite these hurdles, almost 50% of the MMORPG-playing population is under 20.)
What "personal goals" are common to teenagers? Remembering back to those awful years (definitely not the best years of my life), I came up with the following list: (Feel free to make up your own.)
In case you haven't read between the lines by now, MMORPGs and CRPGs fit snugly into a stereotypical teenager's personal goals.
If a mass-market game were designed for adults, the question arises: What "personal goals" are common amongst adults? (Feel free to make up or modify the list to suit your opinions.)
Of course, these goals are drawn with very broad strokes. Everyone is different. For example: I like watching the international news, and I like science fiction and fantasy. From this, I've concluded that my fundamental "dreams" are as follows:
Mass market vs. niche
Notice that my goals don't particularly match what I've written for the standard "adult" goals. After all, everyone is different.
This difference affects a game's design: Teenagers are attracted to a game with virtual housing because it allows them to be an adult. Most/many adults would like to own their own virtual house so long as it's bigger/better than their current one. I'm not particularly attracted to virtual property, because in real life, I don't want anything larger/better than I already have.
Due to their production price tags, large worlds must target "typical" teenager or adult "dreams", like owning a big house or holidaying on a tropical island. Large Hollywood productions do the same.
Small worlds (and small movies) fulfil more niche dreams. I could take my personal goals and produce a world that fulfils them, but I wouldn't get many players. However, if my costs were low enough, a few thousand dedicated players might be all I needed.
Random comment at the end of the article
One way to create a sympathetic goal that I didn't think of when writing sympathetic goals is:
Copyright 2005 by Mike Rozak. All rights