这种机制不言自明，就是类似于老虎机或扑克游戏。这是将传统的游戏与其他机制相混合形成的一条灰色带。根据分类，开发者很容易把传统的赌博方法和虚拟的扑克游戏和老虎机游戏相给合，比如《Zynga Poker》、《Big Fish Casino》和《Slotomania》。
最好的情况便是，这些游戏的开发者越来越意识到这一元素的重要性，并更加重视它的使用。就像Frictional Games（《失忆症：黑暗后裔》的开发商）的创始人Thomas Grip所言，当游戏拥有较强的移情元素时，添加镜像神经元便非常重要。换句话说，玩家将真正与游戏主角融为一体。
建立玩家与游戏间的纽带的最佳方法便是诱发玩家产生强烈的情感。恐怖求生游戏便是利用恐惧感而有效地做到了这一点。但是这却不是唯一方式。最近我们还看到一系列不同的游戏在利用各种不同的情感，如悲痛（ Tale of Tales的《墓地》），爱与失去（Thechineseroom的《Dear Esther》）等。显然，“一体适用”的电子游戏时代已经一去不复返了。
我想要创造许多种游戏，但是有时候我却不知道该如何做。许多游戏涉及了某些真实情感，即难以通过游戏形式表现出来，但是不管怎么样我都认为自己有必要去创造出这些游戏。从完成水平来看，游戏可以说是我心中唯一的一种“艺术形式”。在某种程度上看，游戏也是我传达自己想法的唯一方式（尽管是以一种较原始的方法）。就像我创造了《Home Computer Wars》这款游戏去传达我在14岁时（1984年）的想法，并表述那时的我如何将雅达利计算机当成是世界上最棒的东西。而《Daphnie’s Balloon Pop》和《Katie’s Heart Catcher》则侧重于传达我在童年时期的一些单纯的情感（如“我爱你，这是我为你制作的一款游戏”）。还有一些非游戏项目，如“Game Storm!”便体现出了我的沮丧（即当我尝试着提出可销售的游戏理念时却发现市场上已经涌现出许多类似理念）。尽管这些简单的游戏都是建立在情感的基础上，但是很多时候它们都不能真实地传达地这些情感，或者帮助玩家在游戏时进行更深刻的理解。
继Z-Engine游戏之后再迈出一两步便是Storytron游戏了，这是Chris Crawford所领导的游戏项目，即通过创造一个系统让开发者能够基于人类互动而创造游戏。《Balance Of Power 21st Century》便是一个有趣的例子。即游戏制作人必须创造一组情境，并围绕着这些情境做出选择然后承担着所有结果。但是这款游戏更像是在模拟一个群组人的感受以及彼此间的反应，而不像是用于传达不幸事件的情感的系统。老实说它还有点像最初的《Balance Of Power》，即要求玩家必须带着足够的耐心去游戏，而如果是休闲玩家便有可能在此做出一些备受争议的选择。
名字：《Catch In The Park》
所以《Catch In The Park》算得上是一款游戏吗？从表面上来看它能够吸引那些喜欢管理类模拟游戏的休闲玩家的注意，并带有一些潜在的“乐趣”和“满足”情感。但是如果我们的目标是探索“内疚”和“绝望”，那么这款游戏便不可能做到这一点。当然了，不理解游戏情境的玩家也可以直接操纵游戏，但是对于那些有过相同遭遇的家长来说，他们将能从中感受到不同的情感。相反地，它也有可能促成一种糟糕的结果。即有可能游戏根本不能体现出玩家所希望看到的任何情感。如果这类型游戏不能做到这一点，那么玩家便只能够从中感受到沮丧，生气与懊悔（浪费时间）了。
激动人心的时刻到了。现在你可以体验网页版益智游戏《Triple Town》，我们已推出测试版本，会逐步进行优化。值得称赞的是，Cristian Soulos再次将作品变成大众关注焦点。
* 自豪感：当你创造出美丽城市，你就会想要分享。大家会截屏，然后进行吹嘘。因所创建内容而感到自豪是驱动《Triple Town》玩家的主要情感。
* 阶段 1：在建模初期，NPC意外呈现为小孩子。自然当玩家捕获这些孩子，将他们变成庄严石头时，他们会感到难过。意外死亡会带来愧疚和悲伤，而故意杀害则会让人觉得非常残忍。
* 阶段 2：所以后来我们将它们转变成邪恶的怪兽。这是个巨大转变。现在当玩家捕获和杀害怪兽时，他们会感到由衷的高兴。
* 阶段 3：最终在最新的架构中，我锁定眼神有些邪恶的小熊。很多人觉得杀死小熊没什么，但有些人会捉摸不定，感到不舒服。
体验《Triple Town》几百小时后，我知道适合所有机制的寓意。《Triple Town》是有关殖民地主题的游戏。下面是些创建机制，以及源自寓意的标签如何以连贯方式将他们联系起来。
Aki Järvinen的论文《Games without Frontiers》谈到一个有趣情感模式（由Ortony、Clore和Collins提出，简称OCC模式）。模式假设情感结果同机制变体相关。例如，玩家沮丧感同可变“可能性”有关：
篇目1，Dopamine and games – Liking, learning, or wanting to play?
by Ben Lewis-Evans
A few weeks ago when listening to a gaming podcast, I heard the hosts describe a particular game as “giving them their shots of dopamine” in terms of the pleasure they had experienced with the game, and their desire to keep on playing (dopamine being a neurotransmitter i.e. a chemical used in the brain). The comment was made off-hand but reflects a common view – that having dopamine released is related to pleasure and reward, and therefore is relevant to gameplay. But is this view correct?
Well, if we go back around 30+ years, the view that dopamine is the chemical related to pleasure and reward was being presented by researchers. One classic experiment that led to this view of dopamine being related to pleasure comes from even further back and involved rats that had electrodes in their brain stimulating brain areas that (it turns out later) can be responsible the production of dopamine . These rats could press a lever to get this part of the brain activated. In response to this self-administered brain stimulation the rats would push this lever at the expense of basically anything else. For example, they would rather press the lever than eat, be social, sleep, and so on. This, and other later evidence, led to this area of the brain being labelled as the ‘pleasure centre’ and seemed pretty convincing.
So, the conclusion at the time is that dopamine was the most important chemical that made us enjoy rewards and at the same time could motivate us to seek them out . As such, the idea that dopamine is a reward and pleasure chemical, spread and is now mentioned off hand by podcasters (a very scientific metric of cultural spread, I know).
Unfortunately (well, actually in the long run, fortunately) the brain is not that simple. Science has moved on and things have changed. Indeed, a leading researcher in the area has, jokingly, suggested that that the best answer to the question “what does dopamine do?” is “confuse neuroscientists” .
That answer, while amusing (I laughed at least), doesn’t really help those working in games to understand what their games may or may not be doing to the brains of those playing them. As such, the aim of this blog is for me to as clearly as possible explain what Science currently says about the role of dopamine and rewards. More than that though, I will also try and provide some comment in terms of what all this neurotransmitter stuff actually means for people who make games.
Please note, in the following blog I will be limiting myself to talking about what is known about the effect of dopamine (the neurotransmitter) itself and not discussing what is known about the brain areas that are related to its production or suppression. I have also limited myself to only discussing the most relevant and interesting (in my opinion) examples and experiments as this is not the place for a full academic review of the subject (If that is what you want, check out the academic reviews listed in the reference section at the end of this blog [4-8]).
Liking, learning, or wanting rewards in gameplay
One useful way to approach the question of dopamine, and what it does, is to break down people’s reaction to rewards in terms of liking, learning, or wanting. Which is to say, that when it comes to how you react to a reward (such as achieving something in a game) then whether you like the reward (i.e. is it fun), have learned the appropriate way to get the reward (i.e. can you actually play the game), and if you want to work to get the reward (i.e. is it motivating to play), can be completely different, and independent, things.
Liking to play
It seems to make sense that if you do something for a reward then you must like that reward. This is indeed part of the reasoning that led early researchers looking at dopamine to assume that dopamine was to do with pleasure (‘liking’) . Basically, they thought, why else would the rats have pushed that lever for so long if they weren’t enjoying themselves?
The idea that the self-stimulating rats were enjoying themselves may have been an understandable assumption. However, it turns out that while rewards are often liked they do not have to be liked in order to be effective in changing behaviour and, furthermore, that dopamine itself does not appear to be directly involved in ‘liking’ and pleasure.
Specifically, as research has moved on, it has become clear that animals (usually mice and rats) that have had their ability to produce dopamine stopped or restricted (either via drugs, surgery, or genetic alteration) can still be seen to demonstrate that they ‘enjoy’ and ‘like’ things. One demonstration of this would be that mice that have been genetically altered to not produce dopamine (a type of mutant “knock out” mouse, or an X-Mouse if you prefer) still show a preference for sugary water and other foods . In that, these mice like and seem to show signs of enjoying the taste of sugary water and when given the choice will pick to drink it over plain, non-sugary, water. Furthermore, you can also genetically engineer mutant mice to have excess dopamine and these animals do not show any additional/enhanced signs of ‘liking’ different foods despite all the dopamine floating around in their brains .
So, that is mice but what about humans? Well, researchers aren’t really allowed to make mutant humans and it is not easy to get permission to give drugs or do brain surgery on people. But, we can look at patients with Parkinson’s disease, which is characterised by problems with dopamine production. These patients, much like the rats and mice, also do not appear to show any decreases in the liking of rewards, such as sweet tastes .
Given the above findings, and many others (e.g. see the reviews of [4-8]), it became hard for researchers to continue with the idea that dopamine is a pleasure or ‘liking’ chemical. In fact, by 1990, Roy Wise, a leading researcher and initial proponent of the idea that dopamine is related to pleasure stated:
“I no longer believe that the amount of pleasure felt is proportional to the amount of dopamine ?oating around in the brain” ( – p. 35).
Indeed, rather than dopamine it seems that other neurotransmitters, such as opioids (Endorphins! Remember when they were trendy to talk about?) and cannabinoids are actually more often involved in ‘liking’ a reward [4, 10, 13-15]). Although, it should be noted at this point that opioid release in the brain can, indirectly, also lead to reactions in the dopamine system, which again could explain the early confusion over the role of dopamine. However, as mentioned above, mice that are genetically unable to produce dopamine still do like things!
So, that pleasurable feeling you get when playing a game? Dopamine is probably not the cause. In the same fashion, if someone tells you their game is designed to maximise dopamine delivery then this does not necessarily mean their game will be fun or enjoyable to play.
Learning to play
If dopamine isn’t related to pleasure, then what does it do? Well, another hypothesis, which became popular in the 1990’s, is that dopamine helps animals learn how and where to get rewards (a very useful thing to remember in games but also in life in general). This hypothesis arose when scientists started noticing that dopamine activity appeared to increase before a reward was delivered and therefore could be helping animals predict the arrival of a future reward [6-8]. That is to say that dopamine was produced when an animal saw a stimulus (such as a light coming on) that had been previously linked to getting the reward and, therefore, the dopamine release was predictive of the reward coming and not a reaction to the reward itself (as it would be if it was just about ‘liking’ that reward or getting pleasure from it). There also seems to be an increase in the activity in the dopamine system when a reward is unpredictable (like a random loot drop in a game). That dopamine activity increased most when an animal was expecting or learning about an unpredictable reward appears to make sense if dopamine is about learning. After all, if a reward appears to be unpredictable then you should pay more attention/try and learn about what signals the reward so you can work out how to better obtain that reward in the future .
Again, this evidence for dopamine’s role in learning looked pretty good [7-8]. However, once again mutant mice have shaken up this idea. In a quite clever study in this area, scientists at the University of Washington showed that not only do mice that cannot produce dopamine still ‘like’ rewards but that they were also capable of learning where a reward was . Specifically, these mutant knock-out mice could still learn that a reward (food) was in the left hand side of a T shaped maze, although they did so only after being given caffeine. The addition of caffeine to the mice is unrelated to dopamine production but was needed because without this mice that cannot produce dopamine don’t do much of anything. As you can see for yourself in this video with a normal and a dopamine deficient mouse the mutant mouse tends to just sit there. In fact, these mutant mice do so little that they will die from not eating and drinking enough unless given regular shots of a drug that effectively restores their dopamine function for a day or so .
In addition to the above experiment, it also appears that mice that have more dopamine than normal do not demonstrate any advantages when it comes to learning . However, as mentioned, the fact that dopamine deficient mutant mice will essentially starve to death means that dopamine must do something. But if dopamine isn’t for pleasure from rewards, and isn’t for learning about rewards (although argument here still exists), then what does dopamine do?
Wanting (desiring, needing) to play
It turns out, as far as where science is currently at (and remember science does, and should, change as new evidence is found), that it seems that dopamine is most clearly related to wanting a reward [4-6, 15, 17]. This is not wanting as it would perhaps commonly be used in terms of a subjective feeling or cognitive statement like “Oh, I want to finish Saints Row IV tonight” but rather as a drive, a desire, or a motivation to get a reward. So, this is not about a feeling of ‘liking’ and pleasure, instead what we are talking about is a feeling of a need or drive to do something. Subjectively this may be like when you just have to take one more turn in Civilization (or start playing and then 5 hours later realise you are still going) or when you have just get a few more loot drops in Diablo before you stop for the night. Indeed in the literature, when discussing the results of experiments on mice, some researchers suggest that dopamine creates a ‘magnetic’ attraction or compulsion towards obtaining a reward [3, 6]. Indeed, it could be argued that the evidence for dopamine being involved in ‘learning’ is in fact just a sign of ‘wanting’ being directed towards an uncertain reward, which then motivates learning to occur as a side effect (i.e. if I want something, I am likely to try and learn how to get it).
Again, here, we can look at mutant mice to confirm the role of dopamine in ‘wanting’. In mice that cannot produce dopamine, their motivation to move towards and work for rewards (which, remember, they do like and have learnt how to get) is deficient [3, 17]. This means that these mice do like sugary water, and they have learnt that the sugary water comes from the drinking tube on the right; however, they just aren’t motivated to walk over there and drink it . Conversely, mutant mice that have more dopamine than is normal have been shown to be more motivated to gain rewards, both in terms of how fast they approach rewards and how much effort they will expend to get the reward [3, 10]. Also remember those rats with electrodes in their brains working away at the expense of everything else just to get more stimulation? Well that can also be explained in terms of ‘wanting’ the simulation rather than ‘liking’ it [1, 2]. Kind of like how someone with OCD will wash their hands over and over and over again, even though they often get no pleasure from this act (and in fact it can be quite distressing).
Looking at humans, if we examine patients with Parkinson’s disease then there are also studies that show that some of these patients demonstrate increased ‘reward wanting’ and have compulsion problems when given a drug that enhances dopamine production. For example, such patients have been reported to go on obsessive shopping sprees and demonstrate other ‘manic’ type behaviour .
Furthermore, if we go back and look at reports of people who, like the previously mentioned rats , had direct (self) electrical stimulation of their so called ‘pleasure centres’ in their brain (usually for questionable medical reasons), then we see subjective reports of increased sexual desire or motivation to perform various activities (or just to press the button to self-stimulate, which they would do thousands of times). However, we do not actually see clear reports from these people of increased pleasure, sexual or otherwise (these accounts are mostly from the 70’s & 80’s where this kind of thing was going on, and are summarised in  if you are interested). In one highly ethically questionable example, the researchers actually hired a female prostitute at the request (although, one could easily question if this was a true, ethically acceptable, request) of an electrically self-stimulating man who was being ‘treated’, in part, for homosexuality, along with depression, drug abuse, and epilepsy . So, in these human accounts we see suggestions of what looks like a wanting response to self-stimulation of dopamine related brain areas but not necessarily a liking response (i.e. the subjects expressed increased desire but not necessarily increased pleasure). Although, it should be pointed out that if you were depressed, and then suddenly started feeling motivated to do things again that this may, as a side effect, increase your mood .
The upshot of all of the research mentioned above is that it appears that dopamine is not directly about pleasure (or learning) but rather it is about motivation or, if you want to be more sinister, compulsion. So, when those podcasters I was listening to said that a game was compulsive because it was giving them their dopamine shot, they may have been right. However, dopamine was not directly responsible for also making the game they were talking about fun (please note, I am not so serious that I expect videogame podcasters to be exact about this kind of thing, rather I am just using them as a convenient example).
What does this mean for games?
It is very popular at the moment to attach the term ‘neuro’ to almost anything. In academia this has led to a, justified in my opinion, neuroskeptic movement that is calling for, well, more evidence. However, there is no doubt that this ‘neurofication’ is popular with people. In fact, there is even research  showing that, at the moment, people seem to have a bias towards believing that data that is presented to them in a neuroscience-like fashion (i.e. via an image of a brain scan) is more scientifically valid than the same data presented to them in a more mundane fashion (i.e. via a bar graph).
So, what does knowing all this neuroscience mean for those who are making games? Well, from a strictly pragmatic and applied perspective it could be argued it means very little for every day game design. The neuroscience I have presented here is mostly pure, not applied, science and comes from the perspective that we already know that certain rewards and ways of delivering reward are particularly motivating and pleasurable (and may or may not have anything to do with dopamine to different extents). For example:
- Rewards that are unpredictable (loot drops) are generally more motivating than rewards that are predictable (100 xp per monster) [21-23].
- Rewards should be meaningful, e.g. food is not particularly motivating for most people if you are already full, or if you are in a relatively visually sparse setting then new, unusual, stimuli will attract your attention more readily .
- People tend to have a preference for immediate rewards and feedback and are not so motivated by delayed rewards and feedback. This preference for immediate gratification is strongest when young, but persists throughout life [24-26].
- Learning to get and want a certain reward is enhanced by immediate feedback about what behavioural response produced that reward. Uncertainty about what behaviour produced the reward will often lead to trial-and-error type exploration, which will be more likely to continue if further rewards arrive [23, 27, 28].
- If people perceive they are progressing towards a reward, even if that progress is artificial/illusionary, they are more likely to be motivated to obtain the reward (just one more turn…) .
- Similarly, people tend to report that they will work harder to keep what they have rather than to gain something they don’t yet possess .
- People have somewhat of a bias towards large numbers. Therefore to some extent will prefer, and be more motivated by, a system where they earn 100 xp per monster and need 1000 xp to level up over a system where they earn 10 xp from a monster and need 100 xp to level up [29, 31].
- A predictor for a reward can serve/become a replacement for that reward in terms of behavioural response (e.g. getting points in a game becomes associated with having fun and points can therefore become a motivating reward in themselves) [21-23, 29, 32, 33].
- People tend to dislike rewards that are delivered in a way that is perceived to be controlling [22, 34-36].
- Feelings of mastery, self-achievement, and effortless high performance appear to be quite rewarding, if somewhat more difficult to achieve than other types of reward [35-37].
As such, the neuroscience research I have discussed isn’t, primarily, aimed at working out how to make a reward motivating or pleasant but rather at understanding why it is so at a physiological level. Or if it does take an applied view, it is usually about using drugs or direct brain stimulation to get results.
As such, from a practical perspective in games, then looking at behaviour (such as the masses of data being collected all the time on player behaviour by metrics or even your own small scale playtests) for game design directions is likely to be more valuable than looking to neuroscience for answers. Indeed, it is likely that even if you could record the exact dopamine activity of every player that interacted with your game that it would not really produce a substantially different design outcome than just looking at what they do (i.e. their behaviour). One exception could be that a theoretical neurological approach may be able to detect if a player was ‘wanting’ to play your game without consciously realising it (something that may indeed be possible) but even in this case you could still see the same outcome in their future behaviour without having to worry about the (complicated and costly) neurology of it. All this said, if you are interested in knowing what your games may be doing to peoples brains, or perhaps you are working in serious games and want to see if games can improve (or worsen) brain function. Then, here, neuroscience can be valuable. But please, be neuroskeptical!
One possible application of the research I have outlined here is, I guess, that because at the moment people seem biased towards accepting explanations with a ‘neuro’ component as being more scientific , then you could argue that talking about games in this fashion could be a viable marketing strategy. Be careful though. At the moment people appear to think dopamine is related to pleasure. As such, they may not mind games being publicised or talked about as being designed to maximise a dopamine response. However, if the public perception changes and it becomes even clearer that dopamine is about wanting and motivation, not pleasure, then such messages become more sinister. In that, the message changes from “this game is designed to be fun, so you will want to play it” to “this game is designed to make you want to play it, even if, perhaps, you don’t like or enjoy doing so”. Furthermore, there is some evidence that people who are already stressed (physically and/or mentally) or lacking in stimulation are more vulnerable to the motivational effects of dopamine (this makes evolutionary sense, as if you are in a bad position at the moment you should be motivated to go out and take risks to try and improve things – but in modern life this tendency can sometimes be harmful) . The upshot of this is that if you design your game to really push dopamine buttons and tie that into some kind of monetization (or even if you are just asking people to give you their time), then you may have to take the risk that those aspects will be working best on those who are less able to defend themselves and may also be the least able to pay (and you can’t even necessarily suggest that at least you are giving them a fun time because liking, while often correlated with, is not needed for wanting). Aside from any moral feelings this may or may not produce for you, such ‘dopamine designed’ games (which would most likely be games that rely on uncertain reward systems with good direct feedback systems on behaviour) may attract the eye of governments and lead to regulation (as, it could be argued, it already has in Japan with the restriction of certain ‘gambling’ components in mobile games).
A complicated matter
Before I finish up, it should be noted that the brain is a complex subject matter. When neuroscience is talked about in the media there are often references to brain areas being ‘pleasure centres’ or certain neurotransmitters doing very specific things. But that is not the reality but rather a side effect of trying to tell a clear story. In reality physiology often follows a many-to-one or many-to-many pattern. Which is to say it is not usually a case that X causes Y, but rather that X, Z, B, and/or C can, if circumstances are right, cause Y or even that any of X, Z, B, and/or C can cause any of Y, J, A, K, and/or U, depending on the situation. Furthermore, since neurotransmitters don’t exist in isolation you often have instances where changes in one neurotransmitter will affect one or more other neurotransmitters. Dopamine is good example of this as dopamine is a precursor for another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. So while dopamine may be involved in wanting a reward other neurotransmitters many also produce this effect. Or maybe dopamine only produces wanting when certain other situations are met and has different effects at other times.
Another complication is that it may be possible that the activation (or suppression) of brain areas that produce a neurotransmitter, such as dopamine, can have effects completely separate from the specific neurotransmitter that you are examining (which is why, at the start of this blog I said I was limiting myself to just discussing the action of the neurotransmitter and not of the brain regions themselves). Furthermore, binding sites (where neurotransmitters fit and work) can often be activated by multiple different chemicals (they just may be more strongly attracted to one neurotransmitter), meaning that in the absence of dopamine perhaps another chemical binds a these sites. Another complication would be that dopamine appears to be simply released during repetitive motor movements (such as where you play Rock Band or are just tapping away on buttons on a controller), which may or may not have anything to do with rewards .
In this blog, I have mentioned a few other neurotransmitters by name (e.g. opioids and cannabinoids) but I have focused purposefully on the role of dopamine and its role in ‘wanting’ rewards (it is likely that dopamine does more than this but ‘wanting’ seems to be its main role in terms of rewards). As such, I hope that this blog has been an interesting read and that maybe you have learned one or two new things.
However, there are many more neurotransmitters could play a role in how people react to games. Serotonin, for example, is likely to be involved . Also, many games are more than purely about reward. They also often involve social aspects (oxytocin and vasopressin are the neurotransmitters currently getting the most attention here), competition, skilled performance, negative, as well as positive, emotions, punishments, and many other factors. Indeed it seems that games are thankfully, much like the human brain, a complex subject matter. So, if this kind of subject interests you then read and learn about it (check out the references below, the majority of which are open access and not locked behind paywalls). But be aware of the current human positive bias towards neuro-related subjects and instead try to be neuroskeptical.
篇目2，Emotional Monetization – Driving Rev Through Emotion
by David Hom
When I talk to game developers about their games in various stages of production, the most common question I get is “what is the best strategy to make more money?” The most obvious answer (to them) is “analytics”– gathering behavioral data and analyzing player behavior to understand actual consumer game play and maximizing revenue potential. However, as a game designer by trade, I usually always focus on the gameplay rather than the monetization tactics. After all, if the game isn’t fun, game over. This is why I’d like to introduce a concept I call Emotional Monetization.
Analytics simply can’t quantify or measure emotion, and emotion is what will ultimately help your game monetize. Some developers think that monetizing is all about A/B testing, segmentation and return rates. It’s not. You need to establish an emotional connection with your players through engaging gameplay and amazing design. By definition, games are series of decisions, designed to create emotional attachment and be fun. Art and science become a game when a developer constructs game mechanics that allows gamers to make their own decisions with skill, strength or luck. For example:
Skill decisions are a series of chess moves: move the pawn or knight to take the rook?
Strength decisions are a series of physical and mental moves in sports: pass or shoot the ball?
Luck decisions are a series entries when playing slot machines: max bet or one coin?
Games are played to temporarily escape from current life by role playing a life as a treasure hunter, elite athlete, or puzzle solver. Through role playing, gamers can experience emotions, such as: overcoming challenge, defeat, success, and camaraderie.
So, make a decision, reap the reward, and repeat. Think about monetization through a similar lens. When do you introduce the decision, or in this case the point of monetization? Again, you want to create an emotional attachment and present the decision at the right time. Too early in gameplay and it’ll be a turnoff to your players. If you incorporate it too late, you may be giving up on an opportunity to drive revenue. An example of precise timing can be found in Candy Crush where after 15 levels, the player is forced to decide to either pay $.99 or ask three friends for help. Would your players’ emotional attachment be different if it were 7 levels instead of 15?
Now that question is, what technique or monetization gate do you use? The game genre may lend itself to a particular technique, but there are definitely no hard and fast rules. Combining and mixing them can make your game different and compelling. Indie devs are great at this.
Here’s a rundown of the different types of monetization gates you can incorporate into your game:
This type of Gate places timers on various components within a game, which include pay to bypass the timer or wait for the timer to elapse. This is a commonly used tactic in mobile games that represent something being upgraded, built, recharged or repaired. An example is Real Racing 3 where there is a timer placed on the car after upgrading before it can be entered into a race.
Time Gates enables a level playing field for paying and non-paying gamers who are patient. However, you need to offer other things for the player to do while waiting for the component, otherwise they are unlikely to stay for the long term. Real Racing 3 does this well where one car is under a timer, but the other cars can still enter races.
One thing to watch out for is that many gamers know how to bypass this mechanic by changing the time and date settings on the device. If you want to limit cheating, put the timer in your server and remove it from the client.
The probability gate can be presented to the gamer in various forms such as: landing a critical hit, reward loot, a treasure chest, or pack of cards. Instead of receiving a known return for a decision, the reward a gamer receives is left to chance. This game also emphasizes rare items, which can be used to make games feel special but are difficult to acquire without payment.
The ideology of the unknown is a powerful tactic. Creating an emotion where gamers are excited to have the opportunity to receive something rare keeps gamers coming back for more. You can use this concept in standard game mechanisms as well by replacing static variables (e.g. 20 coins for a victory) with a randomized range (15-25 coins).
Hay Day is a good example. It’s great to collect resources from a lot of farming, but not as great when the gamer runs out of room to store it. Every time a crop is picked up there is a chance to collect rare pieces to upgrade the barn or silo. Even better, there’s the opportunity to find the barn pieces in the Roadside Shop. The patient player can eventually get the pieces required, but the urge to speed up the process with an In App Purchase (IAP) is strong.
A common gate used in all free to play (F2P), which allows for users to decide to play the game a lot (for free) or pay (to advance faster). This type of gate is usually the easiest to implement into a game once a virtual economy and store is established. IAP items such as coin doublers and coin triplers, are levers used to reduce the grinding necessary for gamers to enjoy a game. Subway Surfers does a good job with integrating a virtual economy and IAP store. Gamers can play a lot and enjoy the game or they can buy coin packs to bypass some gameplay.
Games that focus on grinding have a difficult balance of having fun versus monetizing and are heavily dependent on the virtual economy. If there’s a low or no positive player feedback early on, the gamer could lose interest quickly. Devise ways to avoid repetition without emotional rewards and look into methodologies that would allow game variables to be tuned remotely because when gamers are asked to grind, loop holes are found and used.
Look into methodologies that would allow game variables to be tuned remotely. When gamers are asked to grind, loop holes are found and used.
This type of gate is analogous to the old term shareware or lite, where a player is not given access to features or levels unless they pay. Games with premium gates often reflect a previously paid title that hasn’t been as successful as hoped.
Fortunately, we’re seeing less and less of these types of games recently in favor of F2P games that offer rich experiences to non-paying users. In most cases, when forced to decide to pay or not to continue the decision made is often go find another game. If you add a premium gate, make sure gamers have the opportunity to play previous levels or give other options to enjoy and consider paying to move forward.
Candy Crush is a good example of a premium gate that hasn’t turned off players. After beating about 15 levels, there comes a point where gamers have to pay or ask their social network for help to unlock. While asking a social network for help may sound easy to do instead of paying for more, this action helps keep more players playing the game.
This type of gate is pretty self explanatory with slot and poker games. There is an obvious gray layer here with games that mix traditional games with other mechanics. For categorization methods, it’s easier to stick to traditional methods of gambling with virtual poker and slots. Examples: Zynga Poker, Big Fish Casino, and Slotomania
In conclusion, F2P monetization is not plug-and-play, rather a blend of art and science, or “Emotional Monetization.” You need to sit in your players seat, get in their head, and truly understand what they’re feeling. Practice sending the emotional shifts in your select games and more importantly ask other people the same questions about games. Every game will trigger different emotions for different people, and gauging emotion can make all the difference in the world.
篇目3，Fight or Flight: The Neuroscience of Survival Horror
by Maral Tajerian
Fear is one of the most primitive instincts in humans. Although it has been particularly useful in keeping us alive in dangerous situations, it has also helped the entertainment industry capitalize on our sheer joy of being scared. The video game industry has done a good amount of scaring by taking advantage of these emotions and employing them in gameplay narrative and design.
This practice is best exemplified by putting the player in a vulnerable situation with limited resources to confront enemies. With proper execution, the genre can make your heart race, palms sweat and make you go to sleep with nightmares. However, when executed poorly, players feel as if they’re simply “going through the motions”.
Over the last two decades, several games (ranging from the early Resident Evil series to the more recent Amnesia: The Dark Descent) have defined the survival horror genre by successfully engaging fear and anxiety in players.
Although successful iterations of these games offer different enemies, gameplay mechanics and plot, they all share similar ways of handling the human psyche. This article will discuss how fear as an emotion has been employed in the gaming industry and discuss how the balance between scares and gameplay can lead to success or failure.
The Science of Terror
Anxiety. Next to fear, anxiety is perhaps the most prominent feeling experienced in video games. Unlike fear, which is a response to an imminent threat, anxiety is a response to a future potential threat.
When perceptual systems are taxed, research has shown that a looming threat results in anxiety that heightens attention and increases sensitivity to potential dangers. This implies that solving a puzzle the character is presented with in the game does not take away from the experience of fear and danger. In fact, according to many gamers, solving the puzzles under dangerous circumstances only increases the feelings of fear. Consider how riddles and puzzles in Silent Hill excel in this respect.
An example of a puzzle from Silent Hill 2 that needs to be solved in a dark and dilapidated room.
While games like first person shooters are notorious for desensitizing players to violence, games that raise the player’s anxiety actually sensitize them to danger. This is simply how animals behave, and it’s a highly adaptive behavior, since it keeps individuals on their toes in anxiety-causing environments. Raising the levels of anxiety in a video game will therefore ensure that the player is sensitized to the danger in the game. In a game like Amnesia, the entire experience teeters on anxiety created up to confrontation with an enemy since the player has absolutely no means to defend himself.
Helplessness. As mentioned earlier, players in the survival horror genre are often faced with terrifying and inescapable circumstances, with little means of self-defense. In other words, they are truly and utterly helpless.
In Amnesia, some may remember locking themselves in a closet, or hiding in a corner staring at a blank wall for several minutes, because you’re convinced that if you move, even an inch, a certain and horrible death will soon ensue. Furthermore, elements like rigid camera angles, awkward control schemes (Silent Hill, and Early Resident Evil titles), lighting (Alan Wake, Dead Space), etc. all serve to obliterate what little control the player might have thought she possessed.
Helplessness is truly a powerful feeling. Studies have shown that animals that are faced with situations where they’re helpless develop strong feelings of fear and anxiety. This is also true in the case of humans. You may remember this feeling from your last visit to the dentist. Whenever you experience feelings of helpless and loss of control, you are bound to feel more anxious and fearful. The same stays true in video games.
Priming. In psychology, priming is defined as the effect in which the response to a stimulus is influenced by the exposure to a previous stimulus.
Consider the word-stem completion task, for example. Here, a test subject is exposed to certain words, one of which is the word “lettuce”. He is then asked to complete the following word: “let—-”. The effect of priming can be seen when the subject fills the blank with “tuce” due to the fact that he was exposed to that word earlier in the experiment.
Several games rely heavily on creating anxiety using this strategy, by using sounds that remind the player of an encroaching yet unseen enemy. In Amnesia, visits to various torture chambers (where he actually “hears” victims in an iron maiden, a brazing bull, etc.) leads up to being locked in a cell. The fact that such priming took place (being exposed to the torture scenes) clearly influences the way the player feels when he himself is locked up and dreading the possibility of similar tortures.
A diagram in the Strappado torture room in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
In addition to this priming, certain events characterized by unexpected novelty can, very efficiently, startle a player. For example, events that can lead a player through a relatively safe part of a level may lower our guard to new threats when revisiting the same environment (i.e.: consider the first 30 minutes of Doom 3 or the hubs in the Silent Hill and Dead Space series).
These choices will often save time in level design while still maintaining progress and the required ambience to startle and terrify.
Mirror Neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons in certain regions of the brain that are active when an animal performs an action, or observes another individual performing that same action.
Discovered a few decades ago, these neurons are argued to be the key in understanding other individuals’ intentions and feelings, empathy, and even imitating the actions of others. It is very possible that mirror neurons play an important role interfacing our experiences with a virtual avatar.
PET studies highlighting similar clusters in the brain that activate between individuals who are watching an action (listening to music) or partaking in an action (playing music).
In most video games, moving in a three dimensional space is likely to trigger spatial orientation mirror neurons. In the Silent Hill series, similar mechanisms would elicit anxiety and disgust when players are given the choice to stick their hand into a hole in a wall or to take something out of a toilet.
James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2 asked to stick his hand in a dirty toilet, likely eliciting disgust in the player, who mirrors this experience in her own brain and, to some extent, “experiences” it herself.
Similarly the same can be said in Dead Space 2, where players are given the choice to crawl in very confined spaces (where the right camera angle make the entire difference) or guide a needle into the eye of Isaac Clarke.
And what’s best is that the developers of these games are increasingly aware of these facts and capitalize on it. As Thomas Grip of Frictional Games (Amnesia: The Dark Descent) himself said at the Games Colloquium at Concordia University last year, the involvement of mirror neurons is important when the empathy factor is high. In other words, you can’t help but put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes.
Context and Environment. Naturally, our environment plays a large role in the perception of fear and potentiating startle responses. In the right context and environment, our baseline startle reflex shows gradual elevation over the course of aversive conditioning (antagonizing the player).
This works both inside and outside the game. Out of the game, mood plays a large role in getting the most out of the experience (consider the importance of playing in a dark room, adjusting the gamma, and wearing headphones). Creating the right environment inside of the game is equally important and capitalizes off of our own neurobiology. For example, our fear of the dark stems from our evolved circadian rhythms that revolve around a diurnal (day-night) cycle making us vulnerable at night. Similarly nocturnal animals like rats exhibit very similar startle responses, only in the light.
The use of light has always created a sense of helplessness and a shrouded and mysterious environment creating ambience in the survival horror genre. Alan Wake (top) and Dead Space 2 (bottom).
It should be noted that the appropriate context can also elicit fear in not so dangerous objects or cues. Fear conditioning with auditory cues can still cause anxiety, with the auditory cue and no immediate aversive stimuli.
An example of this is best exemplified by F.E.A.R.’s antagonist Alma, a little girl who can do rather terrible things. Additionally the unpredictability of aversive stimuli (such as a little girl vs. a man with a chainsaw) increases our perceived anxiety and fear.
In the case of F.E.A.R., game designer Craig Hubbard said that “…a guy in a mask chasing co-eds with a meat cleaver can be scary, but on some level you’re thinking to yourself, you could probably kick his ass if you got the drop on him… But when a spooky little girl takes out an entire Delta Force squad, how are you supposed to deal with that?”
Integrating Terror into Gameplay
Achieving scares and interactivity in the horror genre is no easy feat. Whereas other games challenge the player’s ability to solve a puzzle or take down an array of enemies, the survival horror genre challenges a hardwired and highly adaptive response to threats. To establish one good startle, you need to take into account the ability for your design to establish a baseline of expectations with your environment and the purpose of your character in that environment, build anxiety, connect with the character, and remove any control the player may have (consider the importance of the first 10-15 minutes of Dead Space and the player’s first encounter with an enemy).
This design often leads to the scripted scare (i.e. Pyramid Head’s non-confrontational spooky/disturbing appearances scattered throughout Silent Hill 2), which can remind us of the linearity of gameplay and a lack of a personalized experience/choice and replay value.
Top: Dead Space’s first/scripted encounter with a necromorph does not give the player a chance to fight back, but removes control and increases anxiety. Bottom: Scripted moment with Pyramid Head omniously staring at James Sunderland through impenetrable bars.
This raises the additional challenge of creating unpredictable moments while playing. For example, in a game like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, certain events can cue an “ice-world transition”, prepping the player to run in order to avoid danger.
The first time, such an event can create anxiety but not as much after the third or fourth. This does not mean that these events fail to create anxiety in the player, but they do not achieve it to the same degree due to our own learning of what a player must do in order to play/win.
Similarly in Dead Space, some players can plan their confrontations by prepping themselves to orient their attack to nearby vents or gratings. In fact, once they do, their experience with the game is not one of fear, but of confrontation and seizing power.
Top: Necromorph whack-a-mole in Dead Space. Bottom: Ice transitions in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories = run.
It seems that with the growing tendency of video games to move towards more visceral action/gore (Dead Space 2 vs Dead Space, or Resident Evil 4 and 5 vs Resident Evil 1 to 3) signals that it is easier to design an action game based off of a terror franchise instead of a true horror game that can succeed in the aforementioned principles of animal behavior.
As a neuroscientist, it is very rewarding for me to see science being used so elegantly in video games, and I can easily see this trend continue to appeal to an increasingly smart gaming audience. So, what can we learn from games like Amnesia, Silent Hill, F.E.A.R., etc.? And in more general terms, how can we implement basic principles of neuroscience into video games?
Clearly, the first step is to stay informed. Research in the sciences is extremely fast-paced, and most of the findings don’t reach the general audience until at least a decade later when they’re published in textbooks. The recent revolution in information exchange does not completely solve the problem and is a double-edged sword. It helps spread knowledge faster, but is often unreliable.
The second step is to be bold enough to experiment with new genres. Every now and then, a game comes along that creates a completely new way of thinking about video games. Although this is a risky approach, it is much needed in an industry that boasts literally hundreds of games that follow the exact same recipe.
Finally, it is important to form a solid emotional bond between the game (or the main character) and the player. RPGs do this beautifully by blurring the line between the gamer and his avatar. For non-RPGs, the task is less straightforward.
One of the ways to establish/strengthen the bond is to elicit very strong emotions in the gamer. Games in the survival horror do this using fear, which can be very effective. However, it is not the only way. We have recently seen an onslaught of different games that capitalize on a range of different emotions such as grief (Graveyard, Tale of Tales), love and loss (Dear Esther, Thechineseroom), etc. It is clearly evident that the era of “one size fits all” video games is long gone.
At the end of the day, it’s important to know your audience before you can sell them a product. With the abundance of game studios, whether it’s the triple-A industry or the budding indie games, no developer can risk making a game that will flop. Understanding what humans find engaging/stimulating/addictive is necessary in making a given video game a success.
篇目4，Using Games To Express An Emotional State Of Mind
by Steve Fulton
There are games I’d like to create, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to approach them. Many of these games have to do with true emotions that are difficult to describe in game form, however, I still feel the need to make them. Games are the only “art form” that I personally have ever seen to any serious level of completion. In a way, games happen to be the one of the only ways I can express myself, albeit, in a very primitive way. A game like Home Computer Wars was created so I could express the feeling of being 14 years old in 1984 and thinking my Atari Computer was the best thing in the world. Games like Daphnie’s Balloon Pop and Katie’s Heart Catcher were created to express some rather simple emotions about my children (i.e. “I love You, here is a game I made for you”). Even some non-game projects like Game Storm! were created because of my frustration with trying to come-up marketable game ideas while others flood the market. However, while these simple games were created because of an emotion, they really don’t express it or help the player to understand anything more about it while playing.
Lately, this has started to bother me. I have chosen games as a form of expression (or did games choose me?), yet their very nature makes it difficult to express anything beyond the very basic thoughts and ideas. People who find other forms of expression their forte, (seemingly) have a much easier time with this. Rock musicians can write songs about emotions, and if they are skilled enough, they can convey those emotions their their work. Painters have a similar ability, mostly because they are some very common images that can universally create certain emotions for people. Games can include both of these elements, and they do help set a tone, but I’m more interested in creating a game that let’s someone experience an emotion with actual game-play.
After I have a life-altering (or even semi-life altering as described below) emotional experience, I’d love to have the ability to make game that helps me express my true emotional state of mind in game. I don’t even necessarily care if anyone plays it (OK, I do), but if they did, I’d also like them to get some understanding of both why it was made, and what I was feeling when I made it.
An Emotional Story To Tell
For example, a couple years ago I was at the local park with my oldest daughter, and she had an unfortunate accident. Because the city cannot afford to have anyone clean the park, I had taken it upon myself to clean-up the trash and sweep the wood chips off the play area and back into the pit under the swings. Along with her scooter, my daughter had asked me to take our baseball gloves with us. She does not play baseball, but she loves to play catch . Playing catch with her is one of the greatest simple joys of my entire life. However, I was so involved in my “sweeping” to clean-up the deteriorating park, the gloves and ball lay unused on the grass, and my daughter rode her scooter around the park. All of sudden, I heard her scream, and I looked over to see that she had dived off her scooter (trying to dodge some other little kids), and had landed on her right hand. After a trip to the after-hours doctor, she had a cast on her broken arm, and I had guilt in my heart. If I had not been so adamant about cleaning the park, I would have been playing catch with her, and she would not have had her accident. Becasue of my decision, playing catch (or anything else) is going to be impossible for some time.
So, if I was a writer I could, for example, just craft a story about someone who concentrates on the wrong things and eventually regrets his choices. A musician could take those words and make a song about it. How, as a game maker can do the same thing, but make the game interesting to play, and allow the player to understand a bit about the emotional underpinnings of the situation portrayed?
What follows are some explorations of game types that I might use to create a game that tries to express complex emotions.
Choose Your Own Adventure
This seems to be the easiest and most base form of trying to express some kind of emotion based on story in a game. You create an in-depth narrative, and allow players to makes simple choices to see where it goes. The interactivity level is very low, but it does allow the game-maker to craft the exact story they want to make. This is obviously more like writing than game-making, and it requires a really talented author to pull-off something that is truly “emotional”. However, to keep players interested in reading reams of text, you need to create fantastic and/or controversial situations and cliff-hangers, and then let them decides on the actions. However, not all “emotional stories” have these types of choices. Still, it’s at least a very straight-forward way to go and creating an indie game would be quite simple, if not entirely successful way to go.
Interactive Fiction : Z-Engine
Interactive Storytelling : Storytron
A step or two beyond Z-Engine games is Storytron, the Chris Crawford led project to create a system to build games based on human interactions. The example game Balance Of Power 21st Century is very interesting. It certainly allows a game-maker to create a set of circumstances in which they must make choices and then live with the consequences. However, the game looks more like a way to simulate how a group of people feels and reacts to one another, and less like a system to help express a emotions stemming from an unfortunate event. Also, to be honest, somewhat like the original Balance Of Power, the game requires someone with an immense amount of patience to play, otherwise the casual player (me) will simply make the most controversial choices to see what they affect.
A Custom Game Engine
So, after going through the most common forms of interactive fiction/story engines, I’m left with the desire to make my own engine that would allow me to create a game based on a sophisticated emotion and let the player experience some of it. However, I cannot escape the feeling that it will not work as any kind of game. Still, my desire to try to express some kind of complex emotion that can be experienced by a player outweighs my misgivings, so I’m going to make an attempt to design something that might work as a game.
Name: Catch In The Park
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/Resource Management
Based On: Lemmings, Diner Dash
Setting: A Suburban Park with a large field, swings, play equipment, and a circular path that can be used to ride bikes, scooters etc, around the outside.
Game Set-Up: The game starts with a pristine, empty park on a bright summer day. Soon, children begin arriving with their parents in groups of 3. One parent and two kids. The groups wait at the park entrance so they can be “assigned” what to do by the player.
Game Play: The player’s job is to keep the park patrons happy, and to keep the park clean. However, this is not as easy as it first looks. Since there is only one parent for every two kids, the player must divide the attention of each parent (color-coded to their children) as equally as possible. Children will want to do different things, and the parents much stay in as close proximity to each child. However, the “emotional” state of the parents much be kept up at all times. While the kids have arrived just to “play” at the park, the parents are the selfish ones, each requiring a specific activity with one or more of their children to be fulfilled before they will be satisfied and leave the park. The player completes levels and scores points as satisfied parents leave with their kids.
Game Leveling: On the initial levels, a parent will arrive with kids that are close in age. That means that they will want to do mostly the same things. If the kids want to “swing”. the parent can remain close to both, and thus fulfilling their (possible) internal desire to push both kids on the swings at the same time. The same thing goes for the slides, or riding bikes/scooters around the path. Parents are easily satisfied, and leave happily from the park. However, as the game advances, the ages of the kids gets further and further apart, and the parent arrives with a desire to satisfy some kid of specific activity with each one. However, by performing an activity with one child, leaves the other open for disaster or a “tantrum” from the other. The most “advanced” activity is to play “catch” on the grass with the older kids, but this also takes the most concentration and leaves the other child open for a disaster. If a child falls and breaks and arm. leg, etc. the park clears-out, and the player has to wait for more parents to arrive to make them “satisfied”. A level is “won” after a set number of “satisfied” parents leave the park.
?Catching Falling Children: The player can save the day by noticing when a child is going to fall (off the swings, slides, on their bike) and try to catch them. This will send the closest “parent” over to save a child, usually not their own. If they succeed, the actual parent of the child get so embarrassed that they leave the park, but at least the leave “satisfied”.
?Cleaning The Park: As the day goes on, the park gets very dirty. If it gets too dirty, people will stop coming. Since the city cannot afford to send anyone to clean-up, parents can be assigned to pick-up trash. However, this means they will be away from their kids and accidents can occur. Successfully cleaning the park will open it to more parents and their children.
Winning The Game: Ultimately, there is no way to win the game.The parents will never be able to suitably satisfy all their own needs (or their children’s) needs on harder levels. A game is “lost”if the entire day goes by and not enough “satisfied” parents have left park. This is inevitable, but the player can extend their play by getting better and better and managing the emotions of the parents with the needs of the children. Still, the game has a fatalistic streak, as there it truly no way to be successful.
So would “Catch In The Park” work as a game? On the surface, it might appeal to players of “casual” management sims, with the underlying emotions of “joy” and “satisfaction” bubbling to the surface. However, if my goal was an exploration of “guilt”, and ultimately “hopelessness” then the mark would be missed. It is quite possible that the game could be played as straight sim by people who did not really understand the circumstances, but for parents who might find the situations portrayed familiar, it could allow a totally different level of play and connection. On the other hand, it could just be a terrible mess. There is also a pretty good chance that none of the emtions that *I* want to elicit from the players would ever surface at all. If a game like this is not done perfectly, the only emotions that the player will feel are frustration, anger and remorse for wasting their time.
篇目5，Triple Town Beta (Now with Bears)
Exciting times. You can now play our puzzle game Triple Town in your web browser. We are releasing it as a beta and the game should evolve quite substantially over time. Huge kudos to Cristian Soulos for making this project blossom after a long winter. You can play it here.
Triple Town is a special game. It has the highest user rating of any of the games I’ve designed (94%). It is also the only one of my designs that I go back to again and again. Why is this?
On the surface, it is a simple match-3 variant, but after a few games you’ll start noticing the strategic depth. The pacing is…uncommon. There’s a relaxed mellow rhythm to the game where you casually make dozens of micro decisions. Yet these decisions add up to games that can last upwards of a week for advanced players. After a while you realize you are playing the Civilization of Match-3 games and that you care deeply about what you are building. That burst of strong emotion always surprises me.
The big addition for this release? Bears.
Bears, bears everywhere
Triple Town helped solidify how I construct the world and setting in my games. My inclination is to look for ways of supporting the emotions inherent in the game dynamics. If you’ve ever played the Kindle version, the design is a rather abstract puzzle game with highly symbolic tokens and mechanical rules. It has only the briefest of settings. Yet as I played the game and watched other play, I realized that it evoked an intense spectrum of emotions. Here were some of the ones that I noticed:
* Pride: When you create a great city, you want to share it. People take screenshots. They brag. Pride in what they’ve built is the primary emotion that drives players of Triple Town.
* Curiosity: You want to know what the next item looks like. Some people are driven to get a castle for the first time.
* Hate: You learn to hate the teleporting Ninjas. They never attack you, but they end up blocking your plans.
* Sadness: You have slight sadness the first time you kill a bear. Then you learn to steel yourself against the emotion.
* Irritation: When fate gives you the wrong piece at the wrong time.
* Competition: When you notice that your friends are doing better than you.
* Despair: When you feel the board closing in and realize that you can’t possible catch up to your friends.
* Relief: When the board is filling up and then you perform a miraculous move that empties a swath of the board and helps you start afresh.
Games are great at eliciting primary emotions. They don’t need the Hero’s Journey, they don’t need story, they don’t need hyper realistic visuals with immersive first person cameras. You can create an emotional, deeply meaningful experience simply by using the fundamentals of system design.
(You can read a bit more on the theory of how games are unique suited to creating emotional experiences in my previous essay on Shadow Emotions and Primary Emotions. I include a small section at the end of this essay on the OCC emotion model that fits nicely with my process. Thanks, Aki!)
When I revisited the Triple Town design, the emotions were already clearly evident. However, I wanted to explore how I could more directly shape those emotions to fit my vision of the game.
Emotions are complex to say the least so we need some sort of entry into the topic. There’s a general consensus that you can divide emotions into rough categories. For example ‘negative feelings toward others.’ Then within those rough categories, you see variations that we recognize as distinct emotions. For example, hate and irritation are actually highly related and are typically related to a sense of loss or constraint caused by others. As a designer, how do I push the conditions that elicit a general class of emotion so that I can dial in the emotional variant that I desire?
There are a variety of theories. In Triple Town, I was influenced by the two factor theory of emotion and the somatic marker theory. Like many aspects of human cognition, multiple inputs are necessary to create the final refined experience. The ‘taste’ of wine is synthesized out of the actual chemical taste and the perceived quality of the wine. A five dollar wine labeled as a 100 dollar wine can be perceived to taste better than that same wine in it’s original bottle. Similarly, we posit that our brain synthesizes most common primary emotions out of the following:
* An ambiguous physical response (your adrenaline jumping and your heart rate elevating)
* The system-derived context of the situation you are in.
* Recalled cognitive labels of related past experiences.
Looking at Triple Town, both the physical response and the system-derived context are very much present. I can experimentally validate that I’m getting strong emotions from the players even using a highly abstract game board. However the cognitive labels are underdeveloped. So this analysis led me to try a particular tactic:
* If you can evoke a general class of emotions with game mechanics, then you can apply evocative stimuli to label and therefore tune that response to elicit a specific emotion.
Monsters or children?
Consider a very basic example of labeling in Triple Town. The raw materials I was working with was an observation that players felt immense sense of relief when they killed annoying NPCs. I experimented with applying various labels to see how we could tune the response.
* Pass 1: During one early prototype, the NPCs were accidentally displayed as small children. Naturally, players felt bad when trapped them and they turned into grave stones. Accidental deaths led to guilt and sadness while deliberate deaths evoked a dissonant feeling of cruelty.
* Pass 2: So next we switched them to evil looking monsters. This was a dramatic change. Now players felt righteous glee when they trapped and killed the monsters.
* Pass 3: Finally, during this latest build, I settle on bears that have slightly evil looking eyes. Most players feel fine killing the bears, but for some there is a slight edge of ambiguity that makes them uncomfortable.
* Future passes: Now that I’ve explored the emotional space a little, I’ve set up the bears so that with one simple tweak of the eyes, I can make the bears incredibly cute and bring back many of the feelings of guilt and sadness.
In essence, I was balancing and tuning the player’s emotional response. Much like Sid Meier using a binary search (“double it or or cut it by half”) to narrow in on the correct setting in his game, I was trying out various extremes to narrow in on the appropriate emotion.
Using evocative imagery is a common enough practice, but in practice the labeling of NPCs is functionally quite different than merely putting up a picture or cut scene of a dead child. The bear is not an image for the sake of being an image. Instead you create a distinct label that is only meaningful due to how it builds upon an emotional foundation derived from play. Without the mechanics, you just have a picture of a bear. With the mechanics setting the context and providing the raw emotional reactions, you craft a carefully refined emotional moment.
With the children images in the first pass, I saw an example of dissonance. It is easy to add a poorly fitted label that confuses the emotions the mechanics are eliciting.
The heart of Triple Town are the strong feelings of pride and accomplishment. These comes directly from the rather amazing investment in extended tactical play that the player exerts when creating their 6×6 city. A well crafted city can represent hours of carefully considered labor.
In the Kindle version of the game, I used the sort of end game tropes that you find in Tetris or Bejeweled. You play the game, you get a score and then move onto the next game. Most designers rely on proven fallbacks to get the job done since it is difficult to always be reinventing the wheel.
Unfortunately, this ‘obvious’ design choice conflicted rather painfully with the slow and steady building of pride. There comes a point at which the player presses a button and in the act of creating a new game, erases all their hard earned progress. It is surprisingly how many times I’ve let the game sit on the last screen, not willing to leave it behind. The label of ‘its just a game session that you finish and move on from’ didn’t fit the emotional response that the other systems were creating.
* 1st pass: The first attempt at fixing this involved added coins so there is some persistent resource you take with you after each city. That helps a little, but not enough. Coins are merely a resource and players weren’t sad because they were losing some simple generic token.
* 2nd pass: The second attempt involved the ability to flip back and look at your city a last few times before you move on. This was quite effective since it lets the player say goodbye. The emotional dissonance was channeled into an activity that let players come to terms with it at their own pace. This still isn’t good enough.
Luckily Triple Town is a service, not a game that gets launched and forgotten. As I design future features, I’m explicitly creating them to amplify the feeling of pride. Fresh in my mind is the lesson that even something as simple as how to end the game involves labeling the context. What if instead of ending the game, you are finishing cities?
Deriving the world’s metaphor from gameplay
These individual emotional moments form a unique emotional fingerprint for Triple Town. Due to dissonance, you can’t simple apply any theme to this set of dynamic emotions and still end up with an emotionally coherent game. Instead, you want a theme that fits the mechanics like a glove where the emotional beats elicited by the system dynamics have a clear connection with the labels you’d applied.
With Triple Town, as with most of my designs, the theme and metaphor for the world came from watching people play. I would observe and note the emotions and then ask questions about the fundamental nature of the experience that was evolving. Is this a game about exploration? Creation? Building? If it is a game about building, what is a related theme that matches the current unique fingerprint? Are you building real estate? A tomb? What are those NPCs doing if that is the case?
After playing many hundreds of hours of Triple Town, I settled upon a metaphor that fit all the nuances of the mechanics. Triple Town is a game about colonization. Consider the following common dynamics and how labels derived from the metaphor tie them together in a coherent setting.
* You’ve been ordered by the empire from across the sea to build a new city on virgin territory.
* In the process, natives (depicted as less than human) keep showing up on ‘your’ land. They never attack you, but they keep preventing you from expanding.
* So you push them off to the side. More experienced players create small reservations and pack the natives in as tightly as possible.
* Due to overcrowding the natives die off en mass.
* You use their bones to build churches and cathedrals.
* When particularly difficult natives appear that seek to escape your reservations, you bring out your overwhelming the military might and remove the pest so you can continue with your manifest destiny.
The match between the theme of colonization and emotions of the mechanics was so strong, I tuned it back slightly so it wasn’t quite so on the nose. Instead of selecting a recognizable group that suffered under colonization, I made the NPCs into morally ambiguous bears. It would have been very easy to present players with a choices that were obviously black and white where players fall back on pre-learned schema. However, I’m more interested in the edge cases in which a player does something they feel is appropriate and then as time goes on they begin to understand the larger consequences of their actions. At this point in the development of the world, player should naively explore the system and due to the dynamics of game, then form a strong justification of their role as colonists.
What started as an abstract game is slowly but surely turning into a rich world. What is beyond the city walls? Long term, the themes of colonization, imperialism and the impact on native cultures will unfold over a series of planned game expansions. With slight variations in labeling, I should be able to tune in a variety of powerful emotions related to the theme of colonization.
Differences from traditional theme generation
I find this bottom ups, mechanics-centric method of theme generation quite different from a traditional process of storytelling. In a narrative heavy game, I think about characters, plot, or message first and foremost and then attempting to fit supporting gameplay into the mix. Often you pitch the world and characters to a publisher and then are expected to come up with gameplay that fits. Consider the implications of these two popular styles of narrative-first development:
* Unique mini-games and puzzles used to support narrative: One extreme example of this is your typical adventure game where instead of a core mechanic, you have a series of plot appropriate puzzles. The emotional aspects of the puzzle (frustration, delight) are only marginally related to the emotional beats of the plot. Also, in order to avoid dissonance with the wide variety of emotional beats that the story requires, the style of the puzzles is switched up on a regular basis. It is hard enough balancing one game, but asking the team to balance dozens of tinier games results in shallow systems throughout. I think of this as chopping up gameplay to fit the
* Generic gameplay that supports the narrative: A Japanese RPG like Final Fantasy repeatedly uses turn-based tactical combat to illustrate story beats. The time-tested tactical combat system usually produce a handful of primary emotions such as loss, victory, relief, feeling powerful and feeling powerless. No matter what story is being told, the same system is called upon to provide emotional support. Such a pattern avoids dissonance the majority of the time, but then when the plot veers into non-combat area, the dissonance comes back full force. I think of this as telling more story than the gameplay can naturally support.
Some of the most painful design rat-holes I’ve have ever dug myself into followed these patterns. In one project, I created a world based off finding relics from a post-Singularity civilization (circa 100AD) deep in the Mediterranean. In another, I was overly attached to a set of small bobble-headed creatures. For both, I was afraid to change the world. Instead, I desperately iterated upon new game mechanics, hoping to find one that fit my world better. And I rarely found one. As far as I can tell, creating a compelling new game mechanic is hard and success is unpredictable. Yet creating a functional game world’s is surprisingly cheap. Any idiot can copy a working game, toss some pirates on top and call it good.
Now I follow a different philosophy that better reflects these costs. Gameplay comes first and the worldbuilding are flow from the dynamics of play. If, as you iterate upon gameplay you make a rule change that breaks the emotional connection with a particular world, you should feel very comfortable tossing that world aside and starting fresh. Create a world that supports the game, not the other way around.
The amount of theming and world building in Triple Town is still quite light. Those of players used to the extravagant productions that burden a game with an overworked story may not even recognize the labels I’ve choosen as having an impact on your experience. Yet they do and most players will feel the emotional beats of the game quite clearly.
Nothing I’ve outlined here is new. The important insight for me has been creating the labels and world for a game as a bottoms up process. You start with the mechanics and then find the labels that fit the emotional beats. From this game play foundation, you build the world.
Cheat sheet: Steps for tuning primary emotions
Here’s the process for tuning emotions
1. Create a playful system.
2. Observe the emotional reactions of the player within that system.
3. Adjust the system’s emotion eliciting conditions to increase or decrease particular raw emotional reactions.
4. Once you have a rich set of desired emotional responses, brainstorm natural labels that refine the emotions.
5. Test the labels and see how they elicit specific emotional variations.
6. Bundle the labels into a metaphor for your game that communicates and amplifies its unique emotional fingerprint.
Note: OCC Model of emotions
Aki Järvinen’s thesis “Games without Frontiers” (pdf) pointed me towards a fascinating model of emotion by Ortony, Clore and Collins (OCC). It posits that emotional outcomes are tied to systemic variables. For example the strength of a player’s dissapointment would be tied to the variable ‘likelihood’
* Low likelihood: If the player predicts a particular result, but they know from past experience that it is highly unlikely, they typically won’t be overly dissapointed.
* High likelihood: Yet the likelihood is high and the outcome doesn’t occur, dissapointment will also generally be more pronounced.
By adjusting variables such as likilihood, degree of effort or value of results, the designer crafts a set of ‘eliciting conditions’. I love this phrase since it gives us game friendly terminology for discussing emotion without reverting to the fuzzy non-functional handwaving of the humanities. By setting your system variables appropriately, you can create eliciting conditions that spark specific categories of emotion.
There is far more work to be done applying these ideas to game development, but as it stands the conceptual framework is already really quite powerful. I’ve referenced here several useful OCC Charts that Aki assembled that list conditions, variables, main emotional categories and emotional variants. (I do recommend you read the full thesis. It gives a bit more context and it also one of the more clearly written works and easily consumable works to come out in recent years.)
OCC Wellbeing from lostgarden.com
OCC Wellbeing from lostgarden.com
OCC Fortune Of Others from lostgarden.com
OCC Fortune Of Others from lostgarden.com
OCC Identification from lostgarden.com
OCC Identification from lostgarden.com
Note: Surrealism in video games
Often the best video games have disjointed, narratively surreal worlds. Mario, Pacman, Katamari, Bejeweled and even a game like Portal take place in distinctly surreal locations that obey the logic of association, but are freed from the logic of the real world. Even more interesting is that despite immense amounts of effort making our labeling systems externally consistent (They aren’t ‘save points’, they are regen tanks), the vast majority of players happily engage in surrealist worlds with nary a complaint. If anything, the unnecessary justification introduces more unnecessary dissonance into the game by asking the player to pay attention to details that don’t functionally matter.
I see this surrealist aesthetic as the practical outcome of deriving the world from the emotional beats of the gameplay. The constantly tuning and tweaking of various labels needed to bring out the best parts of your game fragments the traditional narrative process. Why is there a walking turtle? Because it fits the mechanics like a glove. That is all the justification that is required and layering on more burdens both the experience and the development process. In the end, light surrealist labels are a positive thing since they gives you substantial wiggle room to avoid dissonance. And due to the solid fit with existing emotional dynamics, they often yields stronger game-centric experiences.