The principle of demographic game design is to improve the chances of games in development meeting the play needs of players by studying and understanding how and why people play games. This improvement will also serve to stabilise the business side of games, making the financial success of a game less of a coin toss. Both seem like worthy goals.
I had seriously expected our DGD1 audience model (see our book for details), which describes the play styles of video game players in psychological terms according to a statistical model, to last only about a year or so before being replaced by the DGD2. 'DGD', incidentally, stands for 'demographic game design'. The thing with audience models is they don't reflect big-t Truth, but rather capture a snapshot of statistical patterns. In principle, at least, there could be any number of them - each revealing a different aspect of how and why people play games. What a tremendous boon to game design it would be if there were! Sadly, apart from us at International Hobo, Nicole Lazarro, and the MOG community such as Bartle and co. at Terra Nova, no-one else seems to care.
However, we are working towards DGD2. At the moment, I am looking at Temperament theory as the basis for DGD2 (DGD1 being based primarily around Myers-Briggs typology). We used surveys for DGD1 - not very accurate, in my opinion, but since the data model is statistical, you have to trust that some of the irregularities smooth out once you have enough data; we may have to use case studies alone for this next model. Applying Temperament theory in case studies has been very illuminating, and it may be that the DGD2 research will have to be entirely by case study. That being so, we might need more allies to make it happen, as I doubt we have the resources to gather enough in situ data on our own.
A brief discussion of Temperament theory may be required. In short, this is an attempt to provide descriptive patterns of emotional response and activity. There are many such models, for the same reason there can be many audience models in the game industry. I've followed in the Kiersey school, even though I was underwhelmed with Kiersey's early work (well, with Please Understand Me), but I have connected better with his former student, Linda Berens. The Temperaments in this set are Guardian, Artisan, Rational and Idealist. I'm going to steal from here:
(Logistical Skill Set)
The Guardian's core needs are for group membership and responsibility. Guardians need to know they are doing the responsible thing. They value stability, security and a sense of community. They trust hierarchy and authority and may be surprised when others go against these social structures. Guardians know how things have always been done, and so they anticipate where things can go wrong. They have a knack for attending to rules, procedures, and protocol.
(Tactical Skill Set)
The Artisan's core needs are to have the freedom to act without hindrance and to see a marked result from action. Artisans highly value aesthetics, whether in nature or art. Their energies are focused on skillful performance, variety, and stimulation. Artisans tend to be gifted at employing the available means to accomplish an end. Their creativity is revealed by the variety of solutions they come up with. They are talented at using tools, whether the tool be language, theories, a paint brush, or a computer.
(Strategic Skill Set)
The Rational's core needs are for mastery of concepts, knowledge, and competence. Rationals want to understand the operating principles of the universe and to learn or even develop theories for everything. They value expertise, logical consistency, concepts and ideas, and seek progress. They abstractly analyze a situation and consider previously un-thought-of possibilities. Research, analysis, searching for patterns, and developing hypotheses are quite likely to be their natural modus operandi.
(Diplomatic Skill Set)
The Idealist's core needs are for the meaning and significance that come from having a sense of purpose and working toward some greater good. Idealists need to have a sense of unique identity. They value unity, self-actualization, and authenticity. Idealists prefer cooperative interactions with a focus on ethics and morality. Idealists tend to be gifted at unifying diverse peoples and helping individuals realize their potential. They build bridges between people through empathy and clarification of deeper issues.
Now it is worth mentioning at this point that the four patterns above exist to differing degrees in all people. So if I happen to talk about someone "being a Guardian", what I really mean is that person's primary temperament pattern corresponds to Guardian. Indeed, in general it seems that most people display three of the patterns to varying degrees, and a general absence of one pattern, but this is an informal observation.
In terms of applying Temperament Theory to games design, it is the skill sets associated with each of the temperaments above which are of particular interest. So, without further ado, let me summarise where I'm at right now - with the disclaimer that this is not me attempting to publish our research (which is ongoing), but rather it is me writing up informally the notes I currently have, based on the case studies and observations of the last six months or so. I'm working towards the hypothesis which will guide the next round of research right now - that is my current focus - although it may be that I just end up reporting on the case studies.
I'll now go through the four skill sets, and what we've observed in players who use these skill sets when playing games.
The Logistical Player
The logistical player has the most patience for carrying out the same activity over and over again. However, this tolerance presupposes that the problem will be identical (or nearly identical) each time, so the player can gradually optimise towards a solution. Making or implementing a plan of action is appealing, provided such a plan is about getting the right things to the right places at the right time i.e. a logistical plan. There also may be some draw to trading and shops.
Players preferring this style tend to be cautious - they do not throw themselves into the action often, preferring to take small steps and see what happens. They also tend to be meticulous, with a good attention to detail. They are willing to jump through the hoops the game sets up for them, as long as the game is meeting their other needs, showing a greater tolerence for the rules and procedures of games than other players.
- Drawn to optimisation, planning, trading
- Behaves with caution, meticulousness
- Tolerant of repitition, rules, procedures
The Tactical Player
The Tactical player is not generally drawn to making a plan, but instead prefers to be given a single character and thrown into a (possibly complex) situation where there options are clear. They like to think on the spot, improvise with what is on hand, and excel at machine control (such as driving). As a group, they have the greatest skill with machine operation (although a Logistical player can learn much through repitition, especially in terms of learning racing tracks, for instance).
Naturally competent, the Tactical player has little patience for being arbitrarily constrained. Because of their natural ability, they enjoy taking (sometimes unnecessary) risks, enjoy rushing around at high speeds, and are good at filtering out signal from noise. Indeed, most machine operation games are about filtering signal from noise, and the Tactical player is perhaps the most tolerant with noise in this context.
- Drawn to improvisation, operation, controlling single characters, thinking on the spot
- Behaves with impulsiveness, competence
- Tolerant of risk, speed, noise (in the 'signal to noise' sense)
The Strategic Player
The strategic player is a natural problem solver. Give them a puzzle, they will solve it. Give them a problem, they will devise solutions. They excel at thinking ahead - they may lack the Tactical player's competence on the spot, but they can compensate by anticipating and neutralising problems through the development and implementation of clever plans. These strategic plans are not like the mechanical plans of the Logistical player, but more like schemes that attempt to take into account multiple contingencies.
Logical and efficient, the Strategic player can be something of a perfectionist, often wanting to either master or complete the games they play. Some Strategic players want to know they have mastered the strategic skills of the game; some are satisfied with gaining complete knowledge. More than any other play style in this model, the Strategic player can handle high degrees of complexity.
Most game designers tend to display Strategic skills, and indeed the skills used in playing games in this way are almost certainly an asset when building game designs, which are effectively strategic plans for implementation.
- Drawn to problem solving, hypothesising, controlling multiple units, thinking ahead
- Behaves with logic, perfectionism
- Tolerant of complexity
The Diplomatic Player
The skills of the Diplomatic player tend to be interpersonal, and as such most games (not counting MOG games) do not provide a chance for those skills to be employed. However, the Diplomatic player has a gift for abstracting problems, and as such can be a skilled problem solver - albeit in a somewhat different manner to the Strategic player. Intuitions rather than strict logic may guide their decisions. They seem to enjoy harmonising an environment; bringing accord out of discord.
The Diplomatic player appears to have a gift for letting their imagination lead them - few situations are so strange that the Diplomatic player cannot connect with them. Although they have little tolerance for poorly written game characters, as they tend to behave with empathy and morality, and want to interact with characters with whom they can empathise. They want to co-operate - either with other players, or with game characters that they empathise with.
Although story-driven games are a particular appeal, especially those with a very unique identity, the Diplomatic player's desire to experience the new and unique lends them a capacity to enjoy quite abstract games. This tolerance of impressionism allows them to play and enjoy games that the Logistical or Tactical player would find too strange or too abstract.
- Drawn to harmonising, imagining, co-operation
- Behaves with empathy, morality (their personal morality)
- Tolerant of impressionism
And that's about all I have right now. These patterns are not fully refined - I need more case studies in order to see how everything fits together. And it's doubtful that any kind of survey will gather any data applicable to the DGD2 model; it's probably going to be case studies all the way. We are thinking, however, we might be able to build or collect a small set of Flash games, and record how the player plays them as the basis of a DGD2 test, which is an exciting prospect.
We could potentially express DGD2 play styles in terms of the sequence of preferences, to create four letter codes e.g. Logistical-Tactical-Strategic-Diplomatic = LTSD. The fourth letter is implied, of course, so LTS might suffice. There would be 4x3x2 = 24 different patterns overall, if this approach proves viable.
Do you recognise yourself in one or more of the patterns I've described above? I would be particularly interested in comments describing how these patterns do or do not describe how you play games (although I'd also love guidance from anyone fluent in Temperament Theory as to the theoretical side of this new model).
For myself, I am primarily a Strategic player, with good access to Logistical skills, and some of the motivations of a Diplomatic player. What I lack is Tactical competence. I can play vehicle games, because I can learn the tracks or courses (Logistically), but I do not have the capacity to act on the spot spontaneously. I need time to think. This is probably why I don't do very well with multiplayer FPS games, although I can enjoy playing them with people I know - and especially in co-op modes (akin with the Diplomatic style). I have fast reactions, though, so I can implement a plan efficiently, which allows me to play many different games. Although I have the Logistical skills, I often don't enjoy Logistical play... it's something I can put up with in order to make progress. I am often driven by the Strategic desire for completeness, and sometimes find myself doing repetitive (but easy) actions in order to meet this goal. My entire gaming life can probably be described as a gradual shift in emphasis from Strategic play to Diplomatic play. Perhaps this is the influence of my wife, who is primarily a Diplomatic player with Tactical skills (and who seems to wholly lack Logistical skills).
I'd currently describe my play as Strategic-Diplomatic-Logistical-Tactical (SDLT or SDL).
So much for my skills. What about you?
Disclaimer: the above does not necessarily represent the DGD2, but rather the current state of the research that will eventually result in the DGD2.