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21st Century Game Design Printed

DGD2: How Do You Play Games?

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:

The Guardian
(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.

The Artisan
(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.

The Rational
(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.

The Idealist
(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.

In summary:

  • 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.


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I've got this thing about labels. I've been wrestling with answering the question all day and all I can tell you is that Logistical is most typically in the last slot and that Tactical is most typically in the first. Strategic and Diplomatic seem equally as likely to wind up in the second or third slot.

The problem is that every time I go to analyze my approach to games, I think of a game that throws the order out the window. I find I'm very adaptive and take the approach that will make the game the most enjoyable for me.

I think one of the problems we're going to have is that people's skill usage is going to change according to whatever games are holding their attention at any given time, and that we have no way of getting an accurate snapshot. Hence the idea of having a set of Flash games which 'measure' the different skill sets.

Still, for the time being it is useful to see how people can use the language defined above to express how they play games.

I feel the same as Corvus; I find it hard to peg myself down into categories because I try to play a broad variety of games.

The Keirsey results I get tend to vary on the time of day, particular test variation, and what I had for lunch, so I've gotten INFJ, INTJ, and INFP results at different times. Of course, the results are so broadly defined that confirmation bias sets in and it's easy to apply to any to me. So on that note, while I find the Keirsey tests interesting I don't find them altogether useful, although in his defense it's impossible to really make an objective personality barometer. That being said...

One the one hand, I don't have a lot of tolerance for highly repetitive tasks in MMORPGs, so I initially rule out Logistical. Then again, I enjoy FPSes, which have simple repetitive game elements, and Diablo 2, which has many similarities to MMOs (although after a few weeks of intense D2 play I withdraw from it for a while as I again realize its simplicity.)

The answer to that may lie in tactical play; for me, I most enjoy games that require the acquisition and exercise of skill acquired within game. I like it when games give me a challenge to overcome (fiero I guess.) That seems in-line with the Tactical type. Of course, in Koster's book he asserts that the learning of skills is fundamental to all game enjoyment, so maybe that doesn't classify me into anything. In any case though, I do enjoy fast paced games that require snap judgements, like fighters and racing games (in this case that would mean rally racing and Burnout-style destruction derbies; while I enjoy Gran Turismo style racing, that may fit better into Logistical thinking.)

Strategic games are definetly something I have an affiinity for as a Will Wright devotee; and I've never met an RTS I didn't like. Complexity and deep rule sets to plumb are a big plus to me. Of all the types, this is the one I am most sure I fit.

The Diplomatic player type is a harder one for me to self identify as; although it coincides with the NF Keirsey type I often test as, I am not certain it represents my game interests. On the one hand, I am a KAE on Bartle's grid, and I am ambivalent to narrative content in most games. On the other hand, I do enjoy multiplay (especially competitive, but I like co-op as well) and perhaps my distaste for narrative stems from a disillusionment with the generally bad quality of most game narrative (or in Koster's book, I have already grokked the fundamentals of all the narratives told in games, so they fail to surprise me like they did when I was 12.) And I do try to extend my game playing to unusual games when possible (Katamari, DDR, Donkey Konga etc), although I have missed many as well (Animal Crossing, Rez.) I certainly enjoy novel game experiences when I run into them, so the ones I miss tend to be from financial issues (so many games, so little cash!)

Overall, I think my interests would work out to something like STDL, although that is hardly definite. I'm not sure if that neccessarily represents my skills either; just my tastes. It is an intereting model though; although 4 categories seems somewhat narrow for such a broad topic (though since this is just research, I imagine the final model will have more nuanced subcategories.)

"I think one of the problems we're going to have is that people's skill usage is going to change according to whatever games are holding their attention at any given time, and that we have no way of getting an accurate snapshot."

I think that's right on the money; I'm going to naturally self-identify with a category if I am currently playing more of that game than another. Charting long-term game interests by players is a pretty broad and deep task!

Personality tests are always variable on an individual basis, but I have to say, you're far too vocal and opiniated for the conventional INFP template, James! :) INTJ seems like a pretty good approximate fit from the admitedly sketchy information I have on you - but of course, I'm never seen you in any real world context... :) Point Defense Systems is a very INTP/INTJ-style mod - I'm quite tempted to give it a go myself, once I find a cheap copy of Homeworld 2. It also appeals to me to buy a game solely to try a mod. :)

Thanks for the attempt to express yourself in terms of the skill sets - at this stage, it's particuarly interesting to get a feel for how people approach expressing themselves in terms of this language. The model itself is probably still a year away at least; much to do before we can even begin the research.

"I think one of the problems we're going to have is that people's skill usage is going to change according to whatever games are holding their attention at any given time, and that we have no way of getting an accurate snapshot."

We can safely assume that each player will be able to enjoyably use different skill sets in response to the needs of gameplay, and that the majority of games will allow different skill sets to be used. The task may therefore be to isolate the skill sets encouraged by a particular game for a particular player.

I find it illuminating to compare my play with the play of others, specifically when playing together (I hate competitive games, I can tolerate co-op play, and I absolutely love pad-passing...). As an example I'd like to use Disgaea, which Neil and I played for around 140 hours, giving a significant 'sample time' :)

Though I could play the game by myself, I enjoyed it far, far more when playing with my friend. I believe the reason for this (other than the obvious social benefits) is that we both complemented each other's 'weak spots' in terms of the skills we were using. Again, playing with different people and different games would probably force me to use different skills, but the amount of enjoyment I derived from Disgaea suggests to me that it stimulated a 'near-optimal' skill set for my personal flow requirements.

The pattern that emerged was that Neil far surpassed me in terms of the tactical requirements of core-gameplay - moving the pieces and judging what was required to gain advantage in a given situation.

Specifically, the throwing elements of the game divided us. (Characters can pick up large 'chains' of other characters, leading to vertiginous stacks of five or six characters, each of whom could throw the others in sequence, allowing large distances to be covered in a single turn). This process took me lots of trial and error to work through, whereas Neil quickly became an expert, leading to some beautiful surgical strikes throughout the random maps. This strikes me as belonging squarely to the Tactical skill set.

My role seemed to exist within the structural space of the game. Neil was content to play with only the vaguest interest in specific goals, but I required targets at any given time. However, I don't believe that this was due to any particular bias toward strategical play (and, indeed, I think the play style least accomodated by Disgaea is Strategical, as the only real goal in the game is to level up continuously, and the only gain that a strategic bias could give is to allow for more rapid levelling). The reason for this lies in my methods of coping with my need for play targets.

Here I believe my Diplomatic skill set came to the fore. My bias was toward the characters as individuals, and my targets were set by something along the lines of the following rubric:

1) Decide which characters lacked a unique role or personality, and change them to provide that role.

2) Select my current favourite characters, and judge how best their role could be optimised so that they could progress quickly.

3) Maximise that potential within the limits of the resources (by buying better equipment, levelling it up, choosing the game level most suited to levelling those characters, then preferencially employing those characters, etc.)

4) Play the game level(s) chosen, save data and repeat.

It may be worth stating that I completely revised my goals at each 'save junction' - again pointing to a lack of strategical thought inherent to the process.

This complemented Neil's skills well, as he had only a vague interest in these 'housekeeping' aspects of the game.

I'm not sure about Logistical skills in this context. To play for so long, it seems that some enjoyment at least must be gained from repeating and optimising patterns within the core gamplay sections, and so I must conclude that we both demonstrated some level of satisfaction in Logistical play. One of the joys of Disgaea is the variety of actions built into each character type - thieves steal, move fast and throw well, mages generate XP and mana at ridiculous rates, brawlers work well in huge crowds of enemies, taking blows then retaliating... for each character, then, we generated patterns of deployment and use, probably logistically.

In summary, by focusing upon the single game and comparing the fun I was getting with that of my co-player, I gained insight into the skills the use of which generated maximum flow for me... in that context. I'd type myself for Disgaea as DLTS or DTLS.

Now I need to examine another game in the same context to see if I reach the same conclusions...

Oh, INFP, btw. And my favourite game is Rez, which utterly satisfies my desire for unique identification. It almost instantly became 'my' game, and there's no quicker way to annoy me than by suggesting that it's in some way not a complete masterpiece :) It works best for me as a DTLS experience, and it still amazes me that human beings can even begin to conceive of making something so unbelievably beautiful. *Swoon*

I need to stop by here more often. :-) One test that I ran across was a variation of the DISC profile. It measured a baseline personality, a work environment personality and a flexibility factor.

The concept was that you had natural tendencies, but your environment could influence your behavior. For example, some work environments require extreme attention to detail. Even if that was not your inclination, you could be pushed to exhibit the behavior.

The fun part was the flexibility variable. Flexible people had little difficulty adapting to alternative work styles. Less flexible people experienced substancial stress and 'coping' behaviors. I'll have to dig up the paper at some point.

Replace 'work environment' with 'game' and you have some interesting fodder for thought. I'm a rather lazy game player with miserable reflexes. However, when push comes to shove, I'll put my best into an action game like Counter Strike.

Using your categorization, I tend toward a DSTL. However, much of it depends upon the game and the types of behavior that it rewards.

One flaw I see in this type of characterization is that this describes personality types, but technical skills are often just as important. For example, if I were to create a game that relied on accurate operatic singing in order to advance, my personality preferencing isn't going to matter one iota. I'll play the game, realize that I don't have the right skills and move on.

This can be generalized to skills such as spacial comprehension, reflexes, etc. How do these characteristics (perhaps best described by a multiple intelligences aptitude test) work with a personality based theory of categorizing players?


Interesting model. Look forward to more information. Will definitely have to check out the book.

Not sure whether this would be relevant, but I would add to the model by looking for the primary motivations involved when a player is looking for a game versus when they are playing a game.

I guess it could be a sort of emotional/rational modifier, though maybe that's too right brain/left brain (and vague).

To clarify I would look toward Seeking behavior against Implementation behavior - that is, "What are the primary motivations when a player looks for a game to play?" and then "What are the primary motivations when playing?"

Both of those questions seem very relevant to the issue of directing games toward certain players. Again, not sure if such a modifier would be necessary.

I know that for myself, my Seeking behavior is usually Tactical/Diplomatic, but while playing I typically become overwhelmingly Strategic, and, in multiplayer, Strategic/Logistical (part of my dissatisfaction with MMOs stems from my involvement with guilds that seemed to have no structure or guidance whatsoever).

Well, there's my two cents.

I finally started reading 21st Century Game Design, and after reading the Myers-Briggs typology chapters, I started thinking on how DGD2 could improve over DGD1. The first things that came to mind were that while DGD1 was obviously strongly influenced and based off of the Myers-Briggs types, it threw away one of the strongest qualitys of the M-B typology, which is that M-B is based around spectrums, not categories. In M-B surveys, you don't fall into the INTJ or the ESTP categories; rather, you measure I or E on the intro/extroversion spectrum, you measure N or S on the intuition/sensing scale, etc. Perhaps it might be useful to structure DGD2 in a similar fashion - for example, the first letter could be G/L, standing for whether your play interests coincide more with aGon or aLea, or something of that nature. When I read more about DGD1, I had problems with how they were structured more like categories, as I could concievably fall into all of them. Although you made the disclamier that all players exhibits these types to greater or lesser degrees, I think charting it as a spectrum would make that more clear. Bartle's 4 suits, while appearing at first as categories, are helpfully mapped to a grid with the dimensions being (acting-interacting) and (player-world.) This seems more sensical than defining a player's interest as just Club-Spade-Diamond-Heart, and makes it seem more of an analog, rather than a digital, scale.

There are various reasons why people play games.One of them don't have what else to do,others want to have some fun with their friends and the third are obsessed with the idea of playing games all day.

"...the third are obsessed with the idea of playing games all day."

Obviously we, of the third category, are obsessed for the sake of being obsessed and have no rationnal motivations what so ever ;)

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