# A Survey of Gamer Tendencies

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Hello, everyone.

Yesterday, while designing the levels for a simple 2D game, I asked myself a question all designers struggle with: "Why is this game fun?" To answer that, I realized I would have to first come up with the basic process a gamer goes through when playing a game. What I'm looking for right now is a genre-agnostic (if somewhat vague) representation of the steps a gamer takes toward accomplishing something within a game; that way I can take what I find and test it in simple games I design as well as complex games I play, expanding upon it as I go. Also, most importantly, by ignoring genres when I theorize about game design, I can more easily avoid the biggest mistake (in my opinion) that a designer can make, which is to choose the genre of his/her game before the first lines of code have even been written.

The ultimate point of making some sort of basic outline of player tendencies is to design moment-to-moment gameplay around these tendencies, whether that means you'll try to completely alter the player's tendencies or stay in line with them.

Here's what I've come up with, and what I hope you'll challenge and, if you can, completely invalidate:

In any typical game scenario, a gamer will go through four steps, some of them conscious, some of them unconscious. (My definition of a typical scenario assumes that the player's goal is clear and understood.)

[size="4"]1. Survey the Layout:
• At this stage, the player knows his/her goal and is taking an initial survey of the game area.
• This step is mostly unconscious, and usually lasts for an imperceptibly short amount of time.
[size="4"]2. Identify Obstacles
• The player knows his/her goal, but the player also knows that there's obviously something impeding their path to that goal.
• It could be something as simple as a wall or time limit, or something as complex as the skill level of an opposing player.
[size="4"]3. Identify Flaws
• The player must answer the questions, "How can I overcome this obstacle? What can I use as my advantage? Where is the loophole?"
• As an example, in Red Faction: Guerrilla, a sniper in a tower with heavy armor has an obvious disadvantage: Gravity. Blowing up the supports for the tower brings the sniper down, and the rest of the building on top of him.
[size="4"]4. Formulate a Plan - Execute the plan
• Having gotten his/her bearings, recognized the obstacles and come up with potential flaws, the player will now combine this knowledge to make a plan and, of course, execute that plan.
• The two actions seem separate, but they're grouped for a reason: Players rarely form a plan without immediately trying it; in fact, many players form their plan as they execute it, interestingly enough. The scenario in which a portal player forms a plan and then thinks it all the way through before trying it seems far-fetched to me.

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So that's the basic formula that I believe should be tested. Of course, a lot of you guys will disagree--many may even disagree with the basic concept of totalizing gamer tendency in a short list, and that's welcome, too. The most important thing to me is that I see at least a few other people's opinions on this, especially their accounts of their own tendencies as players.

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I don't know that the majority of games actually have enough tactical depth to require that level of player analysis. Take you vanilla ego shooter, let's say MW3 - it goes more like this:
a) run through level b) see movement c) shoot d) rinse and repeat...
Or how about an action RPG, say, Skyrim?
a) run through open world b) see movement c) spam lightning d) hack to death e) rinse and repeat...
Now, plainly I'm being a tad facetious, and there is more depth in areas of both those games, but (IMHO) a lot of what makes that type of game 'fun', is the pure, adrenaline-pumping, headlong rush into destruction...

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I don't know that the majority of games actually have enough tactical depth to require that level of player analysis. Take you vanilla ego shooter, let's say MW3 - it goes more like this:
a) run through level b) see movement c) shoot d) rinse and repeat...
Or how about an action RPG, say, Skyrim?
a) run through open world b) see movement c) spam lightning d) hack to death e) rinse and repeat...
Now, plainly I'm being a tad facetious, and there is more depth in areas of both those games, but (IMHO) a lot of what makes that type of game 'fun', is the pure, adrenaline-pumping, headlong rush into destruction...

I think you're right, though it may be that players don't have to do as much analysis in those cases because a lot of it is done for them. Lets look at Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim.

In both games, when you start a mission, you are:

2. Told what barriers prevent you from achieving that goal
3. Told the flaws of those barriers, and
4. Told exactly what plan you should execute.

This might seem like me forcing the games into my little list of steps, but it sounds about right, doesn't it? One mission in skyrim requires that you make a royal family angry at a certain clan (I'll avoid spoilers.) That's your goal. The barrier is, that clan has not and does not plan to do anything to anger the royal family, and is in fact getting on the family's good side. The flaw is that the family still distrusts the clan for now, and one false move could send it all crashing down. Interesting. You could come up with plenty of tactics. So what does the character assigning this mission do?

Why, he tells you a plan, and requires you to execute it. He tells you to assassinate a member of the royal family, posing as a member of the clan, in a public setting.

So, as you see, some games look at these steps a player goes through and tries to make it so the player doesn't have to worry about them. Whether or not I think it's sound design logic aside, I think it's an interesting way to look at it.

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Some genres provide a lot of opportunity for an experimentation step, and given the option many players prefer to experiment rather than study and come up with a plan before taking any action. Some genres also provide opportunities for toy/customization play which isn't directly related to any goal. Some games do not provide the player with goals at all, and some allow the player to choose a goal, either explicitly by making a choice withing the game or quietly by providing multiple goals the player can choose among.

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One mission in skyrim requires that you make a royal family angry at a certain clan (I'll avoid spoilers.) That's your goal. The barrier is, that clan has not and does not plan to do anything to anger the royal family, and is in fact getting on the family's good side. The flaw is that the family still distrusts the clan for now, and one false move could send it all crashing down. Interesting. You could come up with plenty of tactics. So what does the character assigning this mission do?

Why, he tells you a plan, and requires you to execute it. He tells you to assassinate a member of the royal family, posing as a member of the clan, in a public setting.

So, as you see, some games look at these steps a player goes through and tries to make it so the player doesn't have to worry about them. Whether or not I think it's sound design logic aside, I think it's an interesting way to look at it.

Skyrim's problem is that they have SO MANY missions that they can't implement enough scripts to let you find-your-own-solution to missions like that. Not to mention, they'd have to test every combination, which they have trouble doing as-is (considering how many questlines have (or had) progression-stopping bugs).

Pretty much the only quests that have multiple options are simply 'you can go through door A, which will involve fighting a bunch of enemies, or pickpocket guy X to unlock alternate route B which bypasses the enemies'; they're ones that don't require massive scripting efforts.

Flexible game design is excellent, providing it's actually feasible to implement.

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Some genres provide a lot of opportunity for an experimentation step, and given the option many players prefer to experiment rather than study and come up with a plan before taking any action. Some genres also provide opportunities for toy/customization play which isn't directly related to any goal. Some games do not provide the player with goals at all, and some allow the player to choose a goal, either explicitly by making a choice withing the game or quietly by providing multiple goals the player can choose among.

You're absolutely right. I think my list may take a little adapting, though I think it's worth mentioning that in games where there is no goal--say, Nobi Nobi Boy--a player usually makes their own goal, and then proceeds to cycle through the 4 steps. One of the hosts of Gamespot's podcast used to always talk about how he decided in Nobi Nobi Boy that he was going to eat his own poop as it was flung out of his butt; he had a lot of fun going through the 4 steps trying to reach that goal lol. Didn't ultimately succeed, but ah that's life I guess.

Skyrim's problem is that they have SO MANY missions that they can't implement enough scripts to let you find-your-own-solution to missions like that. Not to mention, they'd have to test every combination, which they have trouble doing as-is (considering how many questlines have (or had) progression-stopping bugs).

Pretty much the only quests that have multiple options are simply 'you can go through door A, which will involve fighting a bunch of enemies, or pickpocket guy X to unlock alternate route B which bypasses the enemies'; they're ones that don't require massive scripting efforts.

Flexible game design is excellent, providing it's actually feasible to implement.

That's true. One of the problems I have with Skyrim is that there's literally too much to do, and none of it is ultimately very different. I spend a lot of time in the Western-RPG-Stupor (A condition where you walk around pressing A over and over until you have to fight, or "Mission Complete" comes atop the screen).

Anyway, criticism aside, I think it's worth arguing that I'm wrong on a lot of counts. I can say that Skyrim does the 4 steps for you and just expects you to go from NPC to NPC being told exactly what to do. But I could also say that maybe Skyrim's design disproves the basic concept. If people don't have to go through any decision-making process to have fun, what's the point in making them do it? Would it be better to just make the choices for them? I say no, but you probably could've guessed I would say that already...

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