As video game developers, it’s essential to create experiences that deeply resonate with players. In today’s experience economy, where people prioritize spending on games and experiences, it’s crucial to go beyond meeting expectations. To truly win, expectations need to be beat.

Creating resonant experiences comes with a host of benefits for both video game players and developers. Players are happier and healthier, and engage more with a game. This leads to higher lifetime value (LTV) and return on investment (ROI) for developers.

To exceed player expectations, developers need to create unique gaming experiences that truly connect with players on a psychological level. The question then becomes… how?

Since the inception of the video game industry, developers have employed various tools to decipher player behavior. Recent efforts have revolved around player archetypes, gamer motivation profiles, and player motivation models, all constructed from a synthesis of behavioral data, extrinsic motivators, and self-reported data.

While these methods have evolved over time, the intensifying competition within the gaming landscape has laid bare their limitations. Cutting-edge developers have recognized that attempting to fit players into theoretical models has done more harm than good in their understanding of player behavior.

As a result, they’ve gone beyond standard frameworks to understand why players behave the way they do, using psychological motivation to uncover the true drivers of player engagement.

In this article, we’ll explore the limitations of player archetypes, extrinsic gamer motivation models, and observable behavioral data without the context of intrinsic human motivation. Then, we’ll see how developers are gaining a deeper understanding of their players’ underlying psychological factors by partnering with Solsten.

What can psychological data unlock that the outdated methods can’t? By truly understanding player motivations, game developers can create resonant experiences that they know will inspire, engage, and retain their player base. They can transcend category expectations, and save time and resources in the process.

Player Motivations Answer “Why”

Understanding the concept of “why” seems deceptively simple. According to Merriam-Webster, “why” is defined as “The cause, reason, or purpose for which.”

When dealing with absolutes, answering why is only limited to your knowledge of a given topic. For example, “why is the sky blue?” If you know the answer, you know the answer.

But when it comes to the complexities of humanity, why can become a riddle. Anyone who has ever engaged with a curious five-year-old knows this struggle is real. But kids don’t repeatedly ask why just to be annoying; it’s their earnest attempt to unravel the intricacies of the world around them.

Understanding why humans take certain actions and not others, whether on an emotional or behavioral level, is difficult. Philosophers and psychologists have spent centuries trying to untangle this question. The answers lie deep within our minds, and each individual comes packaged with a different explanation.

For a video game developer, discovering these answers becomes the ultimate gateway to crafting experiences that forge profound connections with players. Understanding why players exhibit specific behaviors empowers the creation of vastly more immersive and engaging experiences, rooted in an authentic comprehension of genuine player motivations.

How Player Motivations Have Historically Been Viewed

There are two distinct motivators that influence human behavior and drive people to achieve their goals — extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation refers to external factors that make people engage in a certain activity or pursue an outcome. This often involves rewards such as recognition or praise. Extrinsic motivation is situational and can also be driven by fear or power.

In contrast, intrinsic motivation is driven by a person’s own interests, values, and desires. It comes from inside oneself. Intrinsic motivation is driven by achievement, which typically results in long-term engagement and a genuine sense of fulfillment.

Historically, researchers have limited their understanding of player motivation in video games to extrinsic motivation. This forms the foundation for constructs like the Bartle taxonomy of player types and Quantic Foundry’s Gamer Motivation Model.

Within these models, there are up to 12 distinct gamer archetypes. They have names like the Achiever, Explorer, Thrill Seeker, and Skill Master. By putting players into predefined archetypes, these models try to explain whether people play games for specific reasons. These include competition, community, design, or discovery.

Initially, player archetypes were useful tools for developers, offering guidance and the understanding of gamer motivations from an extrinsic perspective. But over time, their usefulness has dwindled, for a variety of compelling reasons.

The Limitations of Player Archetypes

Models like Bartle’s taxonomy of player types and Quantic Foundry’s gamer motivation model rely on extrinsic motivations and observed player behavior for feature assessment. Yet, these models fall short in uncovering the psychological intricacies of players. While they may serve as useful market research tools, they do not provide valid datasets for game development.

Relying solely on extrinsic player motivation archetypes means you’re relying on past behavior to predict future results. Unless you want to replicate an identical gaming experience, this isn’t a great approach for building a game with a long tail. Knowing the past can aid in predicting the future. However, it is challenging to determine when and how to apply this knowledge in a dynamic gaming environment.

Furthermore, studies have shown that extrinsic motivators don’t work, and aren’t reliable predictors of behavior. Players are elusive, highly individualized, and depend on specific circumstances and individual preferences to drive in-game actions. In other words, what motivates a player in one game or game genre may have no impact on another.

The Power of Player Psychology

Demographics, behaviors, and extrinsic motivations have been the go-to data sets to inform the human side of game design. In the crowded experience economy, they’ve run their course. So where do game developers go from here? The answer lies in going many layers deeper, and understanding why behaviors and motivations occur.

Solsten is the only platform that is statistically representative of the global gaming population. We don’t rely on a set of predetermined archetypes. Instead, we use adaptive psychometric assessment to uncover the core of player needs and desires. As new assessments are taken and ingested, our technology learns, our models are updated, and our assessments become even more precise.

Our player assessments produce insights on hundreds of scientifically stable psychological traits. They offer reliable, actionable recommendations based on players’ intrinsic needs. Most crucially, we focus on ensuring construct validity, concurrent validity, discriminant validity, and internal consistency.

Through this process, we uncover the player’s psychology.

How Player Psychology Works

By focusing on player psychology, developers can create experiences that go far beyond matching the competition and using behavioral clustering. Instead, they can provide more intentional, curated games that prove they understand their players. These games resonate with their audience, creating incredible experiences that will keep them engaged for years to come.

As more studios and developers acknowledge the importance of psychosocial player intelligence, it will soon be impossible to compete without it. This is especially true for those who are beholden to legacy technologies and biased or outdated research methods.

Isn’t Demographic and Behavioral Player Data Useful?

Of course, demographic and behavioral data is still incredibly useful. But when people talk about behavior, they often miss the big picture. They utilize the same list of data points that have remained stagnant for decades.

At Solsten, we know it goes deeper than that. Therefore, we also consider different values, psychological factors, sociological factors, cultural preferences, and beyond to present the full story. This includes unconscious bias and intrinsic motivation that players don’t immediately recognize in themselves.

Combining these findings with demographic and behavioral data reveals the complete picture of who a player is. It shows what motivates them and why. With this information, developers can create new experiences that will predictably resonate with their player base.