Nano Games/Jagiellonian University
How to harness objective psychological research tools to make better games
Paweł Strojny, doctor of social sciences, experimental social psychologist. He combines two professional environments – gamedev and science – working as head of R&D Department at Nano Games and assistant professor at the Institute of Applied Psychology at the Jagiellonian University. He is interested in factors influencing motivation to play games – his current quest is to answer not only why people play games, but also what they believe they gain from it. He conducted much applied and basic research on games; some of them were published or reported at scientific meetings. He likes to help in creating games, but game testing and assessment is his favourite part of the process.
Playtesting phase is not the most favourite part of game-creation process, except when you understand its full potential. In our team we believe it can be interesting; we think about playtesting as an exciting quest which leads us to our ultimate goal. No, not making sure the game is free of bugs – our goal is to provide players with the experience they desire.
Even the best productions have flaws (have you noticed the gas canister installed on a chariot in “Gladiator”?) – what makes them “the best” is something else – they provide you with the experience you want. Best games are similar in this matter – they give a players the experience which satisfies his or her momentary needs. At the end of the day making games is interacting with human beings. Some designers seem to think about their job as highly genius-dependent, but here comes scientific psychology – it can help geniuses do great things.
We focus on providing a virtual experience from the very beginning of game development, we try to understand our potential players – not only relatively stable characteristics like personality, but also their momentary motivations; you can be a drunkard, but it does not mean you want to drink every single minute of your life. This stage of the research helps us to establish goals for the game – we call them hypotheses.
But afterwards the most interesting moment is coming – assessment whether we achieved our goals or not. In order to test our hypotheses, we use methodology and tools originally developed for scientific purposes – all of them need to be reliable and as objective as possible. We use tools from three basic categories: behavioral observation, physiological data and structured self-reports. Although in our practice all of these tools are combined, we will discuss them separately in this talk. We will point out the advantages and disadvantages of each of them (yes, physiology has cons too), show specific examples of tools we use and discuss the way they should be used properly. Finally we will suggest how to interpret and combine the data.